Caught in Trumpistan

Lydia getting a taste of the home country.
Lydia getting a taste of the home country.

“Migrant in Trumpistan” is the current title of my newsletter for friends and family in the home country. My newsletters have gone under different titles during the three years I’ve lived in the United States, as my mood and personal situation changed. For a while it was ‘time to think’, since I came as my wife’s dependent and filled my days as best I could. An attempt at a small community project in a former firehouse led to ‘news from the Firehouse’. Now I am a full time political science student - no more time to think, nor to engage in fun projects - and ‘migrant in Trumpistan’ seems right. If Trumpistan is a good or a bad place every reader can decide for themselves, but we all seem to live in it.

So far living in the United States has not quite been the experience I thought it would be. Before moving here, I knew some things about America. One of my most admired Dutch authors was an American history professor who wrote beautifully about African Americans, Woodrow Wilson and Abraham Lincoln. He believed that the U.S. is a country of extreme highs and lows - what is good is often very good, what is bad is often really bad. The Netherlands is not as extreme. But within a year after our coming my wife and I were confronted with the Flint water crisis and, on a more local level, the crisis of White Christian America. Think obscurantism, bigotry, sexism, plagiarism, wasted efforts, family conflicts, disillusionment. Is this really the United States? We certainly also met (many) exceptional people working to improve things, but why did they constantly have to fight so hard? That was two years ago.

In a few months I risk getting caught in Trumpistan. The full story is best kept for immigration lawyers, but for practical purposes it means my wife and I need to stay within the United States for about a year. Otherwise we might have to move away four or five years earlier than we want to. We do want to move back - we want our daughter to go to school in a place where the school system is more equal and there are less guns. But the mere thought of not being able to leave gives me a genuine sense of unease, sometimes almost panic. Sometimes I fear I could die here. A few nights ago I dreamed about taking a train from my home town not to Amsterdam Airport, but straight in the opposite direction, until I realized I must get back to catch my flight. But then again - here in Michigan we have a nice and affordable house, low taxes, and great people, such as the two wonderful women from Iraq who run the daycare our daughter goes to.

Dying can take many forms. Migrants and especially refugees have stories of deaths that normally we do not hear, that are far worse than what most of us experience. But people can also die just because their world has become unrecognizable. The historian I just wrote about, J.W. Schulte Nordholt, died of a stroke in 1995 aged 75. He was an idealist, and in his last book there is a sense of shock and genuine pain at the policies of the Reagan administration. I honestly believe he saw the writing on the wall of what was to follow and could not handle it, so he died. In our day and age, dying could come through someone in Washington, DC mishandling the Korea issue, triggering nuclear war, or less spectacularly though a poisonous cocktail of economic crisis, despair, and too many guns. My family and I are counting on things to stay OK for a while. But then we will want out.

It appears that being caught in Trumpistan is not just my experience. Many Americans are deeply, deeply unhappy about the state of this country but find no way to address it. A simple speaking engagement to retirees at a neighborhood center got me a thank you card saying, why cannot we all move with you. Sadly, we Dutch do not like refugees any more than Americans do, and still believe the youngsters washing up on the coast of the Mediterranean will always be other people’s children, not ours. Most Dutch certainly do not believe the United States is a *** country, and welcome Americans, but in manageable quantities. So out is not an option, even if America still has friends abroad. It is better to find out how things are different in other places and what can be learned from them. Migrants are a resource for just that. It seems like America has always wanted to assimilate migrants - those who were allowed to stay - to its own way of doing things and seeing things. Perhaps it is time to try a different strategy?

There certainly are alternatives to Trumpistan. Studying political science is perhaps not the best way to find out about them, but it does indicate some pitfalls and dilemmas anyone with political hopes and dreams will want to be aware of. As a migrant, I know about some ways Europeans have preserved their freedom and democracy that Americans might find valuable, and also encouraging since they did do some great and generous things. I may write some about this if I find the time. Until then, I simply recommend talking to migrants how they feel about Trumpistan.

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