By: James Mesiti
When back home in New York, people often ask what the most difficult part about being an American abroad is. To their surprise, it is not breaking the notorious stereotype of Americans being obnoxious and overweight or even the horrendous lack of peanut butter in Europe. Being not only an American abroad but also a student of international relations has inevitably forced me to have the unique privilege or curse of having to explain current President Donald Trump’s actions nearly every day. In fact, while my first conversation in Barcelona with my taxi driver was limited to a pseudo-Spanglish, the driver still knew how to say “Trump” and “how” in the same sentence.
My first experiences of the ‘Explaining Trump Syndrome’ as I will call it, can be traced back to fall of 2016 when I was participating in a Spanish language exchange program in Madrid. However, while I was learning the difference between ‘por’ and ‘para’ (a difference that I admittedly continue to confuse) my Country was experiencing some of the greatest fractures that I have ever known. The 2016 Presidential Election saw people divided over themes such as economic inequality, race, and gender. Americans who historically have prided themselves on working hard and “pulling themselves up by their bootstraps” in times of adversity were searching for scapegoats, whether it be Mexico, immigrants, lobbyists, or career politicians. It was as if the Country was willingly allowing itself to take three giant steps back. The day following the election I had to explain to my European colleagues how a reality TV star with no political experience could be elected President of the, arguably, most powerful country in the world. It was difficult but I still was always able to conclude my remarks with a hopeful “maybe he will surprise us”. Just as the “Explaining Trump Syndrome” was beginning to take hold, my brief exchange program was coming to an end and I returned to the United States.
Coming abroad but only a year later, Explaining Trump has proven to be more challenging than during the election cycle. Questionable comments during the campaign trail have given way to a never ending spotlight now that he is Commander in Chief. I have had to become accustomed to explaining both how he was elected and whatever questionable behavior he has since committed. Tweets at 1:00 in the morning reposting questionable video content from extremist groups, consistently threatening to remove the United States from several international treaties/organizations, and his extremely uncertain policy decisions that seem to only benefit his voter-base are among the many symptoms of the Explaining Trump Syndrome. Historically in the US, talking politics is treated nearly like a taboo and is often a conversation typically saved exclusively for academic circles. In contrast, I have learned that in Europe conversations about politics are more welcomed and customary. This effect is even more so magnified when studying in an institution of greater education that focuses on politics.
Those who know me personally, know that I always find opportunities to boast of my heritage. My grandparents are Italian immigrants who have worked harder throughout their lives than anyone else could have. In New York City my grandfather worked on bridges that are now passed by thousands of cars each day, while my grandmother was a factory assembly line worker. They took the opportunity to move Upstate in order to provide a better environment to raise a family. They are the definition of the often elusive, if even existing, American Dream. We Americans are often categorized for our fierce patriotism and love for our Country – I am no different. I cannot help but be thankful for all of the opportunities this Country has blessed my family with. That being said, explaining Trump has been an unanticipated curse associated with being born in the “Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave”.
Admittedly, I did not vote in the 2016 Presidential Election. I saw it as my youthful idealism combined with my own protest of the current state of affairs of US politics. As such, maybe I do carry responsibility for Trump’s actions. I understand that what President Trump does, says, and tweets affects both United States’ citizens and those from other countries – many of whom I share a classroom with. Yet when asked about how I feel regarding a tweet sent at 1:00 in the morning or a recent comment Trump made to the press, a proper response often escapes me. I simply cannot find the words to describe how I want President Trump to be able to bring the country together like President Bush did after the attacks of September 11, 2001. Or how I want him to be the great orator and voice of equality that President Obama was throughout his two terms. I want to not have to explain his decisions when I am not qualified to do so. Above all, I want Trump to succeed.