I became an American fifty one days before Donald Trump became president. Rather than enjoying new freedoms, privileges and prestige like most immigrants imagine, life as a new citizen has become an exhausting reflection on the tortured journey that brought me to this point, and the realization that my sojourn as an American coincides with America becoming dramatically un-American.
The imposition of travel bans against Muslims in violation of the constitution; flagrant disregard for institutions and the norms and values that support the rule of law; deliberate diminishing of science as the foundation of knowledge; and ruthless confusion of truth with falsehoods by an administration that can truly be described as a kakistocracy —government by a society’s worst— were not on my mind when I decided to become a citizen.
I came to the United States as a graduate student in 1996. Five years later, my studies done, the decision to return home to Jamaica became far more complicated than I had anticipated. Suddenly, it was not just about what was best for me, but for my children as well—their friends, schools, and opportunities open to them then and in the future. We stayed.
Twenty years and one month later, September 18, 2016, I took the oath of citizenship—driven by a desire to help elect Hillary Clinton as our first woman president and a righteous indignation at the thought that Donald Trump could ever be elevated to that office. Unlike those whose wisdom eventually came in hindsight, he was mostly always revolting to me with his vulgar excesses and juvenile focus on women’s bodies. The campaign merely solidified my belief that nothing about Trump qualified him to be the leader of the free world.
As someone with multiple marginalized identities, I am quite aware of the profound imperfections of America, but I support its ideals of equality and justice for all, the rule of law and government that promotes people participation and effective social systems. Throughout the campaign, I saw little to convince me that Trump subscribed to the principle of “one nation, under God with liberty and justice for all, “ to which my oath was binding me , but I did see in myself multiple constituencies he insulted in his quest to reach the White House.
On my way out of the swearing in ceremony in Baltimore, I registered to vote. Days later, I signed up to work for Montgomery County on election day–to exercise the responsibility of citizenship and participate in a live civic lesson on how America executes one of the profoundest expressions of what it means to be a democracy –a fair and peaceful transition of political power.
Just after 6 a.m., November 8, I headed to my post at Highland Elementary School in Silver Spring. I spent the next 14 hours mostly on my feet, helping to process more than 1200 voters. The exhaustion at the end was outmatched by elation at the experience and the knowledge that democrats won handsomely at my precinct.
While the voting public has been comfortably subdivided into liberals (democrats) or conservatives (Republicans), I do not see my support of the Democratic Party this way. Rather, the distinction I see is about what is rational and what is not, and about perspectives that affirm the dignity of the individual across race, age, gender, ethnicity, religion or social class, in keeping with the Constitution and Christianity, and those who do not. Republicans contempt for minorities, women, and those trapped in poverty are contrary to these values.
Still, as I watched Trump’s rise during the campaign, I hoped the deep patriotism to which Republicans often lay claim, would constrain their behavior; that they would not support a candidate who was unsuitable, and unworthy of the presidency of the United States.
Trump won the Republican nomination, and in defiance of opinion polls and every sign that Clinton was the front runner, he was elected the 45th President, amidst reports of numerous ethical breaches and borderline criminal behavior, including allegations of fraud relating to the defunct Trump University. He settled a related lawsuit against him for $25 million after his election.
Post election confirmation of Russian interference in the election, which intelligence agencies say was done with the expressed purpose of helping Trump win, and Republican’s reluctance to halt Trump’s chaotic and destructive agenda until the investigations are completed, are further indication that despite their pretense, there is no abiding concern for America among Republicans that put national welfare above the lust for power.
Now each day since Trump’s inauguration brings new anxiety about how and when the havoc he is wreaking will end, as well as the pain of reconciling with the fact that his America is not what I signed up for.
Grace Virtue is a public affairs professional from Silver Spring, MD.