‘My America has changed in the last 12 months’
There are those who say, love it or leave. But it is not that simple. I still have hope
Lisa Tierney-Keogh: ‘I’m an immigrant. I’m an outsider. My perspective on my adopted home is not skewed with sentimentality, nor is it laden with cynicism.’
There was another mass shooting on Sunday. A church in Texas. President Donald Trump said he believed it was caused by a “mental health problem”, not an issue with gun laws. In October, the deadliest mass shooting in US history took place in Las Vegas. Mass shootings have been frequent in this country for decades but they are getting deadlier. America is getting more violent.
The Second Amendment (the right of the people to keep and bear arms) is a very difficult issue for non-Americans to wrap their heads around. It’s the no-go zone of the American constitution. It splits the country sharply in two. It is, I have observed, more important for these rights to be protected over and above human life. And is, for me, the thing that scares me most about life in America.
Enter Donald Trump. Reality star. Steak salesman. Wrestling corner-man (true fact, look it up). His rise to presidential candidate was shocking to a lot of people. He was ridiculed. Establishment politicians didn’t take him seriously.
While the “Washington elites” were dismissing his attempt to become president, Trump was telling the hurting people of America what they wanted to hear. He was the man to make America great again. He would bring back jobs. He would return the US to its former glory and undo every bad deed president Obama had done before him. The notion of a woman president following a black president was too much for America, and the rest is painful history.
I knew it would be bad. I’m not from this place. I’m a woman. I’m an immigrant. I’m an outsider. My perspective on my adopted home is not skewed with sentimentality, nor is it laden with cynicism. I simply have eyes in my head and compassion in my heart that allows me to see things for how they are.
I knew Trump would do some damage. I knew he’d tried to roll back a lot of human rights and generally keep poor people and people of colour oppressed. I expected that. What I did not see coming was the division in the country. The level of hatred, of vile disdain for the “other” has escalated to a national emergency. How can a society progress with this much animosity?
In the last 12 months, I’ve felt a palpable metamorphosis within this country into a constant 'us versus them' scenario
So. United States they are not. When a country cannot agree on what caused its own civil war, there is a problem. When history is revised to suit a dangerous narrative designed to excuse oppression, unity collapses. Things fall apart. The centre cannot hold. Disorder will rise. And men will pick up their guns and shoot more people.
If hope is to be found for those who don’t subscribe to hate and white supremacy, it is in the resistance. Like a Star Wars movie (before they, you know, went off the rails), the power of the rebellion, of those resisting and fighting heartless attempts to hurt people offers the hope the US needs so badly.
‘Us vs them’
My America has changed. In the last 12 months, I’ve felt a palpable metamorphosis within this country into a constant “us versus them” scenario. Since Donald Trump took office, any sense of togetherness is gone. There is no acceptance of differences.
Most interestingly, the American exceptionalism myth is breaking down. The US is not touched by god and is not, as some would say, the greatest country in the world. It is flawed and full of problems but every country has troubled, disturbing histories. What makes a country great is its willingness and ability to reckon with its past.
As confederate statues come down, as NFL players kneel for the anthem, a growing number of Americans are pushing forward towards the reckoning this country is crying out for. On the other side of it, people are boycotting the NFL, flagrantly deriding the predominantly black players taking a knee. It’s back to “us versus them”, a deeply divided country with not an iota of leadership in sight.
There are those who would say, love it or leave it, which is the laziest sentiment I’ve ever encountered. If these last 12 months have taught me anything, it’s that I both love this country and I want to leave it. I think America is broken and I think it has the potential for a glorious healing. I hold space for both.
I have spent a quarter of my life living in the US. I have found treasures and wonders here I never knew possible. I have put myself together as a whole human and discovered my truth here. But living in Trump’s America has pressed me to prioritise what matters in my life. And most importantly, in the eloquent words of Joan Didion, it has shown me that “it is distinctly possible to stay too long at the Fair”.