Benedict Arnold in drag

Donald Trump | El Economista

My seventh great grandfather is rumored to be Benedict Arnold. I do not know that this is the truth, but it might explain a lot. I sit here in Mexico, trying to navigate the wifi connection and electricity outages while speaking horrible Spanish. I am understood, but barely. I talked with friends in the United States about what is happening with the armed insurrection in Washington DC this week. They listen and agree, they are concerned, but many have reasons that they do not think it is that bad. “Well, they didn’t win this week.” “The country held.” “It will right itself.” And finally, when I voice a different opinion, one friend states, “That doesn’t help. I am still getting over George Floyd, and I am not leaving. I will stay to try to make things different in the next four years. I don’t feel the same way about the United States as you.” I think, “And how do I feel about the U.S.? And what exactly will you do? What power will you have to stop the tumble toward fascism?”

The message is received. “I don’t want to hear what you have to say,” and maybe even, “You have opted out, I don’t want to hear what you have to say. You have rejected the United States. I have not.”

I wonder if this is true. I know it is true that my friend values me but does not want to hear what I have just said. So, I say nothing. I try telling her that it is not only my love of Mexico that brings me here. While it is true that I love Mexico, I am here because I no longer trust that the U.S. will navigate its way out of fascism. I fear it will not. I tell friends this because I want them to fight hard to preserve what of the U.S. is democratic, write articles, donate money, demonstrate, and fight like hell for the U.S. I fear they will not. But it is an odd reality to be having this conversation with friends when I have gotten out. Perhaps I am a Benedict Arnold. I have decided that this country is on a collision course with its destiny. A course that may not be changed and a destiny of bias and fear that has waited to emerge for years.

It is easy to be lulled to sleep, even for the most liberal, to believe that we have beat the Trump rap. Biden was elected, we will pull out of this death spiral.  I know we have not beat the disaster. The 73 million who voted for him believe in him, value his actions, values, and policy (what little policy he has) and have co-signed the whole Trump world gestalt. They want to build the wall. They see nothing wrong with storming the Capital. They argue that we need a civil war. They are serious. They mean it. It is so easy to believe that this could not be true, but I lived in Trumplandia. They do mean this. They do want these Trumpian things. They fear the loss of their privilege and their world. They are angry and resentful that the Mexicans and Blacks are getting ahead (they think). They want women back in the bedroom and the kitchen. And do not get them started on Gay Marriage. But it is so easy if you are a bright person not to understand the wellspring of pure animus these folks have toward those of us who are comfortable with a Mexican living next door and an LGBTQ wedding cake.

What irony to be writing this from outside the U.S. To be writing this from a Mexican Colonia, where English is not the dominant language. So as my friend implied, without fully being aware of what she said, I have deserted ship. I have given up the fight and walked away. I am Benedict, who incidentally loved the U.S. but walked away, concerned about what he saw.  I am, maybe, not as much in love with the U.S. as he was, but I value the country in which I have lived for 69 years. And walking away is not easy. I tried to tell my friend both about what I see as danger and how challenging it is to switch countries. I have no friends or family here, and I do not have substantial money in the bank. It is, after all, the middle of the pandemic. I must work to feed myself, so the wifi not working is a serious issue. There is no safety net. I want to say to my friend that because she is uncomfortable with what I am saying that is really not my problem, this is not the same challenge as navigating a change in countries with no safety net. I am not trying to distress her, but she is distressed, and I have stopped talking. I will not say this directly. The conversation with my friend has been a great motivation to write. So, I thank her for this.

A part of her distress at hearing my beliefs has to do with class. No way around this. I grew up falling from the upper middle class to the ghetto. I do not identify myself as one of the protected. Both my gender and my class leave me vulnerable. She made the comment that those people who feel more vulnerable are reacting to the political unrest more powerfully. I am one of those people. I do not have $500, 000 in the bank for back-up and this changes perception in myriad ways. I suspect that the view of the U.S. political situation from the vantage point being Black or Brown in the United States is even bleaker than mine. I still have white skin.

