‘Trump is the product of a much bigger problem’

| Rense Kuipers

Be it in fear, hope, excitement or indifference, the world holds its breath as we await the USA presidential election this Tuesday. Three American UT employees share their thoughts on the election, the political climate and the Dutch and American way of living. This first episode: Nolen Gertz, assistant professor at the Philosophy department (BMS faculty).

Nolen Gertz.

Trump or Biden?

‘I already voted online three weeks ago, for Joe Biden. I’ve voted Democrat since 2000. I supported Elizabeth Warren during the Democrat primaries, but unfortunately she didn’t win. But with Biden as our presidential candidate and Kamala Harris as his running mate, we obviously have a much better chance at improving the world than with four more years of Donald Trump.

'As Hannah Arendt said: to be political is to be human.'

Still, in my life I’ve always tended towards pessimism, so I assume Trump will win – or claim a win. I’ll be happily proven wrong, but I’m sticking to my low expectations. One of the hardest parts of living here is the time difference. Four years ago I had to wake up to the news that he won the elections. You believe it can happen, but you never expect it will. I know Biden is ahead in the polls, but those were also wrong in 2016. So I prefer preparing to be disappointed rather than risk being paralyzed by naïve optimism and complacency.

I worry that people see a selling point for Biden is that “we won’t have to worry about politics everyday anymore”. Karl Marx used to make fun of Americans for exactly that mentality. And Simone de Beauvoir wrote of this problem after her visit to America. I think it’s important to be constantly politically engaged. As Hannah Arendt said: to be political is to be human.’

'I’m proud that I’m able to be open about being ashamed about the current state of America'

Proud or ashamed?

‘Ever since 2016, a new normal has set in for Americans. Every day you read something that would be completely shocking in a different reality. But I’m old enough to remember Reagan and Bush. I grew up feeling that the Republican party would do everything to get in power and stay in power. You can also see a lot of similarities in how the Trump administration is treating the coronavirus outbreak, compared to how the Reagan administration treated the AIDS virus. It all boils down to people dying in communities that they clearly couldn’t care less about. Trump isn’t the problem, he is the product of a much bigger problem.’

‘Still, the question if I’m proud or ashamed to call myself an American is a complicated one. I’m Jewish, my ancestors had to escape from Europe to America. I grew up in New England but I never really felt at home there. My personal story is of course not that different from other Americans, and we all grow up being told that America is the land of the free and home of the brave. That usually gets misinterpreted as some kind of cowboy mentality and a war fetish. But fighting wars isn’t bravery, especially if it’s not in self-defence. Being open and honest is bravery. So in regard to this question and context I’m proud that I’m able to be open about being ashamed about the current state of America. It’s like James Baldwin once said: ‘I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.’

'I prefer Enschede over New York'

America first, Netherlands second?

‘It’s my fifth of sixth year here and I can honestly say there are a lot of things the Dutch do right. If anything, I’m trying to learn Dutch to make better sense of it all. Because there are also things the Dutch don’t do right, just look at the handling of the corona crisis or Zwarte Piet. I think the main problem of the Dutch is that you can overlook your own problems from being bombarded by America’s problems. Sure, it’s easy to say you’re not as bad as America. And I understand that looking at the USA these days is like looking at a car crash; you can’t look away. Still, I think the main feature of the Dutch is how humble you all are. It’s both lovely and frustrating. In the US it’s common practice to wave your flag and say you’re number one. Living here, I don’t feel like Dutch national pride is really a thing. You’re taught English in kindergarten and you’ve all switched to teaching and talking in English here at the UT, just to make things more easy on others. Still, I don’t know why you’re all so humble. I grew up believing New York was the best city in the world, but having seen my fair share of Europe, I don’t think it’s even in my top ten. I prefer Enschede over New York, actually. I’m very happy to raise my son here.’