Whether it’s in the back of a cab, out at the pubs, or in line at the grocery store, my American accent gives me away. The simple question “Where are you from?” now holds so much weight, because once you answer “I’m from the United States,” it is immediately followed by questions regarding Donald Trump. Regardless of political affiliation, the world wants answers and I just don’t have them. An opinion would do well, had I known what to say in the first place. The go-to answer has become, “Well, it’s going to be an interesting four years.”
American international student, Jonathan Rodriguez, says that the topic of Donald Trump is brought up most in the classrooms, “At least once, if not twice a week.” Jonathan is originally from Pennsylvania, and is studying theatre in London. “In my classes, we talk about how the arts has impacted history and changed over time due to problems and issues people have faced throughout history. And when problems come up, Donald Trump always comes up. It’s like the two are interchangeable.”
I asked Jonathan if he had ever faced backlash due to his American nationality, and he recalled one incident while on holiday in Venice, Italy. “My friends and I were sitting by this woman speaking Spanish. Obviously she didn’t know I spoke and understood Spanish, because at some point she looked at us and called me, ‘an American peasant’. That didn’t feel too good.” The general perception of Americans right now is represented in a whole rather than individual sense. Studies conducted by Pew Research Center in 2004, described the “anti-Americanism” during the Bush administration; according to the Gatestone Institute, it has escalated, and will continue to in the coming years.
“I would say that we look pretty ridiculous right about now,” says American International student, Riley Garant. Riley says that the U.S. political situation is “embarrassing”. Since arriving in London early January, he has been asked about the president “at least 15 to 20 times”. The United States is one of the most powerful and influential countries in the world. It’s democratic government and multiculturalism make it different than other countries, and is therefore interesting to people. “The United States is so influential and powerful. The policies will affect them too, and they want answers just as much as we do.” The United States is the largest economic and military power in the world; according to U.S. News and World Reporting, shifting alliances and trade priorities affect security and economic prosperity both domestic and internationally. It is not surprising that the rest of the world wants to know what is going on, as it affects them just as it affects Americans.
“It’s such a hit or miss subject,” says international student, Austen Averna. He says that he is asked about United States politics and Donald Trump at least two times a week; in those interactions, most of them happen in the back of a cab. “It’s the same thing every time. The conversation will be going great, and then you hear, ‘So I have to ask…’ and the questions ensue.” Austen says that although he feels both comfortable and well informed enough to discuss United States politics, there is only so much he can take. According to studies conducted by Pew Research, 57 percent of Americans get news information from television, 38 percent get information online, 25 percent get information through radio, and 20 percent get their information from print news.
Of this, more than one-third of social media users are worn out by political content they encounter. When I asked Austen his opinion on this he said, “Ask me about New York, ask me if I’ve ever travelled to the Wisconsin, ask me about my family, or ask me how I’m adjusting to living in London; ask me anything, just stop asking me about Donald Trump.”
“It isn’t really hard for me to say ‘I’m a Republican’ or ‘Yeah, I voted for Trump,’ but it’s hard for everyone else to hear.” Irene Intriago is a Republican studying abroad for a semester, in what seems to be a predominately Democratic community. She says that she usually stays quiet when someone brings up politics. Former Secretary of State, Madeline Albright said, “Trying to explain what’s going on to foreigners is hard, but they’re looking at us as if we’ve lost our mind.” When I asked Irene what happens when people ask her about the president, she quickly responded, “No one ever ‘asks’ me about Trump. They tell me what they think they know.”
“‘So what are your thoughts on Donald Trump?’ That’s honestly one of the first things someone will ask you.” Andrew Rogers, from Boston, Massachusetts, often chooses to keep his opinions to himself while traveling; instead he says in a hopeful tone, “well, we’ll see what he does…” As many times as people ask, Andrew says that no one really wants to hear the answer. “If I were to tell the people who ask that I voted for Donald Trump…people talk down to you as a racist or bigot, rather than a human being. It’s almost not worth it to get your views across.” When I asked Andrew if he had any concerns regarding his American status, or political affiliation, he recalled his time traveling in Budapest. “We had just come back from a party, and were in line to order food when three Muslim men, about my age, approached me and said, ‘Oh you’re an American! Who did you vote for?’ And that was the very first time that I lied about politics. Without hesitation, I answered, ‘I voted for Hillary Clinton.’” A 2016 survey reported that 18 percent of people lie about their political affiliation. “I love to debate, and I’m a very honest person. But in this day and age, you can say what you feel and instantly you’re wrong. It’s annoying to try and share your opinions with people and instantly looked down upon as a human being.” Andrew said that realistically, he could have told the truth, and nothing would have happened; but he understands that the topic is sensitive, and it was easier.
Mikayla Lawrence, a journalism student from Washington, says that the general feeling she gets when she is constantly asked about the president is that people feel bad for her, as an American. “I used to feel bad for myself; but at the same time I want him to do well and make good decisions for my country.” When traveling abroad, we are told to avoid looking like “The Ugly American”, but now we are being told to avoid looking like an American in general. Americans abroad are ambassadors for our country wherever we go. And now, that has become more difficult than ever. “A potentially controversial president means you have to prepare,” says Colby Martin, an intelligence director for Pinkerton. “Americans traveling abroad need to have a comprehensive plan for staying safe.”
Rather than being seen as a serious world leader, the world is on the edge of their seats waiting for what our new leader will do next. “The world looks to Hollywood for entertainment. We are the stars of the media. So when politics come around, it’s an invitation for us to be looked at.” Mikayla says that although she feels very informed about American and world politics, no one who asks her about the president really wants to know what she has to say. “They are never asking me for an actual political discussion, they’re asking because they think it’s funny.” Although she is asked about the president regularly, it has never escalated to a heated political discussion, or appeared to be malicious. “It’s a lot of ranting, and it’s a lot of laughing…” Mikayla says that she wants people to ask her about more than Trump. She says that so many people “hate him for the sake of hating him,” but never inform themselves. Mikayla concluded saying, “Ask me about Trump,” because ignoring the situation isn’t helping anyone.
Regardless of your knowledge regarding politics, at the current moment in time, no answer will satisfy the world. But this does not mean we should stop the conversation. By sharing our experiences, and voicing our opinions, we get a better understanding of the world through another person, party, or nationality’s eyes. As much as I don’t want to be asked about President Trump, I don’t want to stop talking about it or stop trying to figure this out. The world is in a very new and heated moment in politics, so it is important to listen to opinions, debate what is right and wrong, and stay as informed and connected as possible. But no matter how knowledgeable and qualified for political discussions you are, it is going to be an interesting four years.