America means nothing to me.
And now for the finer details.
When I moved back to America in late 2017 after a 4.5 year stint in London I knew I was coming back to a political minefield. But I wasn’t prepared for how bad it was. International news didn’t fully cover the daily tomfoolery and horrors of life in America under Trump. So the barrage of daily news events when I came back was oppressive.
I honestly thought I had made a grave error and wanted to turn right back around and go back to London. But my ambitions are greater than my discomforts or fears, so I stayed rationalising that I could deal with 2.5 years of Trump.
There is nothing I can say that people haven’t already felt and experienced. The frustration with a failed and failing political system. An absence of any checks and balances to not only deal with falsehoods, but also to stop-gap decisions that would, and do, negatively affect the country. The danger of the dying community of old rich white men desperately trying to cling onto power, relevancy, and money as they feel the walls start to close in on them. The horror at the treatment of immigrants and minorities.
I am also not alone in feeling excited about and anxious for the election. I knew it was going to be a circus of madness; I don’t think anyone expected less. This was only the third election I’ve been able to participate in, but I was glad to do due diligence especially in absentee voting for Florida in the hopes that maybe this year it would turn.
But my ‘home’ county went Blue as did every area in the state that has a major university/college in it. No lie. Look at the map. Education makes a difference. And the areas that went red are the most redneck and Southern parts of the state in addition to a Latino population (immigrants in America running from communism) scared by Trump’s campaign into believing Biden is a socialist planning on making America communist. They are so terrified by their home country regimes that they decided siding with a man who was illegally imprisoning families of their ilk was safer than a man who would look out for them on the suspicion he might be a dirty pinko commie.
Education matters. Say it again. Education matters. And this is a country of the poorly educated where the education system has been broken for many years thanks to Dubya.
I tracked my absentee ballot to make sure it was received and counted. It was. And then I decided I was going to sequester myself from all news and social media for the rest of the week. I didn’t need any potential anxiety and I knew the race would be close and fraught. And somewhere inside I firmly believed Trump was going to win again.
You see, I don’t have faith in this country. I never did. I likely never will. I don’t consider myself a patriot though I am a citizen. I am an American in a strictly legal sense and that’s it.
If you’re a die-hard patriot you may want to stop reading now.
Or you may want to learn something.
But in my experience die-hard patriots aren’t interested in having their world views challenged as they firmly believe they rest on a solid platform of truth.
I’ll make this next part short as most people likely already know this part of my narrative. I’m Lebanese-Armenian and Pakistani. Born and raised in Kuwait by a Christian mother and a Muslim father. War is the reason I ended up in America. It wasn’t a voluntary decision though my family had planned to eventually emigrate to join the rest of my family who had already moved to Florida.
I’ve never asked why America and why Florida. Some day I’ll ask. I’ve never been curious, but I suspect it has something to do with the mythology of American Greatness that America peddles in.
I certainly swallowed the myth in total. I grew up obsessed with American culture. I loved the summers we got to vacation in America – especially New York. I loved NYC as a child. I loved watching Saturday morning cartoons in FL with a bowl of Count Chocula cereal.
So, naturally, I saw our refugee escape as a positive thing. We were going to be living in a country known as the greatest in the world that was open to everyone; a place where anyone could succeed and make their dreams come true.
It’s a dangerous myth, one still sold across the world – though less and less believe it. It’s a myth that is a terrible lie. I know that is implied in the word ‘myth’, but a myth relies on faith and belief and once disproved it becomes that heinous thing: A lie.
And America is a lie.
My first year in the country was eventful and horrifying, but also filled with really positive moments. I’ll save that story for another post, but you can imagine what a 12-year-old in high school who comes from an Arab country with my background went through. We’ll leave it at that. For now.
But the years after that first one were a 180. Part of it has to do with switching counties and schools for my second year once my parents found a house and I went to live with them.
Part of it was my understanding I needed to enculturate as quickly as possible and become as White and American as possible.
But a major part of it was the people I met in high school and the few years after it.
While I have no love for America, I do have love for the Americans who loved me back, befriended me, and never made me feel different.
Except for being weird, sure, because I was certainly weird as fuck. But they didn’t care. And I never felt judged for it.
In this past year I have found myself revisiting memories of those years and wishing I could remember more. I am friends on social media with almost all the people I knew in those years. 99% of them have turned into amazing adults; some with incredible families. And in my mind’s eye they’ve never changed in shape or form or personality.
There is the 1% that somehow became part of the monstrous contingent that supports Trump. I actually lost a couple of them during the election for Obama’s second term, with more a few more coming out during this one.
And THAT is what made me sad. These people that I was close to and had amazing moments and conversations with. These people who were friends with an weirdo immigrant but were now anti-immigrant. These white people who were friends with a brown one but were now racist. These people who made me feel welcome into their homes and hearts who were now completely closed off to me.
I don’t know if I believe they were always this way. While I had succeeded in becoming a White American, I was never going to look like one and surely they knew just on appearance that I was not like them.
So what happened to them? What changed in their lives that made them become horrible human beings?
And I thought of them as I put myself in a media blackout and spent my days reading, watching films, or playing video games. I was so used to having my phone in my hand that I had to train myself to stop picking it up out of habit. I found myself with much more time to do things that wasn’t mindlessly swiping through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok.
Those first two days were maddening. There is a weird empty, yet anxious, feeling about the unknown and the fear that your suspicions could come true. I had already made my plans to leave the country again if Trump won. So really the waiting game for me was about needing to know which plan I was going to fire off. But after the second day, I was fine, and enjoyed being disconnected from the world and just – living.
