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I spent much of November 9 reaching out to expats around the world, colleagues and friends forged through years of international aid work, now scattered from Myanmar to Lebanon to Colombia and many points in between. While part of me wanted to retreat to process the U.S. elections, the more urgent pull was to plug into the wider world for perspectives I felt so often missing from our national conversation during the election. The early and raw responses of my far-flung community speak to complex truths for global engagement that we’re just starting to unpack.
The early and raw responses of my far-flung community speak to complex truths for global engagement that we’re just starting to unpack.
A resounding theme was an ache for the world, realizing the risk into which our choices put real people. From Afghanistan, a colleague shared that her deputy had called her at home after hearing the election results, fearful for the physical safety of my colleague's Virginia family if Trump made good on his campaign pledge to “blow up Washington.” While assuring her deputy it was a metaphor, she told me that she felt empty grasping for anything of consequence to say about the impact of a Trump presidency on the conflict in Afghanistan.
From Kenya, I heard defeated friends speak of fears that the U.S. will walk away from the fight against poverty, for women’s rights, and to protect our shared natural resources, just as so many efforts are starting to get a toehold in the hardest places. And an American military family in Asia, keenly aware of the relationship between security and humanitarian challenges, reflected on how instability takes on a completely new and very personal dimension when you’re in the range of a missile.
A related theme, a fear of isolationism, followed closely. A colleague from the U.K. messaged about just now realizing she had been grieving deeply since Brexit. Then a friend in Bogotá named the U.S. election not Brexit II, but Brexit III, adding to the list Colombia’s stunning “no” vote in October for the peace accord that would have ended the world’s longest civil war.
A colleague monitoring the Philippines’ new foreign policy of separation from the U.S. announced by President Duterte, dubbed “the Trump of the East” by pundits, told me that, just last week, he had consoled colleagues with the prediction that the actual Trump would fade into irrelevance. And from Greece, friends racing winter to help Syrian and Iraqi refugee families shared the wave of panic in Europe, where America’s vote seems to signal an end to any support, despite the highest levels of human displacement in global history.
Still, all the people in my personal roll call landed on the theme of action. A British friend with both an intimate and a bird's eye perspective on our country expressed empathy for the many Trump voters aching for change themselves. From Morocco, a colleague said he is oddly excited to go home for Thanksgiving. He welcomes the chance to sit down with his family to really hear what motivated their vote and be more intentional about telling the stories from his own career that shape his different perspective. And finally, from Myanmar, inspiration from a friend with a plan for prioritizing the civil liberty issues she sees under threat both in her work overseas and back home: “I woke this morning not feeling hopeful at all — but feeling strong!”
...all the people in my personal roll call landed on the theme of action.
To a person, everyone responded when I reached out, no matter the time zones between us. We all want to be counted among the popular majority, because our vote was for U.S. engagement with the world. My favorite reflection from the day was an American friend's text from the airport, where she and her kids were in line to renew their passports as they prepare for a new diplomatic post. “It felt like the most patriotic thing we could do today.”