During the United States primaries, I had to consciously limit my fascination with US politics and remind myself that it was getting daily updates on the campaign trail shenanigans wasn’t much different to reading about foreign celebrities in gossip magazines. I had better things to do with my time and attention.
And then Trump got elected. Some people in New Zealand and elsewhere are frustrated that our news is full of US political events. Get on with your lives, people, they say. Focus on local issues, don’t be distracted, they say.
But when racism is made official, and selfishness becomes the guiding principle of a powerful nation, it’s no longer an ‘over there’ issue.
So here’s why I care about US politics and am taking current events very seriously.
1. It’s wrong, evil and affects millions of non-US citizens. Institutional hatred and xenophobia on this scale is everyone’s business.
2. Strangers in refugee camps are my neighbours, according to Jesus. I need to stand up for them if I can.
3. New Zealand is not exempt from the fascism and selfishness that is infecting the world in a new wave right now. Our closest neighbour, Australia, is engaged in torture of refugees, supported by both major political parties. The UK has voted to leave Europe and reduce immigration. We need to say loudly that this is not a path New Zealand is heading down, just as those Britons and Australians opposing their government’s actions are being called to speak up.
4. New Zealand is 96th in the world for taking in refugees. One of the richest and most spacious nations in the world has a shamefully low rate of welcoming the homeless. We need to keep telling our leaders to increase our own refugee quota.
5. The new US administration is attacking truth and science in ways that will affect us here. We need to be clear that facts matter, and our politicians can not succeed by following these bizarre new strategies that are working so well in the US.
6. I’ve read plenty of material about Nazi Germany, and like many people, I’m horrified at how familiar what’s going on in the US is. This is, in fact, how the Third Reich did things. Vilify people by racial and religious designations. Remove rights. Discard facts and replace them with propaganda. It took a whole world to defeat that regime. It will take a whole world now to resist the rise of fascism that the US administration is unleashing.
7. You’ll notice I am not referring to ‘Trump’ but to the ‘US administration’. I think it’s plausible that Donald Trump will not make it to the end of his term, but he is surrounded by powerful people who are not buffoons, but who are pursuing the same evil goals of exclusion and oppression. We need to stop talking about tiny hands and puffy hair and keep our focus on the systematic erosion of rights and compassion that the whole administration is engaged in.
8. I can care about more than one thing at a time. I can keep working for justice in New Zealand and speaking up for the oppressed citizens of Myanmar at the same time as denouncing developments in the US. So can you. Something else might give (my Facebook time is changing, and I’m watching less Netflix), but most of us can afford to care about one more issue.
9. If any good is to come of this nightmare, it will only be because ordinary people who are not on the side of hate stand up and say so, and act to make our communities stronger and more welcoming. Go and meet your neighbours. Volunteer to support new migrants and refugees in your town. Donate to people on the front lines (the organisation I work for is bringing relief to Syria, Iraq and Myanmar right now, for instance). Speak up when someone makes an offensive comment.
10. We can do something. We are not powerless, even on the other side of the world.
11. I need to choose a side. I’m choosing love and justice and action.
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