Thomas Smart: My U.S. homeland now seems a faraway place thanks to Donald Trump

The election of Donald Trump has changed the way the world thinks about the United States - and has also changed the way some exiled U.S. citizens view their home country.
The election of Donald Trump has changed the way the world thinks about the United States - and has also changed the way some exiled U.S. citizens view their home country.
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I’m an American. I now live in the United Kingdom. Eleven years ago, I left the baking red heat of the Arizona desert for the soggy green hills of Scotland. The reason for my emigration was an excuse as old as humanity: love. I’d met a girl from Scotland. We got married in a cross-Atlantic swirl of confused accents and too much whisky. We bought a house. I got a job. We now have two young children.

I like living in the UK. I like the people and I like the place. Yes, February is bleak and my tan has long since faded, but Great Britain has offered me opportunities which I would have never had in the United States. I can see a doctor – for free. I was able to pursue a postgraduate degree for a very reasonable price – free. When I went to get a prescription for an infection the pharmacist told me the cost, “Free”. I still remember when my first employer told me my holiday entitlement was 30 days. I was baffled. I wondered, do these people realise they’re giving me over a month off, paid? Beyond the constant drizzle, I began to understand that there was a cultural divide I would need to work hard to bridge.

However, even with all these positive aspects of my new life, it has always been hard to shake the feeling that behind me, I’ve left a better life. Indeed, when I tell people I’m from the west coast of American they look at me quizzically. Then comes the inevitable question, “Why are you living here?” The implication is always the same: isn’t America – even with all of its flaws – better? It’s a question I do ask myself. Growing up in America, we were raised on dreams and the idea that you could become whatever you wanted. It’s an idea which goes back to the roots of the country. There’s ways been the notion of the American Dream; the land of milk and honey. America has always been seen as a place where anyone can become a Jay Gatsby; work hard enough and you too will be a success. Deep in the American psyche there has always been ideas like manifest destiny and the shout to “Go West!” In short, a better tomorrow was always just over the next horizon.

On a cold Scottish evening, sitting next a trembling radiator, it’s hard to escape the ideas on which I was raised. Maybe I just watched too much television as a kid, but there are days I really miss America. Occasionally, I’ve brought up the question with my wife about moving back “home”. We’ve talked about in the past, but she is loath to leave her family behind, and now that the kids are settled in school, I’m definitely here to stay. But every time my social media buzzes with a picture of a Californian beach or a New York skyline, a little butterfly in my stomach waves its wings.

Then came the election of Donald Trump. My colleagues at work laughed about his running; I dismissed it. He then became the official nominee for the Republican Party; I decried it. In the early hours in the morning after the vote, when it became clear Trump had won, I denied it. I think a part of me is in denial still. What I have seen recently has made me feel further from home then I have felt in the last eleven years.

Donald Trump is the polar opposite of everything I’ve told myself I miss about America. That optimistic, kind, free-spirited America I left behind has been replaced with hate, bigotry, and suspicion. The American I left, the one I knew, didn’t openly support the torture of prisoners. Shockingly, it happened, but everyone I spoke to was horrified by the revelations that the government committed acts of extraordinary rendition and waterboarding. Trump now openly agrees with it.

The America I left didn’t feel xenophobic and isolationist. Admittedly, racism is a part of American history and still very much exists. However, I never thought the American people would vote to literally wall themselves in. The America I thought I knew wasn’t misogynistic and mean. Yes, equality was a long way off but I never believed a politician could openly bragg about abusing women and still win power. In short, America has always had its flaws, but the radical now seems to have become mainstream – it’s as if those on the fringe have somehow gotten hold of the microphone.

I’ve not been back to the United States for four years. Between the cost of flights and the kids, it’s been too difficult to make the journey. The election of Trump has made me wonder, if I do ever go back to the US, will it be anything like the country I remember? It’s very easy to view the past through rose tinted spectacles, and perhaps, over the years, I’ve created a sanitised view of the America I want to remember. But I do remember it as a happy place, as a place which was, for lack of a better word, good. It seems like, somewhere between the mass shootings, violent police officers, and a megalomaniac in the White House, everything has changed. I wonder where all the kindness went? While I’m sure that the earth is the same size it was eleven years, ago, it just feels like home is much further away.