Unity Through Fear
Back when Trump first announced he would run for president, I immediately had a bad feeling that he would win. I felt this way because our country was fed up with politicians, tired of the status quo, and looking for an abrupt change. While the Republican Party presented zero acceptable candidates, the Democratic Party had Hillary and Bernie. Many people saw Hillary as the embodiment of politics and the establishment, while Bernie seemed a bit too progressive to win the necessary votes. I had no doubt that Hillary would win the nomination, but I believed she would be too unpopular to beat the GOP candidate, whom I assumed would be Donald Trump.
Fast forwarding to election night; I spent the afternoon and evening constantly refreshing the Google results page, watching the votes add up. The angst at the office was palpable, and productivity was at a low. That evening, after packing for the following day's trip to Kenya, my then-boyfriend arrived for dinner. Throughout the evening, we continued to closely monitor the results; watching the swing states hop back and forth between red and blue. With building horror, it became increasingly apparent that Trump was going to win. Whiskey in hand, we sat in shock; what was happening, how could this be real, how would our lives be affected, and what was wrong with people? I felt an overwhelming sense of shame that our country could be so scared, that we would elect a fear-mongering, misogynist, reality TV star. Eventually, it was time for bed, the boyfriend went home, and I tried to shut off my brain before the long journey began for my trip to Kenya the next day.
Finally, the long-anticipated vacation to Kenya had arrived, but my friend and I could barely function as our trip began; the shock was setting in, threatening to overwhelm the excitement we felt. We wondered if we would even be safe while traveling abroad and how people would react to us. My friend's sister drove us to SeaTac to catch our flight and brought croissants, because she knew we probably needed something delicious to help us recover. We sat, waiting in silence to board our flight. Trying to distract ourselves with books, puzzles, and croissants was largely unsuccessful, because the anxiety and tension was real and seemingly unbreakable.
That same day, planning had already begun; the resistance had started and people were uniting against the lunacy.
During our layover in Frankfurt, we were able to see, first-hand, how the world was reacting. The German papers displayed vivid images and headlines of their own dismay, for Trump would soon have the power to influence the lives and well-being of people around the world.
"OH MY GOD! What will become of the world?"
This is how we felt, too.
Upon arrival in Nairobi, we were blasted with TVs showing footage of Trump, and the reactions from around the world. There we were, completely physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted, being forced to watch as we waited in line at customs. Finally finished with customs, we waited for our luggage, where there was even more Trump news coverage. Shortly after hopping in a cab, the driver asked where we were from. Although we had discussed telling people that we were Canadian, I was far too tired to manage that, so I just told him that we were from the US, which led to the driver asking how we felt about the election. Horrified. We were so ashamed of our country, that we wanted to pretend to be Canadian instead. We were totally and utterly horrified.
The following morning, we headed to the smaller airport across town to catch a tiny plane to start our safari. Finally, a distraction! We successfully avoided engaging in conversation, until we were waiting in line to board the airplane. A nice British couple was standing beside us and struck up a conversation. We began talking about our safaris and other plans while traveling. Inevitably, the election came up, which prompted the wife to say, "Well, at least Great Britain isn't the stupidest country anymore." We all agreed that Trump as president was more than worrisome, and that it said a lot about the current state of the U.S. and the world as a whole.
Assuming we would not come across very many people that would care about the US election while in the bush of Kenya, we were very excited to be on our way! Upon arrival at the airstrip, we were greeted by our driver and guide, who very quickly found us a small gathering of giraffes chilling under a tree. This is the moment the trip truly started distracting us from recent events. Unfortunately, the distraction did not last very long. Too soon, as we began the get-to-know-you phase, our guides asked us about our thoughts on the election results. My friend and I quickly expressed our dismay. Our guides agreed with us and ensured us that all of Kenya had been rooting for Hillary. That's right, even our guides, who live and work in a game reserve in Kenya, were following the election. The entire world was watching with alarm as our country began to fall apart and show our true colors.
Although I started traveling the world in high school, it continues to be a humbling and eye-opening experience every time I see how the news of America is followed closely all around the world, while many Americans remain blissfully ignorant of the fact that America is not the only country, people, and culture that matters. This vacation became just another example of this, and has had a persistent affect on my outlook of the world.
