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Explaining Trump -- and Other U.S. Politics -- While Living Overseas

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 8/03/2016 Marianne Smallwood
DONALD TRUMP © ASSOCIATED PRESS DONALD TRUMP

It's a confusing time to be an American right now. Few of us can comprehend the popularity of Donald Trump, a man who continues to skyrocket in popularity despite not reflecting or supporting the values of most Americans. He's been likened to Hitler, took his time before disavowing the KKK, and quotes Mussolini. Republicans and Democrats alike are confused and horrified at Trump's continuing triumph. It's a train slowly rolling towards us, and try as we might, we can't stop it.
Now, try explaining Trump to non-Americans while still vowing that America is the greatest country in the world. Finish your explanation by confidently saying everything will be okay.
That's a tricky one.
Due to my work in international development, I've spent a significant amount of time overseas. For both the 2008 and 2012 elections, I was in Vietnam. In 2008, when America was on the cusp of electing its first black President of the United States, the mood overseas was nothing less than jubilant. My Vietnamese colleagues were charmed and awestruck by what they'd seen of Barack Obama on television, and other non-American friends were swept up in the thrill of watching American voters accomplish what seemed racially impossible. After the election, non-Americans would approach me, flash a thumbs-up, and exclaim, "Obama!" That narrative, Obama's rise, and American sentiment was easy to explain.
This year, breezy and historical explanations are not rolling off my tongue. I live and work in Bangkok, Thailand. Most of my friends and colleagues are non-Americans. I work for the U.S. government. As a result, I have become a go-to in social situations for friends who want to know why the world's biggest superpower has devolved into the circus we see today. As an American, I often find myself trying awkwardly to explain all sides of U.S. politics while still asserting that we'll get it right at the end of the day.

Discussing hand and penis size in presidential debates?
I'll chalk it up to GOP in-fighting and Trump's love of shock value.

Why do Americans love guns so much? Can't you control that?
I'll cite the Constitution, mention the powerful conservative gun lobby, and talk about typical Democrat/Republican feuding. Also, many of us do not love or own guns.
Why is Hillary Clinton your leading Democrat candidate -- did you not have anyone else who could run? I'll cite her ambition and note that -- given her experience in DC, the Senate, and as Secretary of State -- all this does make her experienced enough to run for president.
Why don't Americans understand that Bernie is the best candidate -- do you fear Socialists? I'll note that Sanders' grassroots following and the enthusiasm for him as a candidate indicates that many Americans support Sanders notwithstanding his affiliation as a Socialist.
And that talk about building walls, carpet bombing the Middle East, and legalizing torture? Either (A) that's hyperbole that GOP candidates say to get conservative voters, but they'll swing to the center ahead of the general elections; or (b) whoever said that is insane and no majority will vote for him in the end.
Every day reveals that the extremity of this race is not a fluke, and my answers have gotten briefer and less sure. I have American friends who say they'll stay overseas forever or joke that they'll emigrate to Canada until 2020. It's actually hard to emigrate to Canada, but that aside, I also disagree with giving up claim or responsibility to your country simply because you don't like what's happening.
Our responsibility is to vote, to encourage others to do the same, and to make the best of what happens come Election Day. Renouncing responsibility or ties to the U.S. if we don't like the outcome is escapism. Aversion won't do anything to better our country and will result in an increasingly one-sided political landscape.
Simply because I am overseas now does not make me a mere spectator to what's happening. I won't live overseas forever, my family remains in the U.S., and I hope to return within a few years. What the U.S. does between now and then is a very real concern for me, for my family there now, and for any children I might raise there in the future.
I'm proud of the U.S. Like any country, it has both tremendous strengths and defaults. And I won't apologize for being an American, nor am I embarrassed of it. I might shake my head and despair momentarily each time I read my Twitter feed, but here in Asia, I'll keep doing my best to explain U.S. politics whenever anyone asks. It's like a wedding vow: "I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad."
This may be a bad time in our marriage with America -- but we'll get through it.

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