I don’t think I’ll ever forget the moment I realized Donald J. Trump had won the 2016 presidential election. It was the morning after, because I had forced myself to go to bed at about 10 p.m. the night before, right around the same time Pennsylvania and Florida started turning blue.
I remember pulling out my phone, still in a post-sleep state that kept me from remembering the events of the night before. And I will never, ever forget seeing the news notification on my screen announcing Trump’s presidency. It immediately felt surreal, and the feeling stayed with me that whole day, starting with going to Arabic class and seeing people either tear up or be unable to put together phrases they had previously so easily composed.
I felt like the U.S. was alone in that moment — the first and only country that was about to be led by a sketchy businessman. But time has shown me that it’s simply not true — the U.S. is not exceptional in its 2016 electoral decisions. The U.S. is not the only country in the world that has elected a politically polarizing figure with questionable attitudes and morals.
Going to swim practice right after the electoral results came out involved non-stop chatter about it until my coach declared the topic was over and we had to get in the water, even if the practice ended up being one of the most mediocre of the season, each and every single one of us having other things weighing on our minds.
I will never forget that day. After that day, I not only almost lost faith in all political science, which may be why I’m a peace and conflict studies major now, but I also began to question all media outlets and what we were being told was the ‘truth’. And let me tell you, it’s exhausting to live that way — constantly questioning everything. But what made it all worse was the feeling that the U.S. was the only country that had elected such a politically questionable outsider.
Since that election, I have done my fair share of traveling and encountering new cultures. When I started, I had the belief that Trump was a stand-alone politician — a politician with views that only existed in the U.S. and could never be found anywhere else. But today, I know that that is not true. Despite popular opinion, Trump is just the biggest and most observed, but there are leaders in politics like him everywhere, and many of them are in power as well. I would even say that Trump himself is not the first of his kind, but rather the only one that has been able to gain power in a country as imposing as the U.S.
Italy has never been a very politically powerful country. Yes, we fought in both world wars on the wrong side, but think about it — we dropped out as soon as we realized that we were on the losing side. Italy has always been, for lack of a better word, a follower on the international political stage. On the national political stage, however, things are worse. In many areas, the mafia is in charge through some nefarious means, nepotism is rampant, and the people in charge are even more outwardly racist and sexist than Trump has ever been. For example, the leader of the party that is currently in charge, Matteo Salvini, has said that he believes Italy needs a ‘cultural cleansing’. He also decided to partner with another man, Silvio Berlusconi, a businessman-turned-politician who was Prime Minister several times over the course of 20 years and is currently banned from politics due to being found guilty of money laundering. One other not-so-fun fact is that he was well known around the world for his ‘ways’ with women — he had what he referred to as ‘Bunga Bunga’ parties, which were basically huge orgies, and was accused of having sex with a 16 year-old girl when he was at least 70. If that’s not enough, he also owns a soccer team, AC Milan, and there’s a video of him asking one of the players when he can meet his wife because he heard she was the most beautiful one, and, well, “I’m just an old man, you know?”
Once I read up on this, I took some comfort in knowing the U.S. is not alone, but that may be because my pending dual citizenship is in the U.S. and Italy, and if both my countries have similar political turmoils, maybe we’ll be okay.
Well, in coming to Australia, I was hoping to get away from such politics. I wanted to be in the country where environmental preservation was a top priority and where political scandals were scant heard of. Boy, oh boy, was I wrong.
Here, the prime minister is Malcolm Trumbull. Oh, wait. No, it’s not — it’s Scott Morrison. Trumbull was prime minister when I first arrived in July, but has since been replaced by Morrison. First of all, a prime minister in Australia is supposed to serve for eight consecutive years, and not a single one has done that since 2007. Since then, six people have stepped up to the challenge, and all but one, thus far, have failed. Although, to be fair, Morrison has only been in power since August 24. Now, when I first got here, there were talks of taking down Trumbull, until one day, the Parliament did. The Aussie parliament called a meeting and tried to vote him out of power, but was unsuccessful. Then, like three weeks later, they did it again, and this time succeeded, but the person who had actually called for the re-vote didn’t win, outdone by Morrison. And to be honest, I’m still confused as to what the actual ins and outs of this situation are. However, they make me feel a little better.
I know that right now, the political climate in the U.S. is bad. But honestly, all those people who argue it’s so much better abroad are lying to you. It’s a mess everywhere. Whether you go to beautiful and dreamy Italy and have to deal with the mafia and a creepy, old, powerful, lying man, or, as I like to think of him, the beta version of Trump, or if you go down under, far away from American politics where you have to deal with a government fraught with questionable morals and ever-changing leaders. Trump is not a stand-alone incident, the only imperfection on the political map that the world has constructed. He’s merely the loudest, most orange one of all — who happens to be in charge of one of the most powerful nations in the world.