I was born and raised in Athens, Greece, leaving the country for a PhD in Computer Science in UMD back in 2012. While it is true that Greece has been hit hard by the recession since 2009, what most people won’t tell you is that even in times of financial prosperity, it’s always been a corrupt, stagnant, sexist, racist and all-around horrible place to live in if you have any kind of empathy for your fellow human being and you are entertaining thoughts such as actual, compassionate gender equality and gay people not being devil’s spawn. To quote a certain video game character, most of modern Greeks would not be able to tell right from wrong if one of them was helping the poor and the other one was banging their sister.
I didn’t take Trump lightly at all. I slept 2 hours that night and woke up with the taste of a bunch of stale cigarettes in my mouth. Held my ordinary office hours during a day that half the workplace was absent without even bothering to call in; who can blame them? Depressed students were seeing me about their quizzes and homeworks and stuff. Begging the question of whether anything of that sort actually mattered.
It’s futile to rehash what’s happened in the political arena since. Suffices to say that not even Greeks would be dumb enough to vote for somebody like that, Russian probe notwithstanding. What’s not futile to bring up is a fantastic question that I was asked by a friend of mine who wanted to challenge my thinking and make me feel better in the months that followed the election, months during which my line of thinking was completely binarized: I’m either Greek or American, I’m either lazy or hard-working, I’m either liberal or conservative. Nothing in between. The question was:
“Why are you so affected by Trump? As a white male invested into mutual funds of companies who can only benefit from deregulation, as a non-constituent who could leave at any point and go to Canada (I have Greek and Canadian citizenship), as a non-Muslim white person with a car and a credit card, why is it that you are having that hard of a time with this?”
It was a fantastic question, and it’s taken me some time to find an adequate response. I’ve also had to take time off of the news to avoid aggravation. Since August, there’s been no Facebook, no Washington Post, no front-page news, nothing. Home->Work->Home. It’s been going nicely. Lets my mind clear of the stupid shit you are likely hearing every day and leaves me time for my music.
Trump affects me because his presidency makes me understand that I am a person without a country, despite having two passports. I speak Greek, my family is in Greece, but I don’t feel Greek. I haven’t for many years. I take pride in my work and I hold Science as the ultimate ideal. I can’t live in an environment like Modern Greece, where the path of least resistance is glorified. Where higher education and healthcare are both constitutional rights for citizens, but have stopped actually working since the 70s. Where women are passively accepting guys disregarding their complaints because “it’s probably that time of the month”. Where black people are considered subhumans and are the subject of very unsettling jokes, even for somebody with a very dirty mouth like myself.
So where is home then? Is it the US? Where we’ve had an African-American published neurosurgeon declare, on camera, that slaves were just “immigrants who worked very hard”? Where cheering Trump NYC voters yell “back to the reservation, faggot” to gay people after the election was over? Where there’s still debates over whether it’s good to actually give people assault rifles? Still? In 2017? Where every 20-30 year old spends their free time drinking at bars again and again and again? Where the social inequality is so obvious that the best students in our major come from three elite highschools? Where everybody is courteous and professional but nobody actually cares about anybody but themselves? Because, no matter how many “How are you doing today”s you tell me, I know that if I were in need, you wouldn’t give two shits. In Greece, if you say “hi” on the phone, you would get -at best- a welcoming grunt. But if you were hurt in a car accident, or if you were so sad you couldn’t lift yourself from bed, or if you were hurt by a loved one, you would immediately get strangers, actual strangers, hold your hand, buy you a beer and dance with you. Because Greeks, no matter how corrupt, backwards, smelly, creepy, sweaty they might seem, are actually in touch with the only thing that matters: people. It’s all about people, and going out with people, laughing with them. Loving them with all that you got at that point in time, at that location in space.
I was the proudest man in the world to come to the US. My previously documented health troubles were the first blow. An understanding that the healthcare system of the most powerful country in the world can’t figure out how to take a blood test. Avoiding giving a patient medications that will actually push them closer to death appears to be an area of active research. I was tempted to stay back during my recovery in late 2015. My PhD in the USA was in shambles, researchers I knew in Athens reached out, and I was even formally accepted into the PhD program of my alma matter. But I changed my mind and in February 2016 I came back to the States with less than what I had in 2012; a hostile advisor who couldn’t accept the fact that I fell badly sick, no guarantees of funding or Visa status 3 months after my plane landed, no signed lease. Just a suitcase and a plan. Because my will to actually excel in Computer Science and be able to do something was still irresistible. Because that has always been what the USA meant for me: Unbounded potential for somebody skilled and motivated. And so I was, letting go of the cancerous doctorate and working as an instructor of 500+ students every semester and loving every single one of them and myself more, day by day.
And then Trump.
So all this is the answer to my friend’s question, which I believe is shared by many foreign over-achievers who wanted to come here out of pure will, pure fire to excel in their trade. Unless you are one of us, you cannot hope to understand our extreme mental dichotomy and our quiet, overwhelming despair about where exactly on this goddamn planet we belong. Because even if we are in the upper echelons of Maslow’s Pyramid, this doesn’t make us immune to pain, mental health issues and existential crises. We still hurt because we have compassion, because we are logical people who can’t accept the dissemination and glorification of idiocy. Because we have invested time, money and tears in our education and expect the decision makers to be educated people who understand Science and think with equal parts numbers and compassion. And, in the US of all countries, it is stupidity that now rules.
Let me know when all this ends, please. I won’t be able to tell, because I no longer follow the news.