Donald Trump: A View From An American Expat In Bangkok

Donald J. Trump. Just the mere mention of his name triggers so many passionate emotions.

Everyone within arm’s reach of the internet, a television or newspaper has heard of him, and everyone has an opinion. No one is apathetic towards him. People either love him or hate him, and with passion.

As an American expat living in Thailand, nary a day goes by when someone doesn’t ask me what I think of my newest President. And unlike many of my fellow Americans, I do acknowledge and even accept the fact that he will very likely (barring a historical turn of events when the Electoral College voters cast their votes) be my next President.

But this article is not an endorsement of Donald Trump. I neither supported him nor did I vote for him. For the record, I wrote in Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator with, at least by American standards, relatively radical socialist ideas which have been embraced by countless other developed countries, such as free education and free healthcare.

Not that it needs explanation, but I did so in part because as a resident of Illinois, a historically Democratic state, my vote didn’t matter under America’s arguably archaic Electoral College system, and in part because I didn’t support Hillary Clinton and I was fed up with the establishment and everything it stands for.

And I don’t subscribe to the theory that you should vote for one candidate even if you don’t believe in them simply because they’re the lesser of two evils. Part of my ‘protest vote’ was as much a protest against America’s outdated two party system as it was against the only two viable candidates we were forced to choose between.

But like I said, this article isn’t about the merits of Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton. Rather, it’s an explanation, and for many readers, hopefully an education, as to why so many people in America voted for Donald Trump. As suggested earlier, while I didn’t personally vote for him, unlike so many of my fellow Americans, I can see why others (approximately 63 million in fact) did. And that’s why I’m writing this article. Not to endorse him, but rather, to educate others, particularly foreigners who may not be familiar with the plight of so many Americans, a nation full of seemingly affluent (and educated) people.

To understand where I’m coming from, let me take you back to the night of the election on November 8th, actually the morning of the 9th here in Bangkok, where I was watching the election results come in.

As I’m sure many of you know, prior to the election, almost every credible poll (none of which sought my opinion apparently) was predicting Clinton would win rather comfortably. Thus, suffice to say, it was very interesting watching not only those same national news outlets announcing the surprising results as they were happening, but equally interesting was watching my Facebook newsfeed unfold.

While there are numerous reasons why Trump won the election, perhaps most surprising about the result of this election is just how shocked everyone was by it (at least in my circle of friends and family and I suspect many others’ as well). And a large part of that blame falls squarely on Mark Zuckerberg’s shoulders for creating a social media platform that pulls together like-minded people at the exclusion of others.

By way of example, as a white, middle class, liberal American from an extremely liberal city in America (Chicago), the majority of my Facebook friends are of similar ilk. Yet, unlike many of them, having traveled extensively throughout the US and the world, I’m not naïve enough to think that my opinion (and the opinion of my like-minded Facebook friends) is the whole universe of opinion.

Thus, as the election was unfolding, my Facebook feed was filled with the following quotes: “Is this really happening?”; “Am I dreaming?”; “Is this a nightmare?”; and my personal favorite, “What am I going to tell my kids tomorrow when they wake up?”

As Michael Moore, the uber-liberal filmmaker so aptly said, the only thing these statements indicate is how ignorant so many Americans were to the plight of their fellow Americans.

By way of comparison, my wife, who’s from Ohio, a notorious swing state that swung in favor of Trump, said her Facebook feed was filled with people who were thrilled by the result on election night.

What Michael Moore (and I) mean is this. While millions of Americans undoubtedly voted for Trump because of his racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic, xenophobic tendencies, an equal if not greater number voted for him in spite of those qualities, not because of them.

What my rich, liberal, white American friends fail to realize is that, while they can afford to vote for their next President based on his moral values, millions of Americans did not have that luxury. Rather, they were sick of seeing their wages remain stagnant for the last 40 years while the top 10% of Americans were getting richer at their expense.

They were sick of losing their jobs to (sometimes illegal) immigrants and/or seeing their jobs shipped overseas to developing countries whose workers were willing to do the same work for a fraction of the price.

