When you grow up where I did, in New Zealand, and you know that there is only the Pacific Ocean between you and Chile, nine thousand miles away, eventually you are forced to understand yourself in relation to the other.
It is why so many New Zealanders travel. We have to get out there, to see for ourselves what the rest of the world is doing.
In June of this year, on the second day of a three-week road trip through the heart of what is now known as the rust belt(!) in the Midwest of the USA , John and I went for a walk around Powderhorn Lake, in Minneapolis. It was early summer, everything was green including the lake—it looked a poisonous green to me. I asked a gentleman who was fishing at the lake why. He explained it was an algae bloom caused by fertiliser run off—a common problem, apparently.
And then he asked where we were from.
I told him.
His very next words were : Don’t worry, he’ll never be president.
We all know to whom he was referring. What he couldn’t have known because I didn’t tell him, was that I was already worried about this election.
And that worry stayed with me. I wasn’t reassured by my conversations with friends or with travel acquaintances. You see, what I noticed was how much the USA has changed. Back in 2006, when I visited for the first time since living in Minnesota for the 75/76 school year, I was struck by how frightened people were. 9/11 had taken a terrible toll; it continues to take a terrible toll.
During my most recent visit in June this year, I was struck by how angry people were. My friends, the people I love in America, no matter where they are on the political spectrum, were as kind and generous as they have always been, ever since 1975. However, there was a degree of impatience and intolerance on a daily level I found disquieting, that I don’t remember experiencing at all back in ’75, and although present in 06 it was much less marked.
Alarmingly, almost everyone had a utopian view of New Zealand. Let me assure you, we are no utopia. (Neither are we quaint —a word I’ve heard too often about my country and our people; a word that betrays a certain arrogance on the part of a user.) There is an underbelly to life here. We, too, have unacceptable poverty, racism, violence—especially against women, and intolerance. Does this sound familiar?
Although we are a long way from the rest of the world, in this modern age distance is no protector. Indeed, our share market began to fall as soon as the trend towards Trump began to emerge yesterday. As I write it is down 6%. There are reports in the media that the Canadian immigration site crashed. Here in New Zealand searches on our own immigration site are up 24 fold. Yep, they’ve gone from an average of 2,300 a day to 56,300 in the last 24 hours.
To those Americans who imagine you can escape the consequences of this election and come hide-out down here in the South Pacific, the world has changed. There will be no escaping the consequences of this election. We all will feel/are feeling the effects.
The difference is, some of us got to vote yesterday and some of us didn’t. And that’s the thing I find the most galling about all of this, the most difficult to stomach. The USA has decided on this next leader of the so-called “free world”, the man who will have his finger on the nuke button come January 2017—something that affects every person on the planet. The rest of us weren’t able to participate in the decision. We don’t have the comfort of knowing we exercised a right to vote, scant though that may be for some; that if we don’t like the way it goes we can vote again in two years for Congress and then in four years for the president.
It remains to be seen what will happen. But I am alarmed. Experience tells me that the most reliable predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour. I doubt Trump will be the exception to the rule. And given that, then we are staring a new world order in the face and it’s not looking pretty.
I wonder how many other non-Americans who live elsewhere in the world are frustrated with this outcome? And I wonder, apart from the ugly new world order that is likely to emerge, is there, could there be a different way of doing things?
Globalisation is not going to go away because a President thinks building walls is a good idea. The internet is here and we talk to each other. The internet can get around walls, unless Trump means to control this, too. Oh, wait somebody is already worried about surveillance of the internet and he’s been given asylum in Russia …
Nevertheless, maybe, eventually, a new world order might emerge from all this, one different from that which we fear. Could it be one where cooperation and acceptance of the other is the norm, where we all get to vote for a Global President—or is that too much to hope for, too big a dream, too utopian? Perhaps it is for now, maybe not forever.
In the meantime, citizens of the United States of America, regardless of how you voted, this election result does not have to be a poisoned chalice. I ask you not to run, but to turn and face the challenge. Please, be the great the rest of us need you to be.