A Beacon of Hope Dwindling Into Nothing
By Claire Schultz (First-year American undergraduate at University College London)
I have been crying for the past three days. I’ve cried because America elected a racist, bigoted Cheeto. Because I am white, and upper-middle-class, and relatively safe, but I am a woman, and I am Jewish, and I am scared. Because there are people in my country who have more to fear than I do, who are unwelcome in their homes, who won’t be as safe as I am.
I’ve cried because I really wanted her to win. Hillary, for me, wasn’t just the lesser of two evils. She was a step forward, a strong, capable leader. A woman. In elementary school, I couldn’t understand why my country hadn’t had a woman in charge. I’ll do it, I said. I’ll be the first female president. I didn’t yet realize that the job meant actually being interested in politics, and that waiting until I was old enough would mean we’d have ten or so more men first. Was Hillary Clinton perfect? No. She was a bit scary, a bit manipulative, but she knew what she was doing. I was so proud to vote for her in my first election. I supported what she stood for. I still do.
I’ve cried because I couldn’t be in my country when it fell apart, couldn’t be there to support the people who needed it most. I go to school in London, but I was in Paris on election day. I went to Disneyland the day after. I was supposed to be relaxed, on vacation, in the Happiest Place on Earth. I cried walking down Main Street USA. Off one of the back arcades, there’s a little display of the Statue of Liberty. The sign reads “See Liberty’s Torch: Beacon of Hope to the World’s Oppressed.” Disney’s America no longer exists, maybe it never did. But this torch, this beacon of hope, is what it is supposed to stand for. Instead, we voluntarily elected an oppressor.
I am the great-grandchild of immigrants. I never knew them, but they came to America a century ago to escape persecution. They came through Ellis Island, and I can only imagine them passing the Statue of Liberty, seeing that beacon of hope. It was going to be okay here. They would be free, accepted, successful. My great-grandfather was going to live the American dream.
My family has now been looking, seriously, at claiming Lithuanian citizenship. At returning to the country from which my great-grandfather fled. We don’t know how bad it’s going to get, or if it would be any better over there, but it would be an option. A way out. We would pass back across the Statue of Liberty, watching her torch grow smaller in the distance, that beacon of hope dwindling into nothing.
When people ask me why I chose to go to college abroad, my answer had been “to escape Trump.” It was a joke; I never expected it to amount to anything. I severely overestimated the American people. Ultimately, I thought, we’d wake up. We’d realize the hatred and ignorance we were condoning, the misogyny and bullying. We didn’t. We elected a man who is set to go on trial this December for fraud. He has been accused of sexual assault, of possibly raping a thirteen-year-old girl. And we still voted for him. Hillary won the popular vote, but not by enough. America has still proven itself to be a place where hate does indeed trump love.
But now that he’s there and I’m here, I want nothing more to go back to the States. Satanic Oompa-Loompa aside, America is my home. I grew up there, I love it there. There is so much love in my country, so many good things that I hope won’t go away. My great-grandparents fought hard to make it so, and I never want to take that for granted.