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Mary Altaffer

'I'm an American, but Sarah Palin and Donald Trump do not speak for me'

‘I’m not sure when there began to be such a disconnect between myself and the campaign oratory – and whether I have changed or if it’s the American discourse.’

I AM DEFINITELY not the Sarah Palin whisperer. This is something which seems to surprise people. After all, I’m an American. Surely I can explain Sarah Palin and Donald Trump and why exactly anyone would consider her endorsement to be something worth seeking, rather than a basis to crawl into a hole and hide.

My sister spent time in Alaska (from where she was unable to see Russia.) I’ve been to Trump Towers. In the eyes of plenty of people I meet casually while living in London, I should be able to satisfactorily explain the rhetoric which seems so ridiculous to them.

But at this point, when I hear Donald Trump say something else incredibly ridiculous, unconstitutional and just impractical, I’m stumped. I’m not sure when there began to be such a disconnect between myself and the campaign oratory – and whether I have changed or if it’s the American discourse.

Divide in politics 

It is probably the former; looking back, I can always remember there was a divide between how American politics was viewed within the country against perception outside of it. When I first arrived in Ireland, it was during the throes of the Iraq War and the Bush presidency. It was a difficult time to be an American overseas.

Primary Pixels Photo Gallery AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

It is probably best exemplified by the Dylan Moran sketch where he announces, while making his point about American politics and foreign policy, that it’s just that “American stupid people sound stupider than every other kind of stupid person”.

Being an American abroad during that time meant being constantly asked to justify the Bush presidency’s current foreign policy. I had never been old enough to vote in an election and the White House had certainly not consulted me before deciding to unilaterally destroy diplomatic relationships.

Yet in some ways, Ireland’s healthy scepticism of American militarism didn’t feel so far from the environment where I grew up. My home city, politically best known as the home of Vice President Joe Biden (not coincidentally, the man who won the election over Sarah Palin), Wilmington, is a liberal, working class town on America’s east coast.

Protests over foreign conflicts were widespread. While intellectually, I obviously knew that people must have been carrying concealed weapons, guns were rarely displayed. Debates about abortion were low key, limited to editorials in the local paper denouncing the handful of clinics in the state. Even the Republic legislators in the state were pro choice.

Most politicians knew that taking extreme political positions was not a path to elected office in Delaware. Ironically, while I had lived and travelled outside of America fairly extensively, life in the rest of America felt far more foreign.

At 17, I quickly realised that most of my new Irish classmates, understandably, were unaware of distinctions between Texan and Massachusetts politics, or even the very nature of the differing cultural and political attitudes over the vast North American landmass.

GOP 2016 Trump AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

Asking me to provide insight into Westerner Dick Cheney was like asking my friend from Cork to better explain the rise of Marine Le Pen and certainly didn’t account for the differences between a frontiersman mindset versus the Quaker legacy of my slice of America.

There wasn’t quite an understanding that 24 and The Wire were separated by more than a plane ride. And while that sufficed as an explanation throughout the Bush years – “they’re from Texas,” I would say.

Baffling to me

“The East Coast people and Texas are two different world.” Over time, I found that it wasn’t just that most national figures came from different American cultures – I was being shaped by my time in Ireland and the UK. Some things will always remain Delawarean about me – it is still utterly baffling to me that the morning after pill could be the least bit controversial to anyone.

Yet the more I live in societies which enforces restrictions on guns a bit more severe than simply arriving at Walmart, the more sensible of a policy it seems to be. I can no longer imagine considering shootings of children to be an acceptable collateral damage after living in a society which has largely dealt with gun crime.

Donald Trump argues that he is unique in that he is able to self-finance his own campaign rather than be beholden to wealthy donors. The elections I’ve seen in the UK and Ireland seem to work just fine without spending amounts that would rival the GDP of a small nation; yet those arguing to limit the spending in election are still considered to be a fringe group.

Bernie Sanders, a candidate in the Democratic primary, is denounced as being an extremist, but compared to Jeremy Corbyn, seems uncontroversial indeed.

The United States is unlike Ireland in that it allows citizens living abroad to continue to vote in elections. I’ve voted in every election in which I was eligible (unlike a majority of young voters – the most underrepresented voting population.)

Allowing citizens abroad to vote 

It’s always been a solitary experience – filling out a form in my room in halls or flat, months before anyone else needs to make their final voting decision. It can feel lonely to be an ocean away from the polling booth. Yet I think Ireland makes a mistake not allowing citizens outside the state to vote.

Living abroad has enabled me to not just blindly cite America as the “greatest place on earth” but to provide context for policy decisions. Like any culture and country, there are strengths and weaknesses in the current American government.

But by allowing me to not just imagine a society where there are, for example socialised medicine rather than the death penalty. Travel opens your mind and understanding – both things I bring to the ballot.

One day, I would love to be able to attend Election Day in person, although my Irish husband, who can only vote in person, protests that it is overrated. But in the meantime, I really cannot explain Sarah Palin to you. She really sounds like she’s speaking gibberish to me.

Nick Beard is a PhD student and a phone volunteer for the Abortion Support Network. 

Read: The more money we have, the more trusting of government we are>

It’s on: The general election will be held on 26 February>

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