No longer are we a place where refugees can escape. No more are we a place that is increasingly accepting of those that are different; people that love someone of the same gender, have skin that is not white, or have come to our country to pursue the American dream.
After the safari was over, we flew back to Nairobi to be picked up by my aunt and uncle who have lived in Kenya for decades as missionaries. We artfully avoided the topic of our new commander-in-chief for just about the entire visit. None of us were too keen to ruin the perfectly pleasant family vacation time. For our final night, two of their good friends came over for a delicious, home-cooked meal. Soon enough, the election was brought up. I suspect, although it was not explicitly stated, that their friends did not support Trump. My uncle voted for Trump because he wanted a conservative Supreme Court judge, which Trump would swiftly deliver. Although my Aunt and Uncle are wonderful, caring, and compassionate people, who have devoted their lives to helping the people of Kenya find better lives, they were able to look past all of the horrible things brought to the table by our soon-to-be president. All for a conservative Supreme Court judge, who would use his religious beliefs to make legal decisions.
Is this real life? Are we, as a country, really willing to overlook general morality, ethics, and good manners, just for one judge?
Near the end of dinner, one of their friends said something about how the US does not like to allow refugees in, who are trying hard to leave some deplorable conditions in their home. In an effort to avoid an awkward confrontation, I excused myself from the table to clear plates. And by "clear plates," I mean that I walked in to the kitchen to say "Because we elected Donald Trump." The anger was real and visceral, overcoming me in a way that had to be let out.
All too soon, it was time to fly back to the US, where we would spend a week on the East Coast for Thanksgiving. We were all set to fly home, to a country that had changed so dramatically in our minds, and the minds of everyone around the world in only one week.
During our time in Africa when I mostly ignored the problem at hand, my friends and family had been dealing with it. My mom, who I have never heard utter a word about politics, was quick to describe Trump as Hitler. Hopefully he does not live up to this association, but many fear that he will.
Over the intervening months, the country and world continued to speculate on how Trump's presidency would affect us all. Will we all be destroyed by a nuclear war? Will Trump decide a particular minority is not worth keeping around? How will he handle human rights? Women's rights? Gay rights?
On inauguration day, I found myself overwhelmed by a wide array of feelings, which led me to write the following, to try to process through the anxiety and fear that I felt deep within myself:
As I struggle with a myriad of emotions recently, at the forefront today are the those centered around our new president. Sadness. Anger. Disappointment. Confusion. Concern. Fear. Hope.
Sadness for those he has directly and indirectly targeted in his campaign. Sadness for all of the growth and change our country has seen, which may quickly be reversed.
Anger for his words and actions. Anger that he views myself and countless other people as lesser citizens. Anger that he now has the power to take actions against us to make us feel this way. Anger that he has already been able to scare us.
Disappointment in the system that allowed him to be elected. Disappointment in those who couldn't see past their own fear to comprehend the harmful effects the new administration may have.
Confusion as to how this has happened and how we will move forward.
Concern for all of the people, places, and things that will see a negative impact from his policies and the beliefs of his followers. Concern for the children that will grow up seeing and hearing this, as if it is normal and acceptable.
Fear for what all of this means for our country. For the people living here and everyone else around the world.
Hope. Fear. Concern. Confusion. Disappointment. Anger. Sadness.
I choose to continue acting kindly towards others, enjoying the bountiful beauty in this world, and hope that he is not able to accomplish many of the things he has planned.
The day following the inauguration, I joined the Women's March to peacefully protest with hundreds of thousands of my fellow humans to show our support for each other, for the values we hold dear, and for our world to denounce the hate.
I continue to encourage everyone to always feel free to reach out if you ever need someone to talk to, or a safe place to go. I am here. Together we can and will get through this stronger than ever.
Matt Leaman grew up in rural Pennsylvania and then spent six years in Baltimore before moving to Seattle in 2015. When he's not working, he spends his time hiking, backpacking, and kayaking to enjoy the mountains and water that make the PNW a wonderful place to live.