The following is a chapter from an upcoming memoir on moving to and living in Germany. Read more here.
One of the most memorable events in 20th-century Europe is D-Day, when Allied Forces stormed the beaches of Normandy, France and started the process of dismantling Nazi power on the continent. But for me, one of my most memorable days in 21st-century Europe was T-Day––the morning (European Central Time) that Donald J. Trump declared victory in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Polls were still open on the West Coast by the time Melanie and I went to bed. There was no decisive winner and we weren’t sure what to make of the early results, though I did have a sneaking suspicion that Murphy’s Law was about to rain down upon us––mostly because I grew up in a suburb that overwhelmingly voted for him and knew that my suburb was not an isolated incident.
I woke up at some point in the middle of the night or early morning, as one does with a blanket of anxiety, and couldn’t resist checking out the latest update. By that point, the inevitable was around the corner. Melanie let out a disgusted groan before turning back to her pillow, I assumed hoping for a nightmare to soothe her to sleep.
By morning it was all settled; only the speeches were left to come. I followed my usual routine and went to work.
Europeans love to analyze Americans from afar. Once in a bar in Lima, Peru, a hulking beast of a man sat next to me. If he were on a list of paint samples for a remodeled kitchen, he’d be “Pale Norwegian.” I ordered my drink in Spanish but given my slightly less, but still pale skin, he took a stab at English with me. I didn’t time him, but I’d say it was within the first two minutes of conversation that he asked me, “Why do Americans love guns so much?”
His tone wasn’t condescending. I rarely find it to be among Europeans. The exception would be with British people who, and I’m grossly generalizing here, speak of Americans like we just rolled out of a dumpster and into High Tea looking for directions to the nearest monster truck rally. (I suppose this isn’t wholly inaccurate as I’d much rather go to a monster truck rally than High Tea.)
After watching enough morning news in Germany, I’ve decided it’s because we are the world’s reality television––and that was before T-Day. Now we’re a reality show spinoff of ourselves that airs in the middle of the night when the only people who are watching are not people you’d leave your loved ones with for any discernible amount of time.
I went into work that morning, hoping to go unnoticed by my international colleagues. I sat at my desk, fired up my computer, and noticed members from the various Latin Americans teams huddling around a monitor. Trump was giving his victory speech.
I knew I’d inevitably hear from him plenty over the next, I still can’t believe I’m typing this, four years, so I decided I better get started on blocking him out and I put on some headphones. But before I could start my Spotify playlist of Bruce Springsteen jams promising there’d be a rising, someone who I had never met asked me, “Are you American?”
The office had national flags hanging over the different regions within our department, so stars and stripes above my desk gave it away.
Something resembling an embarrassed “yes” slithered off of my tongue and into the air. It was probably the most ashamed I had ever been to admit to being an American, which is saying something considering a tour guide in El Salvador walking me through the U.S.-funded civil war in his country that bordered on genocide also asked me if I’m an “estadounidense.”
The woman took a long look at me before returning to the monitor with Trump. She studied him and turned back to me.
“Are you like that American?”
I wanted to crawl into a hole and hide.
“No, I’m not like that American. Most of us aren’t. It’s a big country of…” I didn’t have the heart to go further. “It’s a big country.”
Fortunately, my American colleagues came in shortly thereafter along with empathetic Canadian team members. A new guy from Detroit had just joined, so we went out for a team lunch. But given the election, it had the air of a pending funeral.
We all needed some booze, so we went to an Israeli joint we all liked and started off with some Goldstar beers followed by plates of hummus and falafel. It was comfort food for an uncomfortable time. But no amount of hummus, falafel, or booze could replace the shame I was feeling in the core of my being.
Had I ever emulated this man’s behavior in any way, my parents would’ve grounded me for eternity––and rightfully so. Hell, most anyone would’ve gone to prison for the many crimes this man is alleged to have committed. And my country just elected him using a backward system that makes it possible for the candidate to win without the popular vote––another fun thing I’d get to explain to confused European colleagues.
Even more embarrassing, my home state voted for this man whom I can only liken to the puss that comes out of a throbbing zit by nearly nine percentage points. I was crushed. (My apologies to puss for the unfair comparison.)
Some think of D-Day as the beginning of the end of Nazi Germany. But T-Day was the day Nazism got a boost in the United States and I found myself counting my blessings that I was in Germany.