Originally published on Culture Shock.
“Will them Make America Drumpf Again, or will the next President accidentally cc Putin in on an email with the nuclear codes? We will be streaming the results of the Presidential and Congressional elections LIVE from [the University of Auckland bar]…We will also be giving away prizes to the BEST CLINTON AND TRUMP IMPERSONATORS. That means wigs, suits, pantsuits and your best Alec Baldwin impression!” –Hillary vs. Donald LIVE at the Shadows bar, Facebook event description
I’ve spent the last few months studying at the University of Auckland in New Zealand as part of a Boston University Abroad program. For most Americans, New Zealand is this inconsequential, far of little country only known for Hobbits, sheep, and being confused with Australia. Consequently, looking at the 2016 Presidential Election from this isolated South Pacific country has been, well, interesting to say the least.
Like any socially conscious young woman who grew up in a news junkie household, I’ve been keeping up with the election through the magic of the internet, consuming just enough to keep me informed but not enough to harm my sanity. In a way, I’m glad I’m not in America during all this craziness. From what my friends tell me, it’s pretty bad stateside. The election is this oppressive monster that looms over every conversation, every event, every news story.
But it’s still present here in New Zealand, annoyingly so. While the topic of Hillary pops up occasionally, kiwis have a strange fascination with Trump in particular. Their news outlets keep a close eye on the idiotic things he spouts. He graces the covers of magazines and often is the topic of op-eds and cartoons. Even ads mention him. I’ve seen a cleaning company use Trump babies as spokespeople, a contest sponsored by an electric company asking people to trump Trump, and, in one weird instance, a winter clearance announced by Trump dressed as Chairman Mao. Most of the references to Trump have been like those ads: Jokes about the orange narcissist and his wall and his hairpiece and…well basically anything and everything about him.
I guess to a lot of kiwis Trump symbolizes everything that is wrong and oppressive about America. You see, ever since American soldiers were stationed here during and after WWII, the good ol’ USA has had a heavy influence on New Zealand society. American interests are thought about in Parliament. American movies grace the screens. American restaurants and stores clog the streets. Like in much of the rest of the world, America colonized the local culture and dominated government policy in New Zealand. So in a way, making fun of Trump for most kiwis is a means of letting off some steam, venting frustrations over being colonized by the great American corporate and military overlord.
But people are also genuinely worried. Almost every New Zealander I’ve met here and have had more than one conversation with has brought him up at least once, and while they joke, their quips about a Trump presidency are usually followed by “Oh God, I hope not.” Trump may be funny and all but America still has a lot of influence, and if he wins, it’s not just bad news for America, it’s bad news for the world. There’s a lot of fear and anger out there, even thousands of miles away.
Consequently, watching all of this as an American in another country can be quite painful. While Trump may be bringing out all the hidden social/cultural problems in the states, that megalomaniac is also bringing to light all the negative stereotypes of that the rest of the world has of Americans. I’m starting to feel a little bit uncomfortable saying I’m from the US because a common response is “Oh, so you’re voting for Trump, right?” It’s almost always light-hearted, but the underlying sentiment is still there: Trump is just like all or most Americans, racist bullies who are the biggest kids in the playground and know it.
I can’t say I’ve come out of this was with a positive view of my home country. Don’t get me wrong, this disillusionment has been a long time coming. But it’s hard to stay positive about America when all people are talking about in the context of the USA is Trump and his big mouth.
feature photo credit: Tony Webster Donald Trump Backyard Photo Sign at Night – West Des Moines, Iowa via photopin (license)