By Josephine Wideman
Artwork by Ana Ovilo
I am somewhere on the fringes of Toulouse, two days before the election. In the feral sunrise of a sleepless, psychedelics-fueled night, standing with moss squished between bare toes and two heavy silver balls scooped in clammy palms. November sun shines on our wired bodies with unseasonal warmth, energizing us as we hop around in t-shirts, playing Pétanque. This traditional game is simple; it consists of throwing big balls at a small red ball situated a few metres away – the winners are the team whose big ball lands closest to the small ball. My teammate and I communicate in a mixture of French, English, and dramatic gestures. Each time one of our balls is launched into the air, we yell out variations of relevant political phrases. For example:
‘MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!’
‘DONALD TRUMP FOR PRESIDENT!’
As an American born in Asia and raised in the Middle East and Europe, with British citizenship, identity crisis has been a staple of my personality for about as long as I can remember. As I’ve grappled with my lack of felt national identity, there has been some development in my denial. My response when asked where I’m from has changed from ‘I’m not actually American’ to ‘I’m American, but…’. Throughout the American electoral campaigns, I found myself struggling with two opposing senses of shame. I felt ashamed of being American, of the passport I had left tucked into the bottom of my parent’s cupboard in my Reading home, of the two candidates and political parties I could not bring myself to support, of my ‘all-American’, gun-toting relatives in the US. I also felt ashamed of this sense of shame, of the never-ending denial of my ‘roots’, of my sense of helplessness and the political apathy that came with it.
On the morning of the election I woke up and reached for my phone. I saw the headlines and the torrent of voices on Facebook crying out in various shades of anger, bewilderment, indignation, sadness, rage. I got up and sat at the kitchen table, adding caffeine to a mind saturated with negative emotion, and found myself visiting right-wing news channels and scrolling through social network outlets of Trump supporters for the first time. My unexpected tears receded as I began to realize what I had heard a thousand times before.
One person’s injustice is another’s pragmatism. Ideas are not changed through violence and aggression, but through reflection and understanding. A bad pun arrived at the tip of my tongue and has remained there since – the problems we see as so insurmountable in Western society at the moment are caused by a Trump culture – a culture that thrives on disjunction, the idea that one manner of thinking irrefutably trumps another. Idealism is the future, but only if it ceases to be blind to the complex history, reasoning, and belief behind what it desires to change. My aggressive denial of my American-ness, my assertion of sentiments of disconnection from ‘American culture’ (as if that were a single, definable thing), has done nothing but stunt my personal development. In the same way, the constant denial of any idea which opposes our own, leaves no space for growth and endless space for disparity.
Trump had won the American election. Isn’t there something unsettling in this rhetoric? The winning of the election, winning of the competition, winning of the game. I thought back to a couple of days before. Hanging onto the tendrils of an acid trip, my teammate and I had won a game of Pétanque, shouting out election slogans. It occurred to me there was not much of a difference between our game and the game of democracy. Nations select their presidents in competition rather than discussion. Disagreements are met with denial and rejection rather than understanding. If we continue playing like this, the only result there can be is shock and dissatisfaction. It’s simple.