God Bless America?: Reflections on my Third Elections Abroad

The world is having a serious identity crisis.

To say that 2016 has been a weird year is to echo the sentiments of…just about everyone. And it goes far beyond the celebrity deaths, the Cubs winning the World Series and me getting pregnant.

You know that phrase, when pigs fly? As much as I’d love for patas de jamón to be raining from the heavens, there has been more bad juju this years than in the last decade. Race riots, gun violence and the refugee crisis have reached a fever pitch. Everyone is offended by everything. Spain finally voted in a government.

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And to me, the 2016 Election cycle signals the end of the democratic process as I’d been brought up to believe in. Thinking back to Mrs. Entwistle’s seventh grade social studies class – one in which we recited state capitals and the presidents from Washington to Clinton – seems like it was a century ago, not two decades.

And think about it: 100 years ago, American women still couldn’t vote.

There are decries of the electoral college, of unbiased reporting. And sitting in my living room in the northern part of Madrid, listening to Disney music as a coping mechanism since I can’t have a beer or two for my nerves, I’m still shellshocked by the last few weeks and months.

I voted from abroad. I donated to campaign issues that were important to me. I faxed in ballots for people, taking away from my workload because, hell, these kids were excited to vote for the very first time. Did we sit on our hands? Push a broken system? Stick our fingers in our ears when two people screeched at each other on television?

What in the actual hell happened? More importantly, what does it mean going forward?

A voting history of a Democrat abroad

I voted for the first time in 2004, even registering in a swing state because my home state is always – for better or worse – left-leaning. John Kerry passed by my campus for a speech, bringing along Iowa Golden Boy Ashton Kutcher and actor Ron Livingston to stump for him. I got caught up in election fever, not even bothering to read into the platforms of those up for reelection in the state in which I’d decided to attend college. I even went as far as registering as a Democrat, much to the dismay of my crimson-hearted parents.

Kerry lost by half of a percentage point and, with it, his seven electoral votes, but I proudly donned my I VOTED sticker that chilly November morning. AND I made it to class on time.

In 2008, I was the English teacher who had brought a map of the US with me, fished out of the Target $1 bins. That Tuesday afternoon, I diligently filled in the number of electoral votes each state had to throw at a candidate and put together a collection of markers, crayons and colored pencils so that my other expat friends could color in the states as election boards turned in official results. There were close to 50 of us packed into the top bar at the Merchant until nearly 5am.

2008 Elections

We celebrated over nachos and Budweiser beers until I had the pleasure of coloring my state blue with a Crayola marker that was nearly dry. The next morning, I received hugs from my coworkers as if I myself were Barack Obama. It was memorable, to say the least (and I still made it to class on time).

It was then when I heard the phrase that would resonate with me eight years later, “Cuando Estados Unidos estornuda, todo el mundo se resfria.” When America sneezes, the whole world catch a cold. I felt the optimism and a new era hurtling in from across the Atlantic.

Four years later, in 2012, a head cold and working evenings had me sidelined for election party antics, but I woke up at 6am to news of an Obama reelection. Between my Master’s and a new job, I had hastily shot off a vote without looking deeply into the issues, letting political party lines determine my vote. It didn’t feel as great as 2008, but I felt that my views had representation in all areas of government. Checks and Balances for the win.

But 2016. 2016 is different.

I’m in my 30s, no longer the 19-year-old swayed by celebrities and the rhetoric. Someone who has her values defined and tested. Someone who will be bringing a child into the world in the aftermath of an election that can only be described as long, ugly and exhausting. And, frankly, someone who would prefer being pregnant for an entire election cycle. All 600 days of it. And grossly pregnant.

Over the summer, the Pew Research Center survey found that about six in 10 of us were “exhausted” by the elections – which technically began with Marco Rubio announcing his candidacy in March 2015. Sheryl Crow petitioned for a shorter cycle. I lived through, in that time, two presidential elections in Spain – a country which only allows campaigning for two weeks leading up to the election.

I fully expected to feel relief on November 8th, relief that the mud racking and slandering and name-calling was over. Instead, I woke up anxious and looked for ways to distract myself at work, refusing to open news alerts and keeping my phone in my bag or face down on my desk, an arm’s reach away.

On being an American abroad

It’s an odd thing being overseas when big things are happening in your country. You feel one-part ambassador to the messed up things that are splattered across foreign news, defending the actions of a country that is far from homogenous. Like you have to right the wrongs, to make explanations for every policy, law and scandal. That one person can represent a greater good and not what Hollywood or Washington or the media portray. That, even though Spaniards are outspoken about their opinions, I could explain the historical and sociological roots of America’s political system and why a representative democracy is, ultimately, about people having the power.

