No Matter Who Wins the Election—Just Stay Away!
A version of this article was first published by Der Tagesspiegel in German.
For the first time in almost a decade, friends are telling me not to move back to America regardless of who wins the election. I am not surprised. As the comedy show Saturday Night Live pointed out, you know your country has problems when people doubt that President Trump had contracted COVID. Mistrust in government and deep-seated issues such as income inequality and polarization in America are not new, but they have been gathering in intensity even before the era of President Trump and will not disappear overnight.
When I started my career in DC, ten years after Newt Gingrich’s Republican Revolution, Members of Congress would lament about the acrimonious atmosphere on Capitol Hill and wax nostalgic for the bipartisanship of yesteryear. I am still working with lawmakers today, and guess what, that first decade of this century was the good old days compared to now. Political polarization is not new, but in a country comparison study of nine OECD countries earlier this year, the National Bureau of Economic Research measured that the United States has experienced the largest increase in polarization over four decades.
Partisan politics has gotten to a point that it no longer stops at the water’s edge in the realm of foreign policy. A unified front was once thought to be vital for U.S. interests, but now Republicans and Democrats have differing viewpoints on international agreements and foreign aid. But beyond opinions, the divisiveness and mistrust have led to a real environment of hate and hostility back home. A YouGov survey from September shows that nearly three quarters of Americans expect violence after the election. And there is reason to believe it since 1 in 3 Americans identifying as Republicans or Democrats justify violence to advance their party’s goals. Just recently, a plot to kidnap Michigan’s governor, who is often the target of President Trump’s twitter tirades or bashing at campaign rallies, was thwarted. The political vitriol has consequences, not just for uncomfortable conversations at Thanksgiving but for civil behavior in society. Though it is great that my kids see that a woman like Senator Harris might make it into the White House, I am shocked that national politicians have taken to ridiculing her name, the same name of their great-grandmother.
The lack of cooperation between the parties and painting one another as the enemy has created massive gridlock in Washington. My kids have often asked about school shootings whenever we talk about moving back to America, and although they were not a common occurrence when I grew up they have been on the rise. I wish I could tell them that they occur in certain areas of the county, but the high school in Parkland could have been in my neighborhood. Even the tragedy of Sandy Hook in 2012 could not spur meaningful gun reform in Congress, and the FBI has just reported a surge in gun sales due to this year of overwhelming social and economic upheaval.
The pandemic has exposed our frailties when it comes to racial disparities, income inequality, and access to healthcare. It has also created a crisis for higher education. University costs have been exploding, although the share of children making more than their parents has been shrinking. The quality of university education in America is top-notch, but crippling college debt is hurting social mobility and as a result the pursuit of the American Dream. I would love for my kids to have the college campus experience in America, but I don’t fancy selling an organ to pay for it.
Friends mean well with their warning because it will probably get worse before it gets better. The good news is that instead of tuning out, millions of Americans have already cast their vote and think “it really matters” who wins the presidency than at any point in the last 20 years. There is also more unity than led to believe, according to the Common Ground Initiative majorities of Americans can agree on the importance of economic opportunity, security, and fairness. There is also an awareness that America can’t consider itself exceptional, without fixing inequalities and division at home. The tipping point may just arrive in time for my move back home.