I’ve just returned to Hong Kong after two weeks of what I think is a very typical twenty-first century vacation where it was ostensibly supposed to be about unplugging and enjoying time with family and friends, but ended up being more of a hybrid of work and vacation with the boundaries never as clear cut as I would have liked.  My trip home also happened to coincide with the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, which means I was able to catch bits of pieces of what was a very dark and angry four days, culminating in an acceptance speech by Donald Trump that perfectly embodied all of the hate, fear, pessimism, and anger with a dose of the ridiculousness that characterized not only the prior four days, but much of his campaign.  And yet coming back to Hong Kong, I am still happy to be an American.  There is always something about these trips that makes me appreciate where I come from in a way that I did not when I was younger and lived overseas.  While part of it may have to do with the abundant choice in America’s stores, there is also something about being home and recognizing I am a product of my home. Now being happy to be an American and proud of my country are two different things and after witnessing the debacle that was the RNC last week, my pride is being held back until the outcome of the presidential election in November.  There is a lot of hate and fear in the U.S., which is part of the same strain of hate and fear that propelled the “Leave” campaign in the Brexit vote and almost saw a right-wing nationalist get elected to the presidency in Austria.  Beyond these countries, fear and hate are mobilizing large parts of electorates in other European countries as we seem to be caught in a moment where openness, tolerance, and optimism are in short supply.  I understand that I am fortunate as someone who has been able to live and travel around the world and have benefitted from globalization in ways that large segments of the world population have not, but it also frightens me that those who are fearful of the future or angry about what is happening around them cannot take a step back and put things in perspective and realize that we are better off today in so many ways than we were yesterday.  I can’t pretend to know what it is like to have lost one’s job and struggle to find another one because there are no job opportunities available to them, whether its because they simply do not exist where they live or they do not have the requisite skills to get a new job.  I can’t pretend to understand a feeling of being trapped or in despair because I can’t pay my bills and am one medical emergency away from not being able to keep a roof over my head or food on my table.  Yet, the irony in all of this is that it’s me or more accurately, people like me who do not have a clue who are supposed to come up with the policies to help people facing untenable life situations.  One thing I can understand is the appeal of someone who seems to offer a quick fix or has no qualms scapegoating individuals and worse, entire groups of people.  It’s comforting to have someone give voice to the things you may be thinking and to attack those whom you perceive as partly responsible for your lot.  What I have been struggling with is how to connect with people who feel disconnected and angry with the way things have gone, but in a way that is constructive and positive versus destructive and negative.  Unfortunately, the Democrats have not done any better than the Republicans in figuring out how to accomplish this seemingly impossible task.  What the Democrats have done for the most part is not degenerate into name calling and personal attacks, but have actually had debates on policy including the proper role of government in righting these wrongs.  It’s just hard to stomach policy debates when you’re worried about where your next paycheck in coming from or you feel threatened by all of the changes taking place by you.  It’s easier to hark back to another time when things seemed simpler and frankly better.  Even I do that sitting here thinking my life was so much easier when I was younger, but forgetting the angst that came along with adolescence.  I am not trying to pretend I can understand the anguish, hopelessness, or fear that seemingly large segments of the American population are feeling, but I can relate to the idea that we tend to look at the past with rose-colored glasses because it’s known whereas the future is a giant unknown and these days tends to be tinged with darkness.  The challenge is to find a way to regain that optimism that makes Americans uniquely American.  If this post sounds at all jingoistic, I apologize because I am also deeply aware of my country’s flaws and will be the first to acknowledge them, but I also know that in spite of the whatever terrible thing may be happening in the U.S., whether its obstructionist government, a recession, buffoonery among our political class, or more common lately, a gun-related tragedy at every turn, we as a people tend to rise above and move forward.  What scares me now and something I feel more acutely being over 8000 miles from home, thus able to look at things with more perspective, is that we seem to be losing the ability to look and then move forward.  That inability to keep progressing is what may be the most worrisome thing about where we’re currently at as a country.  One side of our political spectrum has decided to capitalize on that inability and turn it into a rallying cry to govern.  The challenge for the other side is to figure out how to appeal to the desire in all of us to move forward and be even better tomorrow than we were the day before, regardless of party affiliation or personal circumstances.  If there ever was a time when we needed hope, it’s more so now than it seems to ever have been, whether it was 1860, 1932, or 2008.

