Since President Obama's election in 2008, American expats have been thrown into the spotlight, particularly in the days following an election. Eight years ago, my girlfriend and I couldn't go anywhere without being offered congratulations, as if we had elected him single-handedly. Four years later when he was re-elected, although the hype had died down somewhat, we were still hailed as children of a great nation and treated with respect wherever we went.
Fast-forward to 2016. The spotlight is on US expats again, but this time it feels rather uncomfortable. Wherever I am -- in a taxi, a restaurant, the supermarket, the hair salon, a posh designer shop -- someone offers me condolences. To be honest, I am starting to feel like taking cover, like I did the day after the election, when after finally wrenching myself out of bed, I dressed in sloppy clothes and holed up in the house all day. I could not face the world, not even the news ... especially the news.
But wait a minute! I've had my day of mourning, right? It's time to move on. After all, the USA is a democracy and everybody's candidate can't win. I do get it ... really! But here's the thing: this was not a normal election. And that is the point that I fear is being overlooked, except at a superficial level. The abnormal somehow became the norm, cutting right into the heart of what underpins the country.
Folks had vehemently compared plums and sour grapes for nearly two years, insisting the grapes were better, healthier for the nation. Still I held out hope. But when that hope vanished into in a map of red, I sort of vacated too.
Although it bothers me how the candidate who lacked any political experience could beat the candidate who is perhaps the most qualified candidate the American people have ever had to run for President -- like her or lump her, she has the goods --it bothers me even more that someone could win on a platform that rejects its country's core values and waves that rejection in its people's faces.
I think that is what the tears are about: mine; the inconsolable lady my Uber driver told me about; the countless men and women who confessed to tears in the media. And those who have sobbed silently, too.
We understand that we are facing one of the biggest anomalies of modern times; an aberration that is less about the person who won and more about what it means that he did; what it means about our mores, our ethics, our norms. Who are we? What do we stand for?
No one is perfect. Nor is any country. But most of us have something within us that determines right from wrong, fact from fiction. Governments have it too when they have the best interests of their people at heart. Some call it a 'moral compass'; others refer to it as the 'conscience'. And for some; it is linked intrinsically to a faith, a creed, and for others, it is not.
That something connects us to a moral code, which guides the way we live. It is at the heart of our standards, our customs, as individuals, groups, societies, irrespective of creed, colour, gender, sexual orientation and so on.
It is this something that binds relationships, holds friends, families and societies together, even when we beg to differ. It is that same something that demands tolerance, upholds freedoms and embraces equality.
Normally when this something is rejected or shattered, we recognise it as extreme and do what we can to put it right again. On a global scale, we have seen this throughout history in the form of radical movements powered by facism, racism, sexism, terrorism and so on. Needless to say, it feels unsafe, uncertain and worrying when the core values that underpin our lives are threatened.
So what do we do to maintain the values that steer us clear of a complete breakdown? When I think back to a time in my life when the world as I knew it had changed, and not for the better, I remember trying my best to put it back as it had been. It took weeks, if not months, to understand a few key elements for avoiding collapse.
Acknowledgement is key: understanding that the new situation is what it is and in doing so, realising that acknowledging this fact can be a healthy form of rejecting the anomaly, even when those driving it insist that it is indeed normal ... just a different way of seeing life. Whatever!
Next, I held fast to what was good and pure, as St Paul advised the Philippians: 'Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable -- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy -- think about such things' (NIV, Phil. 4:8).
This helped me to discern between an extreme opinion and a reasonable one that feeds into healthy living.
Then, I took affirmative action such as avoiding volatile debates and got on with doing the right thing. I dug deep into that something within me, even when I didn't feel like it. And you know what? I think that is what America is going to have to do, too.
After all, it is still a great country, as a close friend reminded me recently. I can vouch for that. But here's the thing: greatness comes with an admission of mistakes, a campaign to make reparation and the willingness to remember, if only for the purpose of avoiding previous mistakes.
Moving forward, politics has to be about keeping America great. That's the spirit!