Spanish Cowboy under Old Glory. Scottsdale, AZ.

There’s been so much backlash about colonialism and a 240-year-old piece of parchment that begins with “We The People…” but I fundamentally believe that our Founding Fathers wrote a document flexible enough to weather social change, an increasingly global world and demographics.

I work for an American university in Spain, so I don’t feel alienated in my views or living this experience alone – and this university is international, drawing 65 nations to a campus of 800 students. I was impressed watching students debate in the cafeteria and coming in exasperated that their absentee ballots never arrived and could-you-please-please-fax-this-so-my-vote-gets-counted?!

Speaking about my love of country – even with Spain as a flamboyant lover – was something I enjoyed doing for the first eight years of my expat life. And it’s a country that instilled values like hard work, acceptance and the beauty of diversity in me. It never felt like a chore nor would I have ever categorized my words as hollow. I am critical of the United States despite recognizing the privilege I was born into – not just by possessing a blue passport, but by being educated, white and from a family who supports me.

But this year, yeah. I am at a total loss for words and saddened for so many groups of minorities. The whole world has gone bonkers, and the ripples and cracks are deepening.

The Aftermath: That’s what you get for waking up in Trump’s America

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I will begin by saying that, even though I’m a registered Democrat, I have a lot of Republican values. My parents have never voted Democrat, too young to fully understand Kennedy’s Camelot and those who were taught to prescribe to my grandmother’s words, “My money is my money.” My mother confessed that she was morally struggling over voting for Trump – something I chalked up to her coming around and seeing that party lines can become blurred when you factor in more than experience and policy.

Still, when my absentee ballot arrived, I took the time to research candidates. I voted Democrat for president and Congress, but also filled in a few red bubbles for local and state elections. I felt more confident in my choices this time around and encouraged people to vote despite the age-old excuses of, “my vote doesn’t matter” or “I hate them both.”

When I went to bed just shy of 5am, Spain time, I’d been at an enormous election party since 11pm. It was almost like watching a European football match in a bar – lots of beers, cheering and jeering and floods of blue. Everyone was on my side for once, and I didn’t feel like my team was the underdog. I didn’t get nervous when the early reports put Trump ahead of Hillary and I watched as Florida flipped flopped more than Trump switched parties in the last 12 years.

But at 4am, things were looking grim, so I said goodbye to my friends, refreshed the NYT one more time just in case the world had collapsed and grabbed a taxi. I wanted to do the same as I did for Game 7 of the World Series – use a rain delay (or a few hours of sleep) to reset and let my team get its shit together.

Nearly 12 hours have passed since an Tang-stained bomb got dropped. I had planned to sleep until my body woke up, but at 9am, I bolted upright (oops, don’t tell my midwife) and called for the Novio. His face said it all, despite the fevered whispering that it actually might happen that we exchanged leading up to November 8th.

I passed through the Seven Stages of Grief pretty quickly, and once I’d denounced the actions of my countrymen (I mean, these exit polls are pretty eye-opening), I erased most of this draft and got to writing again.

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This election was more than about breaking the glass ceiling – it was about voting with head and heart for what I believe in. I put aside scandal and morality to look at the cold, hard facts.

It’s tragic that we have to fear for our friends and neighbors, or to fear our neighbors, or post suicide hotline numbers (but kudos to those of you who recognized that this could start an epidemic). It’s tragic that people can’t afford healthcare or that our education level is sliding as college tuition hikes make it impossible for people to have access to degrees. It’s tragic that democracy is crumbling because there is so much more bubbling beneath the surface.

There’s a disconnect between parties and the People, and this is blatantly honest from the eyes of someone who has been abroad for nearly a decade. When I came here, we didn’t think it could get worse than W. He now seems like the harmless village idiot in just a little over his head.

Time will tell what The Donald brings to the table, or if it’s Mike Pence doing all of the heavy lifting. I’m reminding myself between deep nasal breaths that checks and balances exist, as does a party identity. Maybe we can all just hope for a sitting duck? He’ll quack loudly, but probably just swim around in circles, nipping other ducks just to be cheeky. Ducks aren’t violent, right?

But here’s my biggest issue, now that I’ve gotten past the 279 votes my party didn’t win: I am shaking my head and wagging my finger at all of those people who say they’re fleeing to Canada or Europe or staying abroad. Now is not the time to put our tails between our legs and concede because the country is divided, and that fracture is deepening. My hope is that activism takes root, that people do their homework when it comes to issues and policies, that you write to the people you have representing you in Washington. There’s a reason we have a representative democracy – you have to show up.