I’ve been remiss in my writing and part of it has been due to setting up a new life in Hong Kong while working a full-time job, but some of it is also due to the fact that my mind has been on overload about the goings-on in the world, including the scary state of American presidential politics, China’s continued descent into the cult of Xi, and the general economic malaise that seems to be afflicting the globe.  Of course none of this things are really within my control to change, so you must be wondering why I am getting so worked up about all of this.  I think it’s precisely because there is nothing that I can do about the rise of Donald Trump, the mindless sycophants following Bernie Sanders and his call for “political revolution” whenever he’s asked a question on specifics, or China seemingly going backward in terms of openness and transparency as it tries to quell an increasingly restless population.

And yet here I am sitting in Hong Kong, which is technically a part of China and with each passing day, feeling that way based on the headlines of missing booksellers, dismissive treatment of Hong Kong officials up in Beijing, and a feeling of futility here that there is no real point in defying Beijing and it’s plans for the city.  Maybe it’s just a general feeling of hopelessness about the world.  When you think too much and tend towards overanalyzing while being extremely sensitive, it’s hard not to get caught up in all of these things.  As an American living so far from home, it would be easily to cut myself off from the spectacle that is this year’s election, but being far away I feel it more acutely because the distance filters all the noise and all that comes through is the nastiness and anger in its purist form.  I won’t go on and on about how frightening Donald Trump is because he is really not all that different from other new-fascist politicians rising all across the world, especially in Europe.  The U.S. is just behind on the curve, but now it looks like we’re quickly catching up.  I think there was this feeling that the American system and its electorate were created and evolved in such a way as to prevent the emergence of someone like Trump, but at the end of the day the U.S. is no different.  What I find disturbing is not that people are saying and doing the things that they are, but that we’re unable to have a real conversation about what it all means.  I read some commentators and they tend to think Trump is a good thing because he’s bringing these feelings and thoughts to the fore, but he’s either not equipped or willing to actually spark a dialogue about what this means for the U.S. and our future.  It’s that inability that scares me more than anything.  I know that there is a lot of hate and xenophobia in America, but until now it was not a strong enough sentiment to fuel a presidential candidate to the fore of either major party.  And who do we get?  Donald Trump, who more often than not seems like a politicized version of his Apprentice persona incapable of coherent and meaningful thoughts, but instead prone to inciting soundbites and rambling monologues that even the closest reader would be unable to follow.

And then we have Bernie Sanders, who is really the other side of the same political coin as Trump.  It just happens to be that his politics align more closely with my own, so he seems less threatening.  But if you listen to him, he has no real answers. Ask him how he’ll fight climate change or fund $1 trillion in infrastructure investments and his answer is always the same – political revolution.  It’s an insult to Americans that he won’t put forth substantive plans to accomplish his goals, but then again a number of Americans do not seem to care.  The young voters who flock to him who don’t know what it really means to live and are probably still dependents under their parents’ insurance policy thanks to Obamacare and those who make so much money that they don’t really care how much it costs to fund his plans.  Recently Bernie has been targeting white, working class voters in the Rust Belt with his tirades against free trade.  Trade is an easy target and often misunderstood.  And that in a nutshell is Bernie Sander’s approach to politics.  Take complex topics, boil them down to a pithy one-liner like “take down billionaires” or “dismantle campaign finance” or if all else fails, call for a political revolution and voters cheer him on.  At the end of the day, it’s no different than Donald Trump except Bernie seems less odious than Trump because of his seemingly friendly policies.  Yet throw in his misogynistic undertones embodied best by the toxic Bernie Bros and his dismissive attitude towards Hillary and you have your very own version of a demagogue on the left.

I did not intend this post to devolve into a commentary on the presidential election, but it’s been on my mind and it’s hard to think about China and the rest of the world when this spectacle is taking place in the U.S.  Even China is using our own election as a rationale for why democracy is dangerous and authoritarian rule is safer.  It’s also problematic when Trump seemingly supported the Chinese government’s use of brute force in Tiananmen in 1989.  So at the end of the day all of these events are interconnected and the idea of America being any sort of leader or guide for the rest of the world is fast becoming a fantasy.  I just hope in my heart of hearts that the American electorate smartens up and does something to rescue our country from the abyss instead of chasing the easy candidates who either stand for hate, isolationism, over-simplicity, or half-baked plans for the future.