When combined with the fact that many of these Americans have never left their state let alone their country, and thus have likely never met one of the minority groups that Trump may have disparaged throughout his campaign, it’s easy to see why they had little difficulty voting for him because of his economic policies and not because of his bigoted nature.

I believe that most people are good people. But at the end of the day, when push comes to shove, people will do whatever is necessary to protect their family and the ones they love. And for tens of millions of Americans, they (rightfully so) felt as though America had failed them, that they’d been backed into a corner, and that they had to make the decision that was best for them and their family, even if it meant a more difficult life ahead for others, most of whom they’ve never met or known on a personal level.

Going back to my Facebook newsfeed on the night of the election, in response to the “Is this really happening?” and “Is this a nightmare” posts, my response was that yes, this was really happening, and while it may have been a ‘nightmare’ for my friends whose lives in reality will change very little, the real ‘nightmare’ was the life that many Americans have been facing for the last 20-40 years.

It wasn’t happening because the majority of Americans hate women and couldn’t stand the thought of a female President (45% of women with college degrees voted for Trump and 62% of women without college degrees voted for him), or because the majority of Americans hate African-Americans or Latinos or Asians (all of whom voted for him themselves at rates of 8, 29 and 29%, respectively).

Let’s not also forget that America also elected an African-American man named Barack Hussein Obama, whose father was Muslim, to be President, twice.

You see, this election wasn’t about race, or gender, or religion, or sexuality, or any other creed. Instead, it was about something much simpler. It was about economics, in particular socio-economic status. For the majority of Americans, the ones who voted for Trump, they literally couldn’t afford another four to eight years of what they perceived to be an extension of Barack Obama’s policies.

And so they did what they thought they had to do to protect their family and their loved ones: voted for a man who promised to bring their jobs back, to increase their wages, and to lower their health care costs. You know, just the things that the average worker (American or otherwise) cares most about. They didn’t care if it might come at the expense of a minority group they’ve likely never met or an illegal immigrant who, based on the law, shouldn’t be there in the first place.

So to my rich, white, American liberal friends, as well as to the countless other nationalities I encounter in Thailand and elsewhere who can’t fathom how anyone could ever conceivably ponder casting a vote for Donald J. Trump, I offer this: consider how lucky you are that you didn’t have to choose between voting ‘for your conscience’ versus voting in favor of putting food on your table and a roof over your head.

Perhaps if America hadn’t allowed itself to become a place where the top 0.1% of Americans have the same combined wealth as the bottom 90% of Americans (just think about that for a second: the wealthiest 318,000 people in the U.S. have the same combined wealth as the bottom 286 million), then a proportion of that bottom 90% of Americans may not have felt compelled to vote for an anti-establishment blowhard who says whatever he wants whenever he wants.

And to that mother who posted, “What will I tell my children when they wake up in the morning?,” my response would be to tell them how lucky they are that mommy and daddy are in that top 10% of America and therefore they’ll likely never have a real care in the world, except for whether or not to get whipped cream on top of their daily Starbucks venti mocha cappuccino.

Whether or not Trump’s economic policies work, who knows. I’ve read countless articles which suggest the same people that voted for Trump are exactly the people that Trump couldn’t care less about.

But as an American, and unlike most of my white, liberal friends who’ve disavowed Trump and everything he stands for, including going so far as to protest in the streets with signs such as ‘He’s Not My President’ (the irony being that these same people were aghast when Trump suggested he may not concede the election results when everyone was so certain that Clinton would win), I think we at least owe it to the 63 million Americans who voted for him to find out if they were right.

Isn’t that how democracy is supposed to work after all (putting aside the fact that many people would argue that in a true democracy Clinton should have won based on her popular vote victory, but that’s a discussion for another day)?

But instead, I suspect the majority of my American friends will return to their blissfully ignorant lives, continuing to ignore the bottom 90% of America that voted for Trump and continuing to ask themselves “what went wrong?”

Featured image is by Gage Skidmore and used under a CC BY-SA 2.0 licence

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