06 November 2008

Dear Mr. Bush

Dear Mr. Bush,
I know you are technically still President Bush, but now, like all of your predecessors you have taken on that frustrating title of Lame Duck. I wonder how it feels, after eight years of such power? No matter, the point of this letter is not to ask about your feelings, but to tell you about mine.

I've been an expat for almost the entirety of your presidency. I came to the Netherlands in August 2001, and a few weeks later the horror of 9/11 hit. I was shocked - as were you, it seemed. But your consequent reaction was quite different. Your sleepy demeanor quickly became aggressive. You used this attack to justify years of torture, bloodshed and grief. You bullied your way into two wars in the Middle East, and along with the destruction of countless cities, families and infrastructure, you also erased any remaining goodwill towards the United States outside its borders. Your arrogance - which I can only attest to ignorance - shone through time and time again. Remember when you tried to rub Angela Merkel's shoulders? You may have stopped drinking years ago but the belligerent frat boy in you has not gone away. At the same time your rhetoric spouted a good and evil ideology to an absurd degree. Come on, Mr. Bush, who believes the world is that black and white? Yet the American people bought it, and gave you free reign to practically destroy every foundation we had built our democracy on. And then...to my horror...they reelected you in 2004. Watching that moment on television was almost as terrifying as seeing the bombs reign down in Iraq during your vicious Shock and Awe campaign.

Global opinion - which for me, manifests its deep discontent almost daily in conversations - sunk to unprecedented levels after it became clear what floppy justification you had for starting that war. I'm sure you're sneering now. Who cares? It's the rest of the world. I was the President of one country. Well, Mr. Bush, you should know better than that. You may have gotten support from heads of government - particularly in Europe - but believe me, the citizens of those countries are really pissed off. I know you probably don't understand what that means. You have indeed needed to travel quite a bit during your tenure, but you did this surrounded by tough security and unfathomable luxury, with global diplomats no doubt kissing your ass every step along the way. I know you don't hear from the rest, other than through bullet proof glass or on the media. But I do. For the first few years, wary of these verbal attacks, I rejected everything about my American identity and bashed the U.S. as quickly as possible. Non-Americans were delighted with my negativity and joined right in. Eventually I realized that this wasn't fair. Why should I give up any pride in my nationality just because of you? Why should I continue to punish myself for the stupidity of voting for you when I was still too young to know better?

That leads me to a great confession: I did vote for you in 2000. I was an undergraduate student in Madison, Wisconsin, and was just beginning to turn away from my conservative roots. The day before the election I attended a concert in Milwaukee with three Republican friends who spent the road trip badgering me about why I should give you my vote. I was tough to convince, but their insistence tugged at a traditional rhetoric that guiltily sent me over the edge. If it's possible to bolster my esteem, I remember immediately being filled with a sense of shame upon casting my vote. The weeks that followed, I thought my mistake might be redeemed when it seemed that Gore might actually be the winner. Of course it's silly to give myself so much credit but when he conceded, I did feel personally responsible. I knew there were many others out there like me, and if more of us would have gone against the grain the world today would be a very different place.

A few days ago, though, the world turned upside down. As you know, Barack Obama was just elected as the next President of the United States. Barack Obama, a man who is in every conceivable way your opposite, won the election. Though early on he was an unlikely contender I voted for him in the primaries, did a modest amount of volunteering and donated here and there but never truly believed this could happen. Many have said Obama represents a sense of universal hope, and whether it was rational or not, I really felt that my support for him signified one last shot at believing America could do the right thing. And it happened! I'm still a choked up mess every time I think about what this means for the U.S. and for the rest of the world.

But I think now I'm going to tell you the most shocking thing of all. The difficulty of being an American abroad the last 7 1/2 years, almost a quarter of my life...the constant defense I've had to maintain, the negativity thrust at me on almost every social occasion...I think it's worth it for this moment. Not for the future Obama presidency that I know nothing about, not for what he may or may not be able to accomplish, but simply for the fact that he was elected. For the elation this has caused worldwide. For the hope that not just Americans but the whole world feels right now.

Even if it all goes downhill, and Obama can't meet these arguably unreasonable expectations, he - and our movement - was able to rouse an optimism in an entire planet of people...an optimism which many truly believed was no longer possible.

Although I know your official last day in January 20, 2009, I'd like to say goodbye, Mr. Bush. I look forward to continuing my unofficial ambassador status and receiving, for the first time abroad, a positive reaction for something America has done. I look forward to turning with pride when I hear my President speak, and feeling like there's really a chance for a brighter future.

1 comment:

  1. Very well put! I've been living just outside of Leiden for 1.5 years (came here for love) and just ran across your blog now. I was totally delighted to learn that you are from Minnesota too! I grew up in Rochester. Where are you from?