During the last presidential election in the United States, when the popularity of the conservative political movement the tea party went through the roof, someone figured out that the nation whose most popular television show is ”Modern Family” can’t really be that conservative. While Sarah Palin and her followers waived the flag of the hardened conservative party, Americans gathered around their screens to watch amusing anecdotes of a family made up of, among others, Colombian immigrants and a homosexual married couple with an adopted Asian girl.
These days, when a great part of America is willing to vote for a man who desires to build border walls and who labels immigrants as criminals, I cannot help but to look with inquisitive wonder at groups of Americans on vacation.
American tourists are a special subspecies of tourist, always noticeable in the crowd. Willing to talk without any hesitation, they are great candidates for conducting a personal survey. As a people that are made up of fragments of overseas nations that had to find a way to coexist in the New World, through evolution Americans have probably gained a friendly face that makes them easy to talk to. At the bar of Ko Bar at Orient Bay Beach on the Caribbean island of Saint Martin, a group of new friends from North Carolina, Illinois and Maryland shows that because of the amount of international interest in their presidential elections, they willingly jump into political debates in their swimsuits, right there under the Caribbean sun.
“Trump, Hillary…? Like it matters. The only thing that matters is that we get rid of Obama,” says Dawn, a housewife from Maryland. Her husband, Dave, the owner of a construction company, confirms that Barack Obama, for whom they voted two times, is the “greatest disappointment of our lives.”
“I’ll tell you something. I don’t like any of the candidates that much. I don’t agree with any of them and I know that I won’t be satisfied with any of them. But no one can be a more absurd president than Obama,” says Dave. He insists on keeping the name of his favorite candidate to himself, but he states that it won’t be Hillary Clinton.
Heather, a computer technician from Illinois, just started her vacation, and she asserts that this holiday is indispensable after the nauseating atmosphere in the United States. “We’re tired of politics. For a long time politics hasn’t brought anything. I hope Hillary wins, not because I think she is great, but because I think that she is a little bit better that the other options,” she explains. She uses the English expression, “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t,” grasping the strength of the Clinton last name.
All year long Americans gather at one of the most popular holiday destinations — to which direct flights from almost every big American city lead. “They are wealthy people from places that we can’t even find on a map,” the bartender and their everyday host, Guy-Pierre, says to me. Seriously rich people from New York and Boston continue to nearby Saint Barth. The middle class and the upper middle class, farm owners and small company owners, people who are the product of the American promise of success for those willing to roll up their sleeves for a long and sufficient period of time, are those who remain at Saint Martin. While looking at them, I realize this is the America that we know the least. Distracted by the screaming of the “white working class” — those who Donald Trump has said would love him equally even if he shot a man on Fifth Avenue — and by the educated analysis of New York intellectuals, we ignore Heather and Dawn, Dave and Brenda. In the noise created by everyone else, we forget that these are the people who will decide the upcoming elections.
Brenda and Pete are a married couple from North Carolina, who, after 30 years in the business of selling computer parts, retired this year. With their kids all grown up and finishing college, they allowed themselves the ultimate dream of every successful married couple. For the next year they won’t do anything except visit the places they have always dreamed of visiting. Saint Martin is the first place on their list because many years ago they spent their honeymoon here. “If I had to choose one emotion to describe the mood of the choice, it’s dissatisfaction. The last couple of years all those people who are willing to work, who wish the best for their children and their environment, who wish for a normal life and security and the pride that the United States provides have been chased into a corner,” says Brenda, a merry-spirited 60-year-old. “The pride is gone,” continues her husband. “Obama gave an advantage to immigrants, to black people, to Muslims — to all those wishing to burden the state, in fact to all those who are not Americans. Whoever becomes his heir must change that. That’s why Trump is successful, he’s not afraid to say that this, what is going on, is jeopardizing our security and our pride,” explains Pete.
Decisions shouldn’t be made from fear, but next to dissatisfaction fear is the driving force of the current political climate in the United States. Fear of terrorism, of immigrants, of a new economic crisis — fear of the feeling that they are losing the America they know. In a recent CNN survey, almost 47 percent of white Americans believed that they were the victims of discrimination against white people and in favor of other ethnic groups in the country. Even 57 percent of Republicans trusted Trump the most in the field of economics.
This isn’t the only case in the Western world where a vote in favor is, in fact, a vote against. It has marked the political image of many European countries, including France, Italy and most recently Germany. But that isn’t necessarily a sign that Americans have lost their common sense, as my colleagues in the European media like to say. During a week when the prestigious magazine The Economist classified a Trump victory in the presidential election as a global risk greater than Brexit, Grexit or Russian interventions in Ukraine and Syria, Heather, Dawn, Pete and Brenda are surprised that I am so interested in the political life of the United States. Sipping his pina colada, Pete, with an American flag on his cap, tells me that American elections are above all else an American problem. “We have the responsibility to decide which candidate will be the best for our children. Any foreign comments aren’t necessary. America belongs to Americans,” he says. As he is walking away, I notice a sign on the back of his cap, “Make America Great Again,” the motto of Donald Trump’s campaign.
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