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Well, This Is Awkward: What It's Like Being An American In The U.K. During The Times Of Brexit And Trump

07/04/2016 09:36 am ET | Updated Jul 05, 2016
MICHAL WACHUCIK via Getty Images

My friends back in the U.S. are drinking a beer that is literally called America and baking berry pies that resemble the stars and stripes. In my hometown, the sound of fireworks set off at the nearby high school rings out like a battle cry for people to go outside and watch them burst.

In London, where I have lived since last August, July 4th is just Monday. It's also sunny and warm in a month that's been pretty gloomy. It's early, and even though in England it feels like torrential downpour is just lurking around the corner, I don't question my desire to go running outside.

Barely a minute out the door and I see it: the defiant slogan painted on the sidewalk of the park I live near. Resist Immigration Raids. This is a battle cry for over half of Whitechapel, people who weren't born in the U.K., many of whom don't speak English. Last week, the nation voted to leave the E.U. in a referendum that sent waves of chaos and confusion across the world. No one-- especially not those who shepherded Britain out of the bloc-- know if the vote will mean deportation for non-U.K. citizens, but for the people who have spent years making my neighborhood, and this country, home, the fear alone is real enough to fight against.

The same kind of fear is palpable in the U.S. Months after former reality TV star-turned presidential candidate Donald Trump declared that it wasn't safe to let Muslims into the country, Islamophobia continues to flourish. In the first five months of 2016 alone, HuffPost counted 157 anti-Muslim attacks-- and we're mostly relying on news stories. There's no telling how many other instances of threats, intimidation, and violence haven't gone unreported.

It's not just Muslims that have been a reason to be scared if Trump wins. As a Jew, I find Trump's attitude towards minorities, and his recent use of anti-semitic image to attack Hillary, unsettling. On multiple occasions, pro-Trump supporters have responded to articles I've written about him by sending me anti-semitic insults or photos comparing Jewish people to rats. As a woman, Trump's referring to women as "slobs" and "bimbos" represent the erosion of years of progress women have made in achieving value for something other than their appearances. As a journalist, the thought of writing about Trump every day until the election is exhausting, and overshadowed only by the even-more-terrifying reality that if he does pull off a win, he may be the worst president for press freedom in our country's history. As an American living abroad, I cringe at the realization that, if Trump wins, I'll probably need to spend the rest of my time here explaining and apologizing for the mistake that my country has made.

It's not fair, but it's understandable: when you live in a country that is not the one you were born in that you become a defacto representative for your homeland among friends and coworkers. "What the f*ck is going in the States?," my British friends will ask when Trump supporters beat up a homeless person in his name. "Why do Americans love guns so much?," they wonder after reading a story about firearms sales spiking in the wake of a yet another mass shooting. I can't avoid it outside of work either. At a Central London cafe last week, a waitress jokingly told my friend and I that we should apologize for Trump. On vacation in Paris, my AirBnb host wants to know if I think Trump will be a worse president than George W. Bush.

Since the EU referendum results came in, I've had to field even more questions, concerns, and self-righteous snark from people back home. Many people have asked me recently if I ever think about the parallels between Brexit and what's going on in the U.S. I tell them I think about it all the time. There are, in fact, very few days of my life that I have not thought about it. Of course there's a comparison to be made: manipulated by opportunist demagogues, economic insecurity has given way to a fear and mistrust of immigrants. In the days since the vote, hate crimes have jumped as much as 57%. Of course, Brexit isn't just about securing the borders-- and former London Mayor Boris Johnson, one of Brexit's most vocal advocates, actually supports amnesty for undocumented immigrants. But the appeal of Trump isn't just his dumb, expensive Mexican wall, either. Americans are generally unhappy with the current state of politics and Donald Trump is, by every definition possible, not a politician.

You will also likely read some pieces today making connections between Brexit and the American Independence Day. You may even hear some British politicians make the case. These are false narratives. The American founding fathers waged war because they were tired of British leaders making decisions for then, without their consent, and not always in their best interest . Today's U.K. has ample representation among its European peers. Leave champion Nigel Farage even gets to show up for European Parliament, insult everyone, and somehow not get thrown out. And, as Yale professor and historian Steve Pincus points out, early Americans were also about as pro-immigrant as it gets. You know that thing people say about America being a melting pot? It's not just a cheesy metaphor. People aren't just American-- they're Dominican American, Italian American, Jewish American, African American. We take pride in our endless connections to the rest of the world.

The Leavers, on the other hand, want nothing to do with it.

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