The United States of America. The country, where everything is possible – even Donald Trump. A country, that I have always had a deep connection to. Summer vacation in Florida, the most beautiful place on planet earth, student exchange in Pennsylvania… I think about the US a lot.
Through my volunteering job at my exchange organization I have also been talking a lot about the US. The applicant and future exchange student ask, how the United States really are. The want to know what is true about the prejudices and the horror stories about racists and guns, the small towns and the fast foods. And I always answer, that certainly some of those negative parts are true, but that I have always experienced the States as an open, welcoming country, that the American Dream is kind of alive. And you know, I truly believe that personally. Even though the USA has always served as this huge spot on the world map, where all these things are happening, that Europeans simply cannot understand. The country where all these blinded people don’t think of anything, but themselves.
For some reason, that was never how I felt about this country. When I think about the US, I think about my host family, my High School, the easy life and this year of my life, that would change me and my life forever. But what about those weapons. What about Trump, what about the Ku-Klux-Klan? What about the Fast Food, the education at a public High School? The stories, that can be told on that matter will certainly enlighten the rather dark spots of a very diverse and vibrant culture. I must underline, that even though these things have occurred to several exchange students, they are certainly not meant to portrait the US as a whole. They are simply a couple of negative examples, of which most are probably bringing up the right question, but never an answer on your concerns.
When it comes to tolerance, I must explain a couple of things. Tolerance is probably one of the more essential trades, that go with what is widely known as a good character. However, tolerance is not a thing that you decide on the one day and start practicing it the next one. Tolerance is hard. Tolerance is work. The students in my class have put mine on a tough test several times, so I was often left with the question, whether my tolerance would make me a silent witness, if I wanted to be, or not. So, this one kid in my math class once announced, that Americas economy is going downhill (which it doesn’t and wasn’t at this point either), because the president is black. To this day, I have never heard anything this racist being said in public, especially not with the serious expression this kid was having on his face. Therefore, the only thing that could probably keep this kid from voting for Trump today is, that Hillary isn’t black.
Also should I mention at this point, that saying „fuck“ in class will get you expelled immediately, while saying racist bullshit is considered as free expression of opinion. For me this situation really made me wonder a lot about the country I was living in. Pennsylvania is considered a rather liberal state, who votes mostly democratic. Racism isn’t rare here either, for sure, but certainly not as common as it is in the more western states. I always thought that racists are the elderly, the uneducated, but a guy my age? Who was attending an accelerated Algebra class? Was he really believing what he was saying?
A couple weeks later, we drove be the town square of a neighboring town, there were a couple people walking around in Ku-Klux-Klan robes, publicly. This however is out of the ordinary. My host parents were only a little more mildly shocked than I was. At this point, I knew that these robes were associated with the Ku-Klux-Klan, I however didn’t know the specifics of this organization. You know, American say sentences like “how am I supposed to explain to my children, that…” when the media confronts them with a controversial issue. But how do you explain to your children, why there are Ku-Klux-Klan members running around the public town square?
Almost everyday we drove by a house, where it was said an old Nazi was living there. One time, when waiting at a red traffic light close by, I could look in inside and for the first time I saw a swastika flag in the real world, with a historical background. When you think about that way, it’s really something most German don’t see throughout their whole life. Surely in movies or history books, but not when waiting in traffic.
Having this sort of a hobby is defiantly considered as a not so good character trade, in last instance most will say „so let him be “. No one however will just “let it pass” when it comes to subject like sexuality or saying “fuck” in the classroom. Tolerance, but at the wrong spots. Even though the forward thrive throughout the last couple year cannot be overseen. Same-sex-marriage is here, health insurance is here. University have started to talk about sexual misbehavior and racism as well as gender equality are a big subject of negotiation again and it is most likely that the last decade has begun, where guns can be bought and carried openly by anyone. That’s where Trump came in.
The political world is thriving for change, the right partys are arising, the voices are louder. AFD, KPÖ, Brexit, Trump? I think there are worlds in between a concerned citizen, a Euro critic and a Trump-voter. But the USA is a nation of extremism. The reasons to be utterly concerned are reality, claiming anything else, would be a lie. I must say, him winning the republican candidature was not surprising at all, but still I was pretty certain that he would be standing there like a joke next to Hillary Clinton or Sanders, without any chance on the horizon to wing this thing. Ever.
Today I witness classmates and normal young adults screwing up my Facebook-Feed by posing for pictures while wearing a “Hot chicks vote for Trump” button on their chest. PSA – you disgust me. I thought that the old guy with the Nazi flag in his window would be someone to vote Trump. Or maybe the parents of the expert for cultural economy from my class. But Young adults? Or women? Has my classmate lost her ability of reading or using her brain for greater purposes but Instagram and the Snapchat puppy filter?
The states are certainly not exactly the way some European think. Not everyone is blinded, not everyone has a weapon and not everyone is a racist. The people are neither uneducated nor potentially ignorant. Not everyone is prude or feels awkward when talking about sex or controversial issues. Trump however will make these prejudices come true again, and for some American that’s the only way to feel American again in a globalized world.