We have four years, but just two until midterm elections and this vicious cycle begins again for 2020. I’m not giving up hope or prosperity because I believe in the country I call home and the values I hope to teach my child.

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My son is scheduled to come into this world on January 1st, 2017. I’m crossing my fingers that he doesn’t make his debut in 2016, a year marred by head scratching moments and an outwardly struggle to figure out who we are and what we stand for.

I know he will come to me one day and ask, “Mommy, who was president when I was born?”

I want to confidently say that he was born while Obama was in the Oval, when people could love who they wanted, be who they wanted and say what they wanted. I want to raise him to believe in himself and the good of others, but to also question morality and social wrongs.

I want him to be a good person, plain and simple. To use the right words instead of hateful speech. To not bully or belittle someone, but instead offer an ear or a hand or a hug.

Maybe I’m just naïve, but I want to believe people are good but sometimes just stubborn, misinformed and insist upon holding grudges. I want to believe that we, as a people, will hold one another accountable to pick up the pieces and trudge on forward, hand in hand. I want to believe that this is the beginning of positive change.

If you’re wondering how to help the environment, minorities or women, check out the Jezebel list of places and organizations to donate.
US Elections Abroad

I have to say, this post has been drafted, deleted and rewritten countless times since November 1st. Then I did it all over again on November 9th. It was a blessing and a curse to have the day after the US Elections off of work, and I’m still processing what happened – both in the last 600 days and the last 240 years to get here. I don’t get political on my blog, but I will say that I have yet to defriend anyone for voting differently. Second Amendment be damned – information and activism are the only weapons we need.

If you’re going to comment, be my guest. Call it being polite or just realizing that there is enough room in the world for everyone’s views. I will not allow attacks on others who join the conversation. Keep it nice and respectful, please.

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About Cat Gaa

As a beef-loving Chicago girl living amongst pigs, bullfighters, and a whole lotta canis, Cat Gaa writes about expat life in Seville, Spain. When not cavorting with adorable Spanish grandpas or struggling with Spanish prepositions, she wrangles babies at an English language academy and freelances with other publications, like Rough Guides and The Spain Scoop.

Comments

  1. Thanks, Cat.

  2. i shall say this with my little knowledge: i don’t really think that Donald Trump will do half of what he says he is going to do just because many republicans of congress and senate do not agree with him, and unlike in Spain where members of parliament follow their leader of party like goats, in the USA you may see republicans vote against a republican as far as i know.

    some of what Donald says: to build a wall between USA and Mexico? well i can say that surely 99’9% of Spaniards would agree if someone, say, Pedro, Maria or Francisco told of a reinforced concrete wall 50 metres high in Ceuta or Melilla to stop immigrants…is such a thing racism? no way because i am absolutely sure that 99’9% of Spaniards are not racist.

    to me racism is a different thing, for example to say that Latin Americans or Mexicans are criminals is total racism, it is also racism to say that Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem decided to have their baby in USA because a child born in USA gets US citizenship by birth, whereas David Beckham and his wife Victoria did the same thing with one of their children and, surprisingly i didn’t hear any of those who slagged off Penelope and Javier say the same thing with the overrated footballer and his dear wife, so is it good and okay for a Brit to have a baby in the Land of The Free, whereas if the same thing is done by a Spaniard then it is because one wants to take some advantage? such a thing is not only disgusting but total racism, and such a thing was said by some of those who have voted for Donald Trump.

    to me Donald Trump is racist not because of his wet dreams of a wall but because of the way he treats immigrants above all those who happen to speak Spanish…also he is bad because of the way he treats women….the only good thing of Donald that i find is to lower taxes in general.

    Hillary Clinton was my favourite, a great woman with a lot of knowledge of foreign affairs, etc but in the last time i had heard a lot of bad things about e-mails being investigated by FBI…as if such a thing were so bad! at least from my point of view because us in Spain are used to corrupt politicians and their millions of euros, so e-mails? please!

    last but not least, i have heard some people criticise others just because they voted for third parties, i think it is unfair, as if they were responsible! if they voted for a third party is because they didn’t like Trump and Hillary, and their freedom to vote or clear conscience did let them vote any other no matter if Trump or Hillary win…it is like criticising Podemos just because Podemos voted against the PSOE and Ciudadanos in March and now the PP is in power!

  3. Jim McCoey says:

    Sadly no mention of the result of seventy years of liberalism, that being the destruction of our major cities by creating an underclass dependent on welfare provided by the State. The Democrat Party has been hijacked by the global, socialist/communist elitists funded by the likes of George Soros and a handful of global billionairs seeking power.
    Interesting how Spain will elect a Communist regime that will bring economic disaster followed by a Conservative regime to rebuild and into a roller-coaster cycle…go figure. Hillary will or should go to jail if not pardoned for her crimes. Thank God the American people voted with their heads.

