Over the last couple years, I felt I’ve lost two of the three countries I belong in some fashion to, or which belong to me. First, India fell under the sway of the neo-fascist Narendra Modi, and then Britain fell to the fantasy of Brexit. In both countries, the forces of hatred, division, and intellectual cowardice triumphed over those of unity, progressivism and open-heartedness. But even though I was born in one, and my parents are from the other, I never fully embraced either. I thought of myself as American, and that for all its many failings I was someone firmly rooted in the soil of the US.
I no longer feel that today, not because I’ve rejected the US, but because I’ve been firmly rejected by it or by many of its people. I genuinely don’t feel safe traveling to many parts of the US, and even on the streets of New York City, where I’ve been shouted at multiple times over the years to “go back home,” I’m sure the bigots and hate-mongers will be even more empowered. As we saw in India and Britain, the wake of the election has brought a startling spike in hate crimes across this country, and I doubt it’s one that’s going to ebb anytime soon.
I’ve never had a sense of home, so maybe I shouldn’t be so demoralized at losing this one last possibility—but I did think of the US as a bastion, for all its many, many faults, of an idea of the protection of basic rights. They may not always have done this, at home or abroad, but the fundamental idea was there, and sometimes even the action. Watching President Obama’s eight years in office, and watching the country inch ever so slowly to an idea of greater inclusion, left me genuinely hopeful. That sense of hope is now quite gone, and I’m deeply pessimistic for our country for the next however many years, and for the world in general.
To carry on as normal, to pretend that our new President-elect is just another right-wing president whose four or eight-year term will only somewhat negatively affect our nation, is something I can’t easily do. He isn’t just another President-elect, and in his wake come some real monsters who seem to want to dismantle everything so many of us in the country have tried to build over the years.
I wish I could say something positive, that we will stand together and fight for change, or fight against the coming Age of Iron, which is what I see coming, but I don’t feel that. That’s not to say what we do doesn’t matter. I hope twenty years from now people won’t look back on today and say that no one protested, no one stood up against the new regime, that no one wrote letters or argued with members of Congress how to best tackle this new, ugly world. It’s just to say that to me it looks as if the forces of history that have been unleashed are far stronger and greater than the collective will of all of us who want to stand in their way. That won’t stop me from standing up to them, but I do it with few illusions as to what impact what any of us do will have.
I grew up in an often racist city and country, one where I was regularly targeted by thugs—people tried to knife me, set me on fire, run me over, kidnap me, and in the worst instance skin me alive, and of course there was the sometimes weekly verbal abuse. When I moved to the States, to a deeply conservative town in Northern California, it felt like I had walked through the gates of Heaven. All I got were a few racial slurs thrown my way or openly bad service at a restaurant. Now I’m beginning to worry that the ugliest parts of the London I grew up in the 1970s are coming back—not just over there, post-Brexit, but here in the US. I wonder if this is a country I can call home anymore—or if there is anywhere I can call home.
So what do we take from this, and where do we go? I really don’t know, and I doubt, in the next few, long years, it will be anywhere good. I encourage people to look for strength where they can, and also to take the time to take care of themselves. My own impulse is to drink, and it’s one I’m going to try and resist. Yes, organize and protest and make ourselves heard—but I suspect we will be small voices lost in something much larger and uglier. I sincerely hope I’m wrong. I was about the election. Against my own gut, which kept nagging at me telling me the opposite, I was convinced Hillary would win. So here’s to being wrong again, and that the next four years won’t be the nightmare I’m telling myself they will be.
November 15, 2016