Panama 2017: Talking about Trump

Talking about Trump with the Panamanians is heartbreaking for me. The villagers have a somewhat idealized version of the United States. They believe we have little poverty, little racism, that our country offers welcome and opportunity for all. They believe our government — unlike theirs — is not corrupt. They believe we elect statesmen, not bullies like their former dictator Noriega. They revered President Obama and his family. They see nothing of favor in his successor.

Tia Pamela“, they ask me, “how can America like Trump?”

Explaining our electoral college system is hard; they really don’t get how Hillary could win the popular vote but Trump gain the presidency. They hear, in his own words, that he doesn’t like people of color, that he thinks they are drug users and criminals and rapists and freeloaders. They hear the bluster of a dictator, a tone so familiar to them but never heard before from an American president. They are confused, hurt, puzzled, and even afraid that somehow this errant leader of a powerful nation like America will reach out and hurt them.

I try to reassure them that the majority of Americans do not like Trump, that his election was by the slimmest of margins in a few states, and that I believe people of good hearts will eventually prevail and contain the damage. I speak with as much conviction as I can.

The truth is I feel a sense of shame that our angry white voter temper tantrum last November has delivered Trump to the global stage. Beyond what the United States may have done for poor countries in terms of concrete aid, we’ve been a model of hope: that government can be honest, that leaders can be decent, that the lives of poor people can be respected. Trump has willfully and cruelly shattered that hope, all in the name of “America first”. Every person who voted for Trump, for whatever reason, bears more shame than I.

2 thoughts on “Panama 2017: Talking about Trump

  1. So many of us here are confused, hurt and puzzled as well, although I’m not sure it would help your Panamanian family to know that.

    I can’t make it through an NPR news update anymore without shaking my head.

  2. for Ben: I think it does help them, actually. They have far fewer resources than you and I do, so they are deeply frightened. And they simply can’t square the idea of Trump with the U.S. they thought they knew. Of course, neither can we.

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