Now that Trump as POTUS is a brutal reality, I don’t doubt that you are pining to get away from it all. The idea of moving abroad might seem like a good solution with the added bonus of sounding awfully romantic and glamorous. You imagine the last place you fell in love with on vacation, the beautiful weather, the friendly locals, the quaint towns—it sounds like a dream!
Well, I’m here to tell you that if you think you can ride off into the sunset and just give the next four years of Trump a miss, you are sorely mistaken. Not only is living abroad a lot harder than you might imagine, even if you get there, there’s no escaping Trump. No matter where you go, he will dog you.
And I’m not talking about in the way he dogs me professionally: it’s my job to explain American politics in Spain and I love it even if it gets toxic at times. The problem is, even in my personal life I never, ever get away from it and you wouldn’t either. First, because, even if you’re still learning the language of your adopted country, you will still see his face just about anytime you watch a TV, whether that be at home, the local bar or the gym. And if you don’t see him on the TV, you will certainly hear about him in the conversation at the next table where some dude is holding forth, making sweeping generalizations about the “America profunda,” which is politically-correct speak for redneck in Spanish.
Trump is ubiquitous abroad because the world follows American politics and especially our elections very closely. I have to admit that Europeans generally know much more about our politics than we know about theirs. Why? Well, we are the power center of the world, so, much of what goes down in the U.S. affects everyone. In fact, every time an election rolls around, a popular debate pops up about whether the whole world should be able to vote. The answer is, of course, no, but they love to debate it. Also, our elections are wildly expensive and made for TV in a way that elections in other countries just aren’t. This makes them very sexy and people all over the world are transfixed by the soap opera of our democracy.
As a result, everyone seems to think they are an expert on the U.S. and this can put many of us living abroad on the defensive a lot of the time. At a dinner party last fall, a woman turned to me and declared “the fact that Trump is even a candidate says a lot about the U.S.” Now, if someone from home said this to me, we’d end up commiserating about it, but it’s different when it’s shot at you from a foreigner, often with a side of smugness. It’s a lot like how it’s OK to rip apart your family members among yourselves but outsiders should stay out of it.
Obviously, everyone is allowed to have their opinions about the U.S., so if you move or travel abroad, you’d better be well-prepared for it in the age of Trump. Maybe it’s just me, but when I lived at home in California, I always felt that I had one of two things to say to anyone I met from another country: I’ve been to your country and it’s fabulous! -or- I’ve never been to your country but I’d love to go! Obviously, this doesn’t apply to every country in the world, but you get the picture in terms of just being nice.
It just doesn’t work like this for Americans. I’ve traveled more than some and less than others and I continue to chafe at how aggressively critical people I barely know can be of the U.S. During the George W. Bush years, I took to following up my introduction with a “I didn’t vote for Bush” disclaimer. Now, I just kind of wait for it, take a deep breath and respond.
The thing is, no matter what type of fantasy you’ve bought into about living abroad and perhaps going native, you will never, ever be one of them. Nor would you want to. I get told all the time that after 18 years in Spain I’m practically ‘española.’ Well, no. I am American. I live this difference every single day and now, every single day I serve as a sort of emissary from Trump-land, whether I like it or not and you would too.