The American President

I can’t begin to sort through all the thoughts in my head. So I doubt I’ll be able to do so successfully on this page.

Where do I begin?

I’m privileged. Let’s start there.

I’m crazy privileged. I know this, especially in terms of opportunity. Educational background, career prospects. I live in the heart of the fucking bubble. I know more people with advanced degrees than without. I don’t think I have a friend who didn’t at least graduate college. And I can’t remember the last person I even met who didn’t have a high school diploma. Now, I wasn’t born in the bubble, didn’t grow up in it. But I made it into the bubble. And I’m fucking there, for better or worse.


I have said there is almost no facet in my life where I have not become at least a little more cynical. Love is one exception. There used to be another.

I am well aware of America’s ills. Guantanamo. Afghanistan and Iraq. I remember watching on television horrified when Katrina hit New Orleans and hundreds of thousands of people were displaced, downright abandoned, fucking living in the Superdome for days. It wasn’t limited to the Bush years either. Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner – we’ve all seen that shit in the news. Drones. NSA surveillance. Proxy wars in Syria and Yemen. Rampant poverty. It’s a mess, and I’m barely scratching the surface.

Put that aside.

A classmate in grad school once told me that he would shame his students, pick on them individually to see if they voted or not. I always found that appalling. They’re adults. Fuck off. See, I’ve never been that political. I say this despite having spent 11 years studying political science in higher education. I have my beliefs, my convictions. But that’s the extent of it.

I distinctly remember wondering once whether my life was affected by the presidency in any way. Like my day-to-day. I’m not sure, really. Of course there’s funding for the social sciences, funding for higher education, healthcare, etc. All of these and others obviously impact my life to some degree. But I’m privileged. I’m a “model minority.” I live(d) on the coasts. So there might be ripples. Small waves at most. It’s not the difference between drowning or not, metaphorically speaking. Same goes for the next few years. I probably won’t drown. My day-to-day, generally unaffected.


In high school literature sophomore year, we had to pick an author, read three books by that author, and write a 3,000 word paper about it. I ended up with Sinclair Lewis. Main Street. Babbitt. They were about small town discontent. Middle class hypocrisy. Forced conformity. I still remember this because I got the third-best grade in the class on that assignment. A B+. Boyd was a hardass. He also happened to return papers in order, starting from the best grade to the worst. Anyway. The third book was It Can’t Happen Here. It’s about a fascist dictatorship taking hold in America. A demagogue who appeals to the common man, promises social and economic reform – all the while playing the press. It was written in 1935.


My problems aren’t real. I know this. Every generation of my family before me had to work as children. My aunt did it to keep my dad in school as long as possible, which was about fifth grade. My mom’s family was boat people. They lived on the fish they caught. This isn’t just about my privilege though. It’s about the fact that the world is not only fundamentally unfair but generally a shit place. I was not born a starving child. I was not born into war and conflict. I was not born into abuse. Luck. Random chance.

I don’t believe in God. Why would I? Look at this world.

I loved my country so much. I believed in it, unequivocally. Annoyed the shit out of my friends and strangers about it, that’s for sure. I started “U-S-A” chants unironically. I couldn’t get enough of the national anthem at sporting events. I would say “the greatest country in the world,” and mean it, truly. Because of my personal story, sure. But because of what it was. Because of what it aspired to be. Your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

We weren’t perfect. But we were taking steps. Yesterday was supposed to be a big one.

I think I especially loved America because of its burden of responsibility. A burden. We moved too slow against Qaddafi. We don’t do enough in North Korea. We’re not brokering the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. There are a ton of valid criticisms of course, unproud moments, awful mistakes, inexcusable crimes. I don’t deny this. But there also exists this expectation in the world that this country be all things in all situations, that it solve problems that lack simple answers. So it fails. A lot. But America was fucking out there, you know? Where everyone expects it to be. Where almost everyone asks it to be. Humanitarian relief after the tsunami. The AIDS initiative in Africa. And yeah, fuck Saddam, even without WMD.

I’ve been an expat for more than three years. Didn’t love the country any less. On the contrary.

Now I feel abandoned.

Paul Haggis made this movie, In the Valley of Elah, about a retired Army sergeant searching for his missing son, who just got back from service in Iraq. He finds the body eventually. Pieces together what happens, despite a cover-up from the military, and one of his son’s friends killing himself. Turns out another guy in their platoon stabbed him over a stupid argument. All of them were just fucked, lost back home, suffering from PTSD. Anyway, at the end of the movie, the father takes the flag his son had mailed back. And he raises it and flies it upside down – the international symbol for distress. I thought a lot about that scene yesterday.

I just don’t know anymore.

I immigrated when I was six. I’ve believed in America since then. Always had faith in it.

Not anymore.

I’m angry that it came to this. Despondent we weren’t better. Sad we couldn’t reach those who were left behind. Terrified for those more vulnerable than myself.

And I’m worried about not just our place in the world, but the world itself.

Like I said, I feel abandoned.

I feel vulnerable.

And I feel fucking stupid for believing, for loving the way that I did. For feeling the way that I did about my country, my fellow citizens.

Yes, I was obviously naive, bordering on being willfully ignorant. It was always a “fanciful, wildly inaccurate mental picture.”

I was something though. I held onto something, at least.

And now I no longer do.


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