I don’t consider myself a political person. To me, there are no “wrong” political beliefs. I believe that democracy means respecting everyone’s right to her opinion. And if I were forced to declare my own political views, I would have to reluctantly admit that, out of cynicism and self-interest, I find myself increasingly leaning towards the right. I almost can’t help it as I see more and more of my paycheck go toward paying taxes instead of paying back my (sizable) student loans.
But, what is happening to our country now goes well beyond politics. Trump’s victory feels very personal to me. It troubles me deeply because it challenges the very root of the American Dream.
When our family came to this country illegally (by crossing Lake Erie from Canada in darkness), America was a place worth risking our lives for. My parents left Korea and brought their daughters to this country because they wanted us to grow up where women can be anything they desire to be no matter their background. This was not true of Korea at the time our family immigrated. Korea would not become a true democracy until 1998 when Kim Dae-Jung, Korea’s first Nobel Prize recipient and opposition leader, became president. When we left Korea, many college-educated women were expected to become secretaries and to give up their careers as soon as they married. Korea has since come a long way. Not only has it become a truly democratic nation but it also went onto elect a woman president (before United States). And I am proud to have come from such a small but scrappy nation that, against so many odds, thrived.
As I wait for USCIS to approve my application for citizenship, I wonder whether I’ll be equally proud to be an American. Before the election, I would not have any hesitation in choosing to be a citizen of this country. But as of right now, I have many doubts. More and more, I am forced to grapple with the reality: the America my parents so badly wanted for their children to be part of is not the same America I live in.
You can say what you want to about either candidate; the narratives of their lives do not lie. The foundation of democracy and capitalism is this: no matter how disadvantaged one may be, one can rise above said disadvantage if one works steadily towards her goal. And that is what Hillary has done. A daughter of small-business owner and merchant, like I am, Hillary worked her way up to become the first female presidential candidate of United States. She served our country as First Lady, as member of the Senate, and as Secretary of State. Though she was no less equipped for the presidency than her husband or her 2008 primary opponent President Obama, she sacrificed her own personal ambitions for the greater good, for the good of the Democratic Party. And finally, this was her chance. At age sixty-nine, she became the Democratic candidate for president. If anyone has ever been overqualified for the job of president, she was. Yet she lost to someone with no political experience, and with a questionable professional and personal track record. This person, born of privilege, has used his wealth and undue influence to invoke fear and hatred in many unsuspecting people for his personal gain. And he won.
This is the America we now live in. And as much as I don’t want to attribute morality to politics, living in this America feels wrong to me.
I come from a humble background. As I mentioned, my family came to this country as illegal immigrants. My parents literally made something out of nothing and managed to send their kids to college. Though I did not yet have a green card and my immigration lawyer told me that I could not go to college, I went. And despite many odds, I became a physician. And after I finished training as a physician, I decided I wanted to become a writer. And I applied to graduate school to study writing. And again against many odds, I got into a MFA program and had the honor of studying with some of the best writers in the country. I never questioned myself in reaching beyond what was comfortable because I lived in a country where anyone could become anything.
Unfortunately, this is no longer the case. I now live in a country where a woman cannot become a president no matter how qualified she is, where privilege trumps hard work.
When our forefathers wrote the Electoral College into the Constitution, they must have intended it for our protection.
This is what Alexander Hamilton wrote in The Federalist Papers:
The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union…
Men of profound foresight, our forefathers created the Electoral College to protect the American public from those with “little arts of popularity” and “talents for low intrigue.” Yet this same system has given us our current President-elect.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
Photograph provided courtesy of author.