  4. Good! :)

  5. Susan Jackson says:

    Hillary has not been convicted of sny crimes so can’t be pardoned

  6. Being away from your home country certainly makes you feel very ‘distant’ from the elections, although you have opinions somehow the longer you stay away the less you feel attached to who runs you country, on the other hand the US elections were so divisory it would be hard to not feel strongly about the result
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  7. Oh my gosh, chills all around friend. It is so hard being the American abroad. At work I am the only American and I was confronted so much the next day with “how could this happen?”. But, it was all too soon. I’d too been recovering from an all nighter and my face still showed the real tears that fell. I can’t decide if it is harder as a once insider now an outsider looking in, but just hoping that things aren’t as bad as they seem. And no matter when your little man comes, he will bring a special light this world needs :)
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  8. I am just now starting to come out of my funk and I think it’s only because I was “forced” to with the coming of Christmas. Got our tree last night, decorated it and the house today. Definitely helped. I’m right there with you. I bit my nails, chewed my cuticles in anticipation of feeling relief the evening of 11/8……instead, I got a migraine and couldn’t sleep that night having to call in sick the next day. I learned there were many like me that night. Hubby’s boss was up all night throwing up :( Please don’t take what I’m about to write the wrong way. We were in Spain for two weeks this past March and it didn’t have the “magic” as the last two times we were there. You might remember that I’m hoping to retire to southern Spain in a few years. When we returned from our trip this year I became wishy washy on moving to Spain. Post election: totally different story! Yes, I am now anxious to “flee” and try somewhere else for a change. And since this has been our plan, more or less, since 2011 we both are more resolute in our decision to retire to Spain. I can’t believe there were enough people conned by this creep and, alas, I can’t believe how many. Really??? Our media is pathetic and definitely part of why he won. And yes, there was Putin and the complicit and hypocritical Republicans. Yes, I am old and I’ve just about had enough of the back and forth. The lying, the awful campaign we just witnessed. Beyond disgusting. At first I said I didn’t have any fight left in me. However, now I’m saying I will fight as long as I’m still here in the U.S., writing and calling my senators, the justice department, the White House. After I sail away across the Atlantic, I doubt very much I’ll be that involved. I love my country…..to a point now. I lived through 8 years of dubya and yea, who could have imagined there would be anyone worse??? Uh huh….okay, I will stop now. and now that I see the time I guess I should get some shut-eye. Congrats on your upcoming bundle of joy!!! You can focus on him now and try to forget all the awfulness that has happened and likely will continue. what a world we live in…..

    • It was a hard, ugly pill to swallow. Thankfully, I’ve been distracted by my baby coming that it’s been (thankfully) off my mind. I’ve donated and made calls and written emails, and I’m hoping that the checks and balances do their job. Pipe dream? Perhaps. And there’s no shame in wanting to follow through with a plan to move here! It was a critique of all those who said, “If he wins, I’m going abroad!” who will continue to sit on their hands and not fight against injustice or racism or the blatant rule bending he’s doing. I’m abroad but still very much American and have plenty still invested there, so I’m not going to stick my head in the sand!

  9. I’m still awake! Had to look at the exit polls that you linked and actually? That gives me hope for the future of America. The younger people are where it’s at with the majority of younger people voting sanely. Thank you for showing me that!!! I just hope my investments hold up until I can leave in, hopefully the spring of 2020.

  10. I vote more like your parents except that for the first time in my life I couldn’t bring myself to vote Republican in the Presidential election. That being said I couldn’t vote for Clinton either.

    I thought your article was great. One things I disagree with though is the thought that “My hope is that activism takes root”. Sincé Obama won the “activists” of the Republican party tried to take the party further right and it failed. There wasn’t a true conservative candidate who stood a chance. People were so tired of the extreme they went with Trump who might not even be a Republican (not saying he is a Democrat either). Restricting free trade (he is talking tarriffs), government meddling in business (deals he has cut already and comments on Ford Motor/Mexico
    ) as well as being less of a War Hawk then Hillary are certainly not the credentials of a conservative.

    If the Democrats doublé down with “Press forward on all of our issues and try even harder” they will see the same fate. It isn’t more activism that is needed it is more centrist policies. From both parties.

    Good luck with the baby. I hope you still have time to write because you are certainly talented. When the baby gets older I have a 14 year-old in La Moraleja who is available to babysit :)

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