Trumpiversary: ‘I realised I would never love America again’
Irish readers in the US on how the country has changed for them this year
Photograph: Tom Brenner/The New York Times
It is exactly a year since Donald Trump was elected 45th president of the United States. Following his victory, Irish Times Abroad received a deluge of emails from Irish readers living in the US, mostly expressing their disbelief, distress and concern over the result.
How do the Irish in America feel one year on? This week we asked them to tell us how the country had changed in their eyes since Trump’s election, for better or worse. Below is a selection of the responses we received.
Anonymous, New York: ‘I realised I would never love America again’
My first day working in a Manhattan skyscraper was marred by being told the golden rule of the American workplace: “don’t talk about politics, religion or sex”. I easily obeyed this rule during the uneventful bliss of Obama’s farewell tour, but I broke it before Trump had even finished announcing his candidacy (I laughed out loud). I was quickly and politely reprimanded.
The campaign that followed shook the world, but weirdly, was never mentioned in the workplace - apart from one company-wide email (after the Billy Bush tapes) reminding employees not to discuss politics in the workplace.
This lack of healthy political discourse is America’s cancer. And it’s spreading. The recent Las Vegas shooting - the worst mass shooting in US history - wasn’t mentioned in my workplace, presumably for fear that it would veer uncontrollably into a conversation about gun control.
It’s been a year since I watched the election results in a Manhattan bar. A year since we joked that we’ll be in bed by 10pm because “this thing is landslide”. A year since that Florida result came in… a year since the party stopped.
I woke up the next day in a different America; a racist, divided, ignorant America. An America where hypocrisy has no shame. An America where 63 million people voted for a billionaire who brags about assaulting women. An America that is incapable of empathy.
It feels like someone has pulled back a curtain, revealing the real America. Could I stay, and raise children in a country with such large, stubborn problems? The inequality, the cruel healthcare industry, the racism, the sexism, the obsession with work, the elite-only education, the complete and utter political dysfunction.
I soon realised I would never love America again, and began planning my return home. I’ll be back in the new year, and feel relieved that my children won’t grow up in a place of such inequality.
(Name is with the editor)
Sean Rogers, Cambridge, Massachusetts: ‘Our boys are more aware of the inequalities surrounding them’
For families like ours with two incomes and living in a progressive state like Massachusetts, not much has changed since Trump’s election. The children go to school, our company provides very good health insurance, and afterschool activities continue as before. I’d liken the Trump experience to my growing up in Dundalk but not being directly affected by the Troubles. The horrors of the Troubles were kept from me by my parents and socially progressive states in America are doing the same for much of the affluent northeast.
America is a big place and I hate hearing people generalise about this country. I’ve always recognised the US as a failed state where citizens are deprived of basic human rights like access to healthcare and equal educational opportunities, but there are many places like Massachusetts that fight these inequalities.
What has changed for me personally is my own heightened awareness of the institutionalised discrimination that exists across America, even in Massachusetts. What has also changed is my awareness of the inhumane treatment of undocumented immigrants on a daily basis and the resultant breaking up of families and communities.
So will we run for home when Trump is in office? Hell no.
With good parenting our two boys will come out strong from the Trump years and more aware of the inequalities that surround them; inequalities that exist not only in America. We have access to an education system ranked first in America and also ranked highly across the world. They go to a school situated in the heart of a multicultural city and enjoy this environment every day.
We live in a beautiful community in Cambridge, close to colleges, world class hospitals and multiple parks and outdoor amenities. Our neighbours are wonderful. Why would we ever want to leave?
Ornaith O’Dowd, Ohio: ‘This administration has brought us closer to nuclear war’
I’m from Galway and moved to the US just over 15 years ago to do my PhD. I now live in Cincinnati, Ohio with my family. I watched the election results last year with a deep sense of foreboding. The Trump administration has more than justified that foreboding in the past year. Just as so many of us feared then, this administration has brought us closer to nuclear war, sabotaged our already-weak efforts to combat climate disaster, relentlessly attacked the most vulnerable (the poor, immigrants, people of color, LGBTQ people), and emboldened white supremacists and nazis.
I work as a professor in a public university and am active in my union; both public education and collective bargaining rights are among the administration’s targets because both stand in the way of their vision of a paradise for the 1 per cent built on the backs of the rest of us. The one thing that gives me hope is that grassroots opposition has been stronger and more sustained than I expected.
Ronan Kelly, Boston: ‘I took a normal US presidency for granted’
I look back at moving over to the US in late 2013 and realise now how I took a normal US presidency for granted. Like post-recession Ireland at the turn of the decade, it’s hard to shake the dark mood that exists now. Either by Trump’s own design or general circumstance, the public are burnt out keeping pace with what is happening on a multitude of fronts. The concern though is that we will be like the frog in the boiling water if we become apathetic.
Due to the nature of my work, I’ve been to some of the places that Trump gathered the most support. The cities and towns that have suffered from the collapse of local industry, experienced population decline, and developed a growing sense that the rest of the world is leaving them behind. It’s sad, because the people that live there are proud Americans who want some semblance of prosperity to return. But nearly a year in to Trump’s presidency, they are still waiting for his promises to be fulfilled.
To me, the next three years will be one of the US’ greatest character tests as it determines what is important to it (and the world). It’s easy to be cynical but there is a substantial amount of push back to Trump’s attempts at eroding the checks and balances that keep him and his cabinet from running amok. The true extent of this push back will only be seen when the mid-term elections roll around next November, and we will learn whether the Democrats have hit the right note with voters.
