Manitoba·Opinion

'Keep your passports up to date': U.S. election has American in Canada wishing she had more beds

After the U.S. election, we got a call from a Jewish friend in Minnesota whose in-laws had lost family members in the Holocaust. Could we be her emergency exit plan? “Of course,” we reassured her, hoping it was all unnecessary.

We jokingly offered our guest room to U.S. friends and family before the election, but it’s no longer funny

Joanne Seiff joked to her American friends and family before the election they could stay with her if Donald Trump won and they needed to escape the country. Today, she says, no one is laughing. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

Many people have had a hard time sleeping since Trump's unexpected rise to power in the U.S. election.

I've heard mental health professionals see a rise in anxiety and fear in their patients.

As Americans living in Canada, we jokingly offered our guest room to U.S. friends and family before the election, "just in case."

Many laughed and told us they had great confidence in the rule of law. It would be OK.

After the election, one Jewish friend from Minnesota called in earnest. Her in-laws had lost family members in the Holocaust.

Could we be her emergency exit plan?

"Of course," we reassured her, hoping it was all unnecessary. "Just keep your passports up to date so you can cross the border."

These are now legitimate concerns for minorities.

While Trump appears on television on 60 Minutes and encourages people to behave themselves, it's too little, too late.

Minorities of all kinds in the U.S. have seen a marked rise in harassment and hate crimes since the election. Once this activity starts, it easily crosses international borders. Even one swastika spray-painted on a rabbi's door in Ottawa is too many. 

I heard one story the day after the U.S. presidential election that I found eerie.

Imagine this: On election night, a man lies in bed, his head whirring with the surprise Trump success at the polls. He tries to remember the last time he experienced this same sad sinking feeling because of an election. It all seemed so familiar…. Suddenly, while mulling Trump's wall, he remembered why.

It was 1991, and his last year of high school in New York State. The teachers instructed those in Grade 12 to vote in the election of the next year's school president, even though they would be graduating.

They heard the speeches and cast votes. One candidate, let's call her "Kate," had been her Grade 11 class president.

She'd served for years in student government, organizing dances, staffing the homecoming carnival and helping to rewrite the constitution. Kate was intelligent, a good student, well-spoken and popular. As a bonus, she was pretty.

All in all, she was a perfect establishment candidate. The other contender was a boy in Grade 10. Let's call him Lenny. His prior school community contributions had been roughing up smaller kids in the hall. He demanded their lunch money and pulled people's hair during school assemblies. A thug and a bully, Lenny got bad grades and had never held any political office.

Most kids were familiar with him because he'd intimidated them in some way.

Lenny joined the race as a joke, but his campaign promises were simply amazing: Field trip Fridays! Every Friday! Annihilate the football team of a rival high school! (Whether on or off the field was unspecified.) Curbs on homework! Spring break ski trips! And build a wall! Yes, a wall. A wall would permanently separate the high school from the middle school (which was physically attached to the high school).

This would block those pesky middle school students from attending high school classes for academic enrichment. How dare they cross the line? Keep them where they belong! And make the administration pay for it! Lenny's promises were ludicrous, but (maybe because they were ludicrous) he won the election.

The Grade 12 students were astonished, but they only had a month left at the school in any event.

Most left town to attend university, so they didn't see how things turned out.

More than 20 years later, that Grade 12 guy, now in his 40s, spoke to his younger brother about that crazy school election. He said he could hear his brother's grin over the phone.

"That worked out for the best!" his brother explained.

Hate has a long reach

Apparently after three months in office, Lenny, the new school president, was arrested for drug possession. He was suspended from school and was forced to resign from office. The elected vice-president took over, but didn't fulfill any of Lenny's campaign promises.

Many of us face anxiety after this election. Its effects may be far-reaching. In a practical sense, some of us may wish we had more guest bedrooms.

Who knows where the future will take us with a Trump presidency. Perhaps the rule of law will keep things safe for all in the U.S., but hate has a long reach.

No matter how tall the walls are, they don't block supremacist ideologies. However, based on one true (high school) election story from 1991, there's also a reassuring twist.

If you break U.S. law, you sometimes get caught. Why are people so unnerved by this election result? In the past, even if I didn't agree with the winning candidate, it seemed that U.S. citizens voted in leaders who aimed to be upstanding, law-abiding people.

While no one is perfect, if a U.S. election didn't go the way I'd hoped in the past, it didn't instantly make large numbers of people feel afraid for their safety and well-being.

Many Trump voters wanted a drastic change from the status quo.

Remember Lenny? You might want to be careful about what you wish for.… You just might get it.

Joanne Seiff is an American freelance writer, knitwear designer and educator who lives in Winnipeg.