I wear my Americanness more when I’m abroad. Having lived in London for four years, I’ve never felt more American in my life than this past one. Often, I found myself in the position of being asked to explain what was happening in my home country. From an ocean away, I became a quasi-representative for a nation I was watching set itself on fire. I had no ready explanation. By September, I was losing entire days to refreshing my Twitter feed. It began to get inside my head.
The only way to stop focusing on my paranoia was to start working on music. I wrote my album’s opening track, “Vin Mariani,” imagining the possibility of an election-night Trump victory. When I wrote it, I was picturing myself in a dystopian future I thought would never happen. As Trump’s victory came into view on election night, I found myself in the weird place of listening to my own song as a form of comfort. The chorus goes: “Learning to live with a decision when it’s not the one you would’ve made.” Easier said than done.
I learned firsthand that drinking your weight in whiskey will not change the result of a US presidential election. As the situation grew dire—as the meter I stared at on the front page of NYTimes.com pointed closer and closer to Donald Trump’s name as the predicted winner of the election—the more alcohol I funnelled into my face. By 4 AM UK time, Trump was clearly going to win, and I was reduced to screaming “fuck” at the top of my lungs at periodic intervals and smashing my remote control.
Three weeks after the election, I ran into a sweet Scottish neighbor on the street. She asked me if I was feeling any better, having heard my pathetic caterwauling through our shared wall. My honest response was “not really.” The truth was, I was afraid. After obsessively following the campaign, I deeply feared Trump’s authoritarian impulses, his violent anti-immigrant rhetoric, and his profound unfitness to be in possession of the nuclear codes. People were going to suffer as a result of this election. The only question was how dire the consequences would be.
Looking back now, six months into the administration, I did not expect Trump to be this chaotic and unsuccessful in implementing his agenda. After his legally illiterate executive order banning refugees and individuals from several majority-Muslim countries was struck down by court after court, an extremely watered-down version of the ban is in effect as we wait for the Supreme Court to hear the case. He shows no sign of passing regressive tax cuts, and his plans to strip millions of health care has failed pathetically. There is one area, however, where his incompetence hasn’t kept him from enacting hateful policies: immigration enforcement.
Since taking office, Trump has emboldened ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) to arrest non-criminal undocumented immigrants. As a result, undocumented victims of abuse are choosing not to report their abusers because of the risk of deportation, as outlined in the single most disturbing article I’ve read about life under Trump, Jennifer Medina’s “Too Scared to Report Sexual Abuse. The Fear: Deportation.” I understand why people are afraid—recently, addressing all undocumented people, the acting director of ICE said, “You should look over your shoulder, and you need to be worried.” The federal government is actively persecuting extremely vulnerable communities. As has been pointed out repeatedly, undocumented immigrants are actually less likely to commit crimes than US-born residents, which means the federal government is pursuing policy based entirely on uninformed racism and xenophobia. This is a travesty.
It’s particularly galling because most undocumented people live in major metropolitan areas, none of which voted for Trump. Rural communities without a large undocumented population are setting draconian immigration policies in the urban areas where they don’t live. Cities like New York and Los Angeles have declared themselves sanctuaries, which is a step in the right direction, but, as Shakeer Rahman and Robin Steinberg write in “Sanctuary Cities in Name Only,” that alone is not enough to help the most vulnerable. As the article points out, cities need to eliminate the quota-driven style of policing and also stop cooperating with ICE. Just last month, Oakland announced that it was severing its ties with ICE. Other cities need to follow suit.
Also necessary is arming the undocumented with tools they can use to know their rights and protect their safety. I’ve begun regularly donating to the Immigrant Defense Project, which is doing incredible work providing legal advice in immigration cases, training and supporting community advocates, and countering raids both in the courts and more directly—the organization offers this ICE raids toolkit on its website for those at risk.
As a touring musician, I know well the feeling of needing to cross borders to make a living. And as an immigrant living in the UK, I also know the precarious feeling of having one’s ability to return home to one’s life and family in an adopted country reduced to a question of paperwork at the border. I am no different from the undocumented workers who come to the United States in search of opportunity except that, through accidents of circumstance, I have had the privilege of being able to travel the world without any fear of being declared “illegal.” As Elie Wiesel once said, “no human being is illegal.” Fighting this administration is one of the best ways to honor those words.