How the World Changed in the Wake of the U.S. Elections

Thoughts from Abroad is a periodic column written by an Exponent staff member studying abroad. The column serves to illustrate differences in culture, issues and perspectives observed by the way-faring student. Currently, Elise Byle is studying in Spain.

I never imagined the scariest part about studying abroad would be coming home. Going back to America means facing my fellow citizens, half of whom voted for Donald Trump. Going home means facing the reality of a Trump presidency; it means returning to a world where hate crimes have increased and where many of my friends are being denied their right to safety. For the first time in my life, I am ashamed to be an American.

I stayed up all night to watch the election. I was not alone. When the results came in at 6 a.m. in a country that doesn’t wake up before 9 a.m., I received an outpouring of apologies and confused condolences. These messages didn’t come from my friends and family in the states but from my international friends who were as shocked and bewildered as I was. My landlady’s only words to me were “I am so sorry.” Somehow, overnight, everything had changed, not just for the U.S. but on a global scale.

In a world that desperately needs acceptance and politically sober minds, the recent political scene has instead highlighted fear and prejudice. The scales have tilted towards the radical conservatives. As a self identified conservative, I should be in favor of this but I see it as a disruption of balance. On a national level, we are about to enter into four years with a Republican executive and legislative majority. Trump will pick conservative Supreme Court justices and just like that, the carefully established system of checks and balances will be demolished. From an international perspective, Brexit and Trump’s electoral win have set a global precedent for masses corrupted by hatred and intolerance. Some of my French friends laughed in disbelief when they heard the results but were soon bemoaning the results along with me because of the impact it had on their own country. In France’s presidential election, they have a comparable situation with two disliked candidates and one who is particularly racist. Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right French National Front political party, said that Trump had made the impossible possible, calling his election “a sign of hope.”

In Montana, it is understandably easy to forget the plague that is racism given that only 0.04 percent of our population is African American. But this election has brought to the surface the ugliness of xenophobia that we have attempted to bury. Racism is a real and present danger to the 36.3 percent of Montana’s population that doesn’t identify as white. Additionally, Trump and his vice president present a threat to the more than eight million Americans who identify as LGBTQ+. His behavior has endorsed the swell of hate crimes that occurred in the days following the election. Montana is isolated from the rest of the world. We have a homogenized white, conservative population. We tend to forget that the rest of the nation will be impacted more severely by Trump’s divisive statements.

If you struggle to empathize with the problems of minority groups, think instead of the impact on the global majority: the women in your life. A man who normalized sexual assault and has said inexcusable things about women has been elected the leader of the free world. This is heartbreaking to all who understand that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights. Hillary Clinton didn’t lose. We as a nation lost the respect we should have for the world and for each other. We lost decency and logic.

So, if you voted for Trump, all right. We can’t change anything now. It is the way it is. I know many good people who are probably part of the silent majority who voted this man into office. In this election, many people felt no candidate truly represented them. I hope one of the ways you differ from Trump is the way in which you handle differences. I hope that you can exemplify how people should be treated: with courtesy and respect.

My friend from Greece had been interested in coming to visit me in Montana but as an openly gay male, he told me he doesn’t feel safe coming to the U.S. right now. That is perhaps the greatest tragedy of all. The cloud of fear and hatred has spread from the North American continent and is infecting the whole world. Don’t let his fears be validated any further. Be better than the president elect. We need to be kinder and more compassionate than ever before. To quote the great theologians Bill S. Preston Esquire and Ted “Theodore” Logan, “Be excellent to each other.”