John Normoyle, San Francisco: ‘Trump is one of the first things I think about when I wake’
When Barack Obama was president, I went days without thinking about him, or what he was doing. Now, Trump is one of the first things I think about, or read about when I wake up in the morning. Since I live on the West Coast, Trump has already had a few hours to decide who, or what, he is attacking for the day.
The election woke up complacent progressive Americans, and the rest of the world, to how vulnerable our democracy really is. A lot of my friends are incredibly anxious about our state of affairs, and I don’t think we will be able to fully evaluate that impact until it is all over. But one day, the Trump administration will be finished. We will get through this. I still believe in the spirit of this country’s democracy, and its ability to bring the country forward. We just have to work harder at making it happen.
Cathy Rabinovich, New York: ‘I have avoided certain people in my life’
Unlike many Irish emigrants around the world, I did not move for economic reasons, I moved for love, six years ago. I am married to a New Yorker and have a wonderful life here, but no real ties to any Irish community, which leaves me very homesick at times so I go home as often as I can.
While back in Ireland this year, all anyone wanted to know was, “what’s it like living in America under Trump?” I told them anecdotes of how at social events, Americans have become very Irish in their sudden love of discussing the weather because no one wants to mention the elephant in the room; not Trump himself, but that person who you had no idea was a Trump supporter.
I have been at social gatherings where those around me had heated, bordering on ferocious, political debates about Trump. As a result, in the past year I have avoided certain people in my life and declined numerous social invitations.
Other than that, Trump being president has had little impact on my life. I see people protesting to protect DACA and my heart breaks for those whose lives are directly affected.
Greg McQuaid, San Francisco: ‘I live in a political and cultural bubble’
I grew up in Dublin but have lived in California for 22 years working in radio. San Francisco is very far removed from Donald Trump’s America. We are a sanctuary city that welcomes people of every race, creed, colour and sexual orientation. My America hasn’t changed particularly because, like most in the US, I live in a political and cultural bubble. That’s the problem, these differences are as vast as the geography that separates them. I sometimes wonder if the US as a whole is simply ungovernable. I like it here and intend to stay, and remind your readers that the majority of Americans didn’t vote for Trump.
Brendan McGinn, Rhode Island: ‘The rest of the world considers Trump the biggest threat to peace’
I am from Cork originally, currently living in Rhode Island with my wife and two kids since 2013. My impression of Trump remains the same from before he was elected: an incapable, inept, clownish buffoon. It scares the hell out of me that this man is the leader of the free world. Nightly news is concerned with Isis and North Korea but average Americans can’t seem to grasp that the rest of the world considers Trump the biggest threat to world peace.
For all that, Trump remains somewhat of a Teflon president. He wasn’t wrong when he said he could shoot someone and still people would vote for him. My only hope is we can get through the next three years without him leading us into a third World War.
Joe Kelly, New York: ‘America has two personalities that cannot co-exist’
America is going through an identity crisis. We have a big divide between those who believe political correctness has gone too far and who want to return to the days when the white man reigned supreme, where women were relegated to the home and where, if you had an accent or looked different, you were considered second-class citizen. Under the Clinton and Obama presidencies however, American saw a social and cultural revolution of sorts. While America has many flaws and is not by any means a “perfect union”, it had become a more open pluralistic society under these administrations, allowing unskilled workers into the country through generous visa lottery systems and even, in my case, allowing people who were HIV+ receive green cards and get life saving medical treatment.
So now we are in this uniquely American dilemma; two personalities that cannot coexist. Are we going to stay true to our founding principles, or do we rewrite our constitution and omit the words freedom and liberty?
Patricia Gallagher Meko, Belford: ‘I don’t recognise my country any more’
I still feel like it’s a bad dream. Every day something else that president Obama achieved is undone. Now Trump wants to drill in the national parks. The environment is fragile and will take years to recover from the brute who doesn’t know what he’s doing. As a New Yorker, I was aware of his con games for 30 years and can’t believe people fall for his lines. A large part of the problem is Fox News, Trump’s mouthpiece that divides the country. They promote his propaganda, and also that of the NRA. Gun control should be common sense, but sadly it isn’t. This administration has emboldened racists and white supremacists. I don’t recognise my country any more.
Fidelma Ormsby, Canada: ‘The mood ranges from resentful to downright rude’
We emigrated from Ireland in 1970. Although we live in Canada, we spend a lot of time is the US. Typically our winter months are spent in South Carolina for the last 15 years. Our drive takes us through five states. Has the US changed since Donald Trump came into office? Our experiences say yes, absolutely. From the “crossing the border” experience, to stopping for hotels and petrol, this year’s drive was not a nice one. The mood of people ranges from resentful to downright rude. The attitude seems to be, “we don’t need you coming down here where we have to serve you .... America First!” I am sad to say we will no longer travel from Canada to the US.
Martin Loughlin, Bedford: ‘Much of America is stuck in a 1950s era dark age’
I moved to the US from Ireland in 1990. It was striking to move from a 90 per cent+ white catholic country to the Boston melting pot. It was refreshing to live and work among people of different backgrounds and experiences where no one seemed to care about your religion or skin colour.
The shock of the last year with Trump and his supporters is the revelation that Boston is not representative of America as a whole. I live in a well educated, diverse and economically privileged bubble and much of America is stuck in a 1950s era social and religious dark age.
John, New York: ‘People are tired of being labelled racist and misogynist’
I’m a graduate student at an Ivy League university. I have been here for seven years. Trump’s election proves that identity politics is an exclusively urban and middle-class phenomenon. People are rightly sick of it. They are tired of being labelled racist and misogynist for no good reason. Such issues distract from the real problems of wealth and class that are affecting people’s lives.