A Strange Sense of Optimism

By Nathaniel Ostrer (Gap year student entering Brown University next fall)

I’ve been traveling in South America for about a month now so I feel a bit disconnected from my peers who have shared my reactions to the presidential election. On election night, I stayed up until about 4 A.M. at my hostel in Ecuador watching the election results come in. I went to bed not really believing what had happened.

I woke up and went around to get a haircut and to do some sightseeing. I asked my hairdresser if she knew what had happened in the United States. She replied with a tone of derision and sadness “Donald Trump won”. As we discussed the election a bit more I was struck by how scared she and her family were of how Latin America would be affected by a Trump presidency. A bit later in the day I headed to see the local cathedral. As I visited what must have been my fifth beautiful, old church in South America, I was surprised by how many locals were there on a Wednesday. The churches I had previously visited on weekdays had been empty save for a couple tourists and tour guides. But this cathedral was full of locals praying. Praying, not to whom you might expect, but to the statues of Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis, the two popes who in modern times have stood for the sort of inclusiveness the president-elect seems to be against. 

I’ve spent most of my free time in the past couple days reading, trying to figure out what will happen to the world and how I can shape it for the better. Because I’m so far away from home, I’ve been using social media a lot to share articles and communicate with my friends. I’ve read articles written by people ranging from Symone Sanders, Bernie Sander’s former National Press Secretary, to Erick Erickson, the conservative blogger. 

Being in Latin America has given me two perspectives I don’t think I would have gotten at home. Firstly, I’ve been able to see first hand the views of the people who live here and how they are reacting to a Trump presidency. People all over the world are terrified of this election, which I think is very unique to this election. If Mitt Romney were elected president, I don’t think the whole town would come out to pray on a Wednesday. But at the same time, people here are not letting the results of a foreign election dictate the terms of their world and life continues. Secondly, living in South America has forced me to take a more academic approach to how I am trying to understand the election and what comes next. Don’t get me wrong, I would love nothing more than to be at home right now so I could talk to my friends about what happened and what the future will hold. But I can’t do that, and if I did, I think I wouldn’t feel as pressed to learn as much as I can from anywhere I can get information. I also think I would have been sheltered from the huge range of feelings in the U.S. by the almost universally liberal viewpoints of my friends. Being abroad has let me tune out the general consensus of my friends and to explore the ideas of the country as a whole. I don’t think I would have been so surprised by the result of the election if I knew then what I know now.

I’ve gotten a strange sense of optimism from being apart from it all. I think being away from the despair of liberal America has given me a chance to look ahead to a revitalized Democratic Party that can really fight for the interests of working class people and minorities, with actions rather than rhetoric. Garrison Keillor said about his old teachers’ reactions to the election, “They have seen it all and are still optimistic. The past year of politics has taught us absolutely nothing. Zilch. Zero. Nada. The future is scary. Let the uneducated have their day. I am now going to pay more attention to teachers.” In a conversation with my old teacher, Mr. Campbell, what really stuck with me was what he told me, in essence, this too shall pass.