Of course, a few friends tried to spoil the news for me, trying to feed me tidbits of what was going on. I finally broke on Saturday to check in for a little bit but received the information with my friend as a filter. As it turns out, I hadn’t missed anything as a winner had not been chosen and the process, as I suspected, had been filled with all kinds of nonsense.
I did get to watch Biden’s speech that night and was astounded. I had forgotten what it was like to watch an American politician speak empathetically; with intelligence and compassion. His and Harris’ speeches were very smart and well planned and hit all the right points they needed to. This election was always about triage and clean-up. I didn’t care who the dem noms were going to be, I just knew anything was better than the alternative for four more years.
By Sunday I forced myself back into a media blackout. I had no desire to follow the up and down coverage of vote counts and lawsuits and refusals to concede and subversive calls to violent action. It was pointless for me to do so.
I’ve heard some stuff since then, including the latest Million MAGA March which is, frankly, ludicrous, but expected. And this last bit cemented what I think I’ve always felt and known about America.
It’s a horrible country filled with some good people.
I’ve always found Nationalism to be a strange thing. What an odd notion to worship a flag and an ideology. How funny to see a country try to uphold a culture that isn’t a culture. How fascinating to see people clinging to old political and social systems that simply don’t make sense any more.
Sense. How interesting to see a country so full of people with no sense – common or otherwise.
How intriguing to see so many people who would deny truth and facts because they would rather fight to protect their racism, bigotry, xenophobia, and misogyny. They’re not fighting for the betterment of a country and it’s people but to protect their ability to be horrible human beings. Of course, in their minds they really do think they’re doing the right thing. They firmly believe they are protecting their country and their lives. Because they’ve been lied into thinking they are in danger by anyone other than the people who ARE the real danger. The ones feeding them these lies.
And there is no way to make them think otherwise. All these calls for unity and empathy and finding ways to bring Trump supporters (excepting the ones who do know better but voted for him ‘to protect their money’) back into the fold is absolute bullshit. End of. Trump didn’t make these people who they are. They’ve always been this way. These are the people who were a nightmare in my first year in America – when Trump wasn’t in the picture. These are the people who are now adults who have fulfilled every stereotype of their demographic. There is no fold to bring them back into and no empathy or forgiveness left to spare.
I think as I’ve gotten older I’ve become more of an anarchist about things. I’ve gone from being an MLK-ist to a Malcom X-ist because I understand that there is a sickness in America for which there is no cure. The viral kickback of Colonialism has deep roots and is impossible to weed out. We are made to suffer from Colonialism’s direct and indirect actions and consequences. And in America this virus is so pervasive. It’s so deep that it runs in my own family. Because being a minority and an immigrant doesn’t save you from being one of those people.
And in my mind, coming to America was the worst decision for my family – all of them. It ruined us. It ruined any chance of a cultural legacy. Any chance to escape from under the yoke of epigenetic trauma that runs long and deep for all of us. Most of my immediate family has been in the middle of and/or run from some kind of war. The Armenian Genocide. The Lebanese Civil War. The Gulf War. The 1947 Partition.
We are a part of all of it. And that kind of trauma turns into a disease in America and festers. I’ve seen it. I’ve watched it happen until it was too late to understand what was really happening. In less than 2 more generations (and that is being generous) I don’t think there will be any culture left in my family that isn’t ‘just American’.
That’s what America does. It doesn’t celebrate you or let you be whatever you want to be. It lies to you to make you believe that’s what is possible when really it forces you to erase yourself. Whether now or further down the road, it will win and you will bend to it. You will become a part of a faux cultural identity that has no point of origin within the land mass. A country of immigrants who became oppressors.
How truly ironic.
My first day in an American high school, I watched all the students stand up and start to recite what I later found out was the Pledge of Allegiance. I was forced out of my seat when the student next to me kicked my desk and motioned with his head that I should rise. I copied the body language of everyone else around me but had no idea what I was meant to be saying. And for four years I had to do this every school morning. And I never understood why. I did eventually learn the words, but I never spoke them. Because I didn’t see why it was important. I was pledging allegiance to the insecurities of a country. A country that slowly ruined my parents and other members of my family, myself included.
And the only thing that has ever kept me grounded and in the moment and hopeful and remotely happy were the people. To them I would gladly pledge my allegiance. And the brilliance of who they are has nothing to do with some inherent American-ness. It has to do with a grace of humanity. A country’s ideology doesn’t make you a good person, necessarily, but it can certainly make you a terrible one.
I’m almost sure that the farrago of the coming months is only going to deepen my distaste of America. I doubt anything is going to change my mind because I am witnessing a poisoning and dismantling of a country’s belief in its own greatness every day.
And I can’t lie – it makes me happy. It’s time. Actually, it’s overdue.
And it’s so easy for people to say: If you don’t like it then leave. Go back to your country.
If only America hadn’t had a hand in destroying those countries I probably would. It lied to us with the myth of a land full of opportunity created by destroying other countries under the misguided intention of spreading democracy or saving people from tyrants. The acceptance into America is conditional on your back being broken.
But I still care right now. I care about what happens with the current election and how people are going to handle all the crises afterwards. Because it is far from over.
And I care not because of America, but because of the people who deserve to have better lives; they’ve earned it through their humanity and empathy. Because it’s the least I can wish for them as recompense for taking such good care of me in my early immigrants days and for continuing to love me in my maturity.
I’ll fight for them. But not for a country that would ruin them. And not for the horrendous people who would wield those tools of destruction.