The United(ish) States of Berkeley

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Kayla Baskevitch/File

T
he Fourth of July in Boston should have been a moment of overwhelming pride. Certainly, it was an exciting day. As a proud cornerstone of colonial American history, Boston takes Independence Day quite seriously. Thousands of people celebrated together on the banks of the Charles River, staring up at the wide New England sky as red, white and blue fireworks rained down on the water below against the backdrop of the patriotically lit Prudential Tower and Bunker Hill Bridge. You could practically hear the metaphorical bald eagle screeches in the distance.

It was beautiful, certainly, but as a NorCal native working on the east coast for the summer, it was difficult not to feel out of place. I felt almost guilty, too, for not being able to appreciate the spectacle for what it seemed to mean to so many others. They saw pride and freedom, and I saw desperate hoping that everything wouldn’t fall to pieces.

Four years ago, in a simpler time when Mitt Romney claimed that 47 percent of Obama supporters were government-dependent and applauded his binders full of women, I heard jokes about packing up and moving to Canada if the election didn’t go well.

It was a trope that worked for those from both sides of the partisan divide: If you don’t like the new president, move to Canada. If Proposition 8 passes, move to Canada. If it fails, move to Canada too. If America goes to hell, flee to the land of poutine and Tim Horton’s and leave your American identity behind.

For the last year, the UK was my Canada. I had already bookmarked application pages to graduate schools in London. Before the Brexit vote passed and revealed to the international community that this racially charged surge of nationalism and xenophobia hadn’t just reached the U.S., I had thought the UK was safe — a place to which I could run if everything were to go horribly wrong Nov. 8.

But, instead, I’m here, watching a man and a woman tear each other to shreds in what feels like a nationally televised, 18-month fight club. I find myself genuinely wondering if the values put forth in this long and bitter campaign are ones I believe in, if I’m actually proud to be an American.

In a place as large and politically diverse as the United States, it’s easy to feel alienated from other areas of the country, especially in a notoriously liberal bubble like Berkeley. But the outcomes and attitudes around the political process have a direct effect on us as well. This election season has forced me and many others to reexamine the way we look at patriotism in the United States.

“I don’t know if I’m patriotic,” said UC Berkeley senior Petra Chalmers, who identifies as a Democrat. “It’s tricky, because for me it has the connotations of militarism and nationalism, but then it can also have the connotation of ‘I’m an American, and I’m demanding that we improve on things.’ ”

Moderate sophomore Brandon Clement said he is ultimately proud to be American, but “as of now, I’m kind of ashamed, just because everything’s just really not pretty … but deep down, I’m hoping that it’s going to work out. And I’m scared, as an American.”

For many students, there are reasons for fear. On a campus known for its strong liberal bias, the emergence of right-wing nationalism can feel extremely threatening. A surge in anti-immigration and Islamophobic rhetoric in the United States can even leave many students and Americans fearful for themselves and their families

“From an undocumented perspective, it’s actually really scary,” said recent UC Berkeley alumnus Efrain Carrillo. “I’m currently under this provisionary act called DACA which allows me to legally work in the United States. That’s provisionary, so you have to extend it every two years. It’s pretty scary hearing Donald Trump say all that he says about undocumented or illegal immigrants because if he were for whatever reason to become president, I don’t know what my future would be like.”

Even with several well-respected polls declaring a Democratic victory to be a near-definite outcome, the fallout of the election remains to be seen. It feels naive to assume that Trump’s supporters will simply fade into the woodwork in the near future. “As scary as (Trump) is, all of those people that are gaga for him and support him scare me more than he does,” said Chalmers. “(Their support) shows this underlying — and now very overt — hatred and xenophobia and racism against anybody who’s different than them.”

My own liberal identity has been shaped by the past 21 years in the Bay Area, by friends from different backgrounds and perspectives who make me grateful to be surrounded by such a level of diversity and critical thought. Maybe that’s why modern American nationalism scares me so badly. It comes from a perspective of othering and anger that I simply cannot understand. It allows people to hide toxic actions and attitudes behind a facade of patriotism. In light of everything, I think I am most afraid to call myself patriotic in a climate that increasingly conflates patriotism with bigotry.

Senior Katherine Krive, who identifies as a conservative, hasn’t let the political climate sway her perspective or national pride. “I think it shows that the country is very divided right now, but I don’t think it changes how I view the fact that I think our core values are still the same,” she said. “You still should be grateful for the freedom that we have to even have people with such extreme views.”

Growing up and living in the United States is an undeniable privilege. We are lucky that on this campus and in this country, we have a right to free speech and open discourse lacking in other places. UC Berkeley students are particularly lucky to be direct benefactors of American public higher education. But that doesn’t leave us without reason to criticize and question this nation and our relationship with it. The stakes of this election are too high not to be critical.

On Thursday night, Donald Trump was booed onstage at the Al Smith dinner, a Catholic charity fundraiser where his comedy roast of Clinton seemed to go too far. Evidently, I agree with the crowd — I’m not so sure it’s funny anymore.

Kelsi Krandel is a writer for the Weekender. Contact her at [email protected]

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