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Dear World: This Is What An Existential Crisis Looks Like

images-1I’m sorry, World. I know my country and this whole Trump thing is scaring the bajeezus out of you, but I guess that’s what an existential crisis looks like from the outside. And to be perfectly honest, it’s pretty damn scary watching it here on the inside, too. The fact of the matter is, though, that there are two Americas, and we’ve been battling over some defining issues about what this country is and what it should be for a while now. However, this election has the potential to put to rest many of our biggest, most significant and most historical points of contention, just as Bernie Sanders and his supporters have foreshadowed some of the new debates to come. All of which is why the only thing both Americas agree on is that this election has the potential to alter this country’s course for a long time to come.

In one America, the America I choose to live in, the America I love and admire, our diversity is seen as a strength and not as a threat. Inclusiveness is taught, and tolerance of racial, cultural, religious and lifestyle differences isn’t the goal, true acceptance is. It is progressive, environmentally conscious, fact based and tends to be well-educated, and familiar and comfortable with the larger world around it. It’s also very much in line with the thinking of most of the developed world and firmly rooted in reality. It doesn’t believe love of country means “my country can do no wrong,” nor does it wrap itself in the flag and concern itself with symbolic shows of patriotism, while consistently showing a lack of understanding of the core principles of this country. It believes – as the Founding Fathers did – that America is a work-in-progress whose aim is to always be moving towards creating a “more perfect union.” It does not believe America’s greatest days are in the past; therefore, it does not look longingly on a past full of unequal treatment for so many of the country’s citizens. This, of course, all adds up to the fact that this America isn’t fearful of the constant and unstoppable forces of change the country and the world are caught up in.

The other America (the one I don’t mind visiting, but wouldn’t want to live in), believe it or not, shares many qualities and values with the America I live in. It’s largely made up of nice, decent and impossibly friendly people who value hard work, are impressively charitable and looking to do what they think is best for their families. However, the people in this America, due partially to their rural isolation and partially to their willingness to turn a blind eye to anything that challenges their points of view, have also consistently put the world in danger with their politics in recent years by doing things like electing George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, and nominating people like Sarah Palin and Donald Trump.

downloadThis America, despite the country’s exceptional diversity, is largely male, blindingly white, hip-breakingly old and progress-stoppingly afraid of everything. (Well, everything except global warming.) It fears change, especially change related to the racial makeup of America and the strengthening voice of women because it sees them as being a threat to the dominance and privileges they have enjoyed since this country’s founding, and they’re right. To the America that has benefited so much from inequality, moves towards greater equality feel like oppression, to paraphrase the most  important quote of the 21st century.

Along with seeing more people than ever before questioning the status quo, they have, like the rest of us, been genuinely screwed by this modern economy with its wage stagnation, global trade deals, the concentration of wealth among the 1% and the people on top getting away with unethical if not illegal acts seemingly all the time. Meanwhile, the cost of all the basics in life – food, education, healthcare and housing – goes up and up, as they, along with their children, are struggling while businesses both outsource jobs and hire undocumented workers in a two pronged effort to suppress wages. Furthermore, they are dealing with a political system that has shown itself to be largely unresponsive to their needs and concerns and have been supporting a political party that has been especially abusive towards their economic circumstances, whether they know it or not.

However, unlike my America, which has concluded the blame for the hardships that affect us all belongs to a system that isn’t working and the elites who sit at the gears of this malfunctioning machine; this America has fallen into a historical pattern that predates America: blaming other groups for your hardships while supporting the people who are really to blame.

In short, they have been made to fear the unavoidable future of our country and, indeed, the world. Both will continue to become more integrated, and the demands for equal treatment will continue to grow as more and more groups find their voice. Acceptance is the fastest way to peaceful coexistence. For people who fear this future, and see America changing in ways they don’t like, and perhaps don’t understand, Trump is their guy. He is the last gasp of a dying generation who “wants their country back,” and who want what can never be, an America that continues to be controlled and dominated solely by white men.

Brian M. Williams
Brian is the author of the recently published travel memoir "Stranger in a Stranger Land: My Six Years in Korea." (Click this profile for more information.) He's also a law school grad with Southern charm and Virginia roots. He recently returned to America after nearly seven years traveling and working abroad. He loves dive bars, international travel and foreign accents. He's particularly good at small talk and was the first person to notice there's no "I" in "team."

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