It may be a stretch to say I have given up on the U.S., but I do know my country. The liberals do not want to believe it is as bad, as I think it is. The conservatives, by and large, will do whatever they can to maintain power. Yes, evidently, even usher in a dictatorship. The liberal media has been dodging the possibility that what happened at the Capitol on Wednesday would, in fact, happen, and the conservative media has been stoking the resentment and fantasy they “their” election was stolen. More than anything, the folks that have been saying, “It can’t happen here,” annoy the holy snot out of me. Yes, it can, and it did, and it is not over. And I realize I am making my friends uncomfortable with my attitude, both my conservative friends and my liberal friends. And frankly, I am deeply saddened about this. I sometimes wonder if this is what the person who left Germany in 1936 felt like, leaving behind friends and family, jobs, and country, arguing that it was getting more dangerous. Not to self-aggrandize, but it is not an easy thing to make the decision I did. I would have liked a few more years to solidify my safety net. I decided I did not have that time. And I am deeply disturbed about those who want to leave and do not have the option.

I think about the folks who left Germany in 1936 and the folks who left American due to being Black and having had enough. In the run on the Capital I noticed the six milion is not enough t-shirts. The writing is burned into the wall. I am both proud of myself for taking the leap and scared witless. There is this pandemic going on, and I have driven through three states and two countries; I have navigated renting a house, furnishing it, having workmen walking in and out of it, and I can only hope I do not get sick and if I do that I do not die. It is more than a bit dicey. I am not in denial about the risks I am taking. But I could not stay another moment in Trumplandia. I knew what happened at the Capital would happen. I also believe that it is not over. The 73 million are still there, and Trump does not want to pay for his crimes. He will burn the house down to avoid jail and financial ruin, both of which he faces. He still, to my knowledge, has the nuclear codes. No one has yanked these from him, and I bet they will not in the next two weeks. Mitch McConnel has already stated that he would not begin proceedings to get him out until January 19th. Nancy Pelosi sounds good but does not have the ability by herself to get him out promptly, which would be tomorrow. And what would the world do if he nukes Iran? What kind of a mess will this create? Is he above doing this? No.

Wednesday afternoon, I sat on the beach with a friend talking about things far from the insurrection. It had not happened yet, and we were on a beach in Mexico, many time zones away from Washington D.C. I received a text from a friend saying, “I bet you are glad you are in Mexico.” It was only then that I knew something had happened, that my worst predictions had happened. The Capital was stormed at Trump’s behest, and people were killed and frightened. There was no satisfaction in saying I knew this would happen. No satisfaction at all.

My country of origin is damaged, deeply damaged. The international viewers of this insanity are wary (if they are allies) and exalted if they are dictatorships. They can say, “See, the U.S. democracy doesn’t work.” This conclusion is the saddest thing of all, and this is what it may look like to many. We may look like a failed democracy. My countrywomen and men believe out loud or secretly that the Capital takedown is a good thing or that it will get better now that Biden was elected. I believe neither.

Guatemala suffered from a civil war that conservatively killed 200,000 people and lasted 36 years. They finally pulled out of this and signed the Peace Accords, and then re-wrote their constitution so that no dictatorship would gain a foothold again. I hope we do not have to learn this same lesson the hard way. The last civil war in this country was the bloodiest war the U.S. has ever fought. Civil war is never without tragedy.

So, I write from my little nook outside of the U.S., inside my Mexican Colonia and maybe I am a Benedict Arnold in drag, yours to judge, not mine. I will continue to write and speak my mind even when many do not want to hear what I think. I will continue to donate what money I can to stopping fascism.  I can do these things. It is not much, but I can do this.

Meanwhile, I am sleeping throughout the night. I do not live in fear here in Mexico. How is that for irony?

4 thoughts on “Benedict Arnold in drag”

  1. Great essay! There are many sides to your essay. People leave their country for a variety of reasons, including fear of their government!
    There are those who left Guatemala, Venezuela, and other countries with nothing but a few clothes and their kids. They risked their lives at every turn and their journeys were not pleasant.
    Were they “Benedict Arnolds” or people who saw the writing on the wall and didn’t like what they saw.
    I helped register many of them and translate for them to help them find a sponsor.
    The suffering I saw, the language barrier, the separation of families, it was heartbreaking. Yet they are preserving, despite all the laws trump had broken to stop them from entering this country, they would rather suffer here than to go back to their country.
    I am sure the Jews that left Germany in the early years of Nazism were labeled cowards or traitors or some other name. But look what happened to the ones that stayed. Did they turn the country around? Did they fight harder? One can say they could have done more to fight Hitler but then it is easier to sit on the sidelines and make judgements over those who died under Hitler’s rule.
    The truth is everyone has a choice based on their circumstances and who is to criticize or shame someone for making a decision and acting on it. Certainly I won’t .

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