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Alec Scott

America, what have you done? Add to ...

Alec Scott is a California-based writer

I am a dual American-Canadian citizen and, up until a decade ago, lived in Toronto. Then, my partner was offered a job in the San Francisco Bay Area. As he considered it, he expressed longstanding, deep-seated reservations about America. Until this election, I was proud of my American heritage, and I encouraged him to accept the job. Since then, we’ve been living in California, first in Palo Alto and now Oakland.

My mother was descended from Welsh coal miners who came over to Pennsylvania, worked hard, did well and, in a couple of generations, enjoyed some modest prosperity. She registered us at birth at the American Consulate on University Avenue, and we learned the Gettysburg Address when we were young, the most stirring passages from the Declaration of Independence and, on long car trips, we sang hits from the American Songbook.

I would tear up, we all would, when Arlo Guthrie sang his great celebration, and lament for, the railroad age, moving from Good Morning, America (How are You?) in its early choruses to Good Night, America (How are You?), in its last ones. And three of the four of us went to the U.S. for college, two to Dartmouth, one to Brown. The smart and idealistic kids we went to school with also made me proud to be part American. What they were going to make of their lives, what a future was ours!

In my newsfeed, people are asking what do they say to their kids this morning, and I, having none, wonder what I can say to the partner I pushed to come down here, on this sad day for a country that was great, yes.

It was great, it seems to me, for exactly the reasons Donald Trump and his supporters hate it. Great for its willingness to provide safe harbour to so many fleeing persecution and poverty abroad. Great for its powerful economic engine and how it harnessed that to help win two world wars. Great for Harvey Milk, for Martin Luther King, for Eleanor Roosevelt.

But it is, of course, as Michelle Obama has eloquently reminded us, also the country of slavery, of the ill-conceived Iraq war, of major, increasingly structural inequalities between the poor and rich. We will see, as the days go along, what level of Donald Trump’s support is drawn from among the dispossessed, from the underclass that J.D. Vance wrote about eloquently in his memoir, one of the hits of the summer and fall season, Hillbilly Elegy – “Mr. Vance has inadvertently provided a civilized reference guide for an uncivilized election,” the New York Times reviewer condescendingly wrote.

This is ironic, because what Mr. Vance’s people hate above all else is being patronized. When a toy store clerk snootily refuses to let little J.D. Vance play with a toy, to try it out, his adult folk hear from the boy what has happened and return and trash the store. Clearly, these are a people who have been looked down upon too long. The mainstream media, the Ivy Leaguers (of whom Mr. Vance became one), the coastals, they all counted these people out. We counted these people out. I counted these people out, reading Mr. Vance’s book out of interest, rather than real worry.

Well, good morning to the America that has, apparently, come out of that resentment. How are you, what are you?

I am currently writing a profile of one of the early employees of Facebook. His name is Chamath Palihapitiya, and he was the son of Sri Lankan refugees to Canada, who grew up without much money in Ottawa. He took his good education at Waterloo and also followed a partner – then his girlfriend, now his wife – down here, and through a combination of brilliance, hard work and being in the right place at the right time, has made a mint.

He is currently putting that mint to good use, sponsoring businesses that aim to solve long-pressing health care and education problems. An early success has been a company that produces high-tech glucose monitors to help those with diabetes keep tabs on their blood sugar levels.

His was the sort of North American story I loved – bright, scrappy kid, up from nothing, does well, then does good. He has lived the American dream.

I asked him in the run-up to this election, was he worried about a Trump presidency? He said not particularly, that history has taught him that, with blips, we have tended to move upward, toward greater good for ever-greater numbers. He supported Hillary, but also respected his longtime fellow traveller and Facebook backer Peter Thiel. Not only did Mr. Thiel speak at the Republican convention, but he recently lobbed over $3-million at the real estate mogul and reality TV star – and, now, president of these Disunited States of America. I am looking forward to asking Mr. Palihapitiya what he thinks now.

Perhaps he is right, that, in Martin Luther King’s comforting words, the arc of history is long, and it bends towards justice. But it’s a day where that simply doesn’t feel true.

Angela Merkel was one of many to raise the issue of the bubbles we live in now, the equivalency that Facebook and other social media sites enable to be drawn between posting from Breitbart news and the New York Times, between the opinions of multiply-degreed eggheads and your loudmouth cousin who’s always loved to stir it up in bars. What do we do about this false equivalency?

For us, for the two of us personally, it seems clear that I was deluded. In a dream last night, I kept saying to him, I’m sorry, I didn’t know, I was wrong about this country. In the waking world, I suppose we’ll regroup.

After the helicopters circled overhead above a demonstration in Oakland last night, there was the calm of this morning, with a recycling truck picking up our bottles and cans and papers. But to him, when he woke up, I had to say it aloud. I’m sorry, I didn't know, I thought it was different, I was wrong about this country.

America, what have you done?

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