I hear something in Hebrew. I look back, confused, at the woman behind the counter. She switches languages and says, “Ah of course, you are American. How will you be paying?” I hand her my credit card and she responds, “thank you. So you are American. How do you feel about Trump?” This exchange was common during my recent trip to Israel during Winter Break.
As I traveled abroad, being a foreigner in a different country made me experience a form of patriotism that I have never felt before. The discomfort of being in a country that is not America is always there – nothing feels like being in your native country – but I also felt I could be a personal ambassador for America. Everywhere I went, once people knew I was American, the same question arose: “What do you think of Trump?” This was posed to me countless times, typically with some laughter as if they knew the answer already. They never anticipated the conversation that would follow. I always asked what they were curious to know about. Most Israelis wanted to hear about Trump’s policies on Israel. They would get excited when I would mention his plans to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem but would also say they hear he lies all the time. The conversation would quickly move on to other topics. Their image of Trump never defined their image of America.
I did not vote for Donald Trump. I did not vote for any of my representatives in the federal government nor in florida’s government. However, I am still prouder than ever to be an American and happy to talk about what that means with people. My fellow Americans on my trip would tell Israelis that they were ashamed to be American because of Trump. This always bothered me. America is not defined just by its leaders. It is defined by every individual and how they contribute to our country. We the people elect our representatives to lead, but their job is also to represent us and our interests.
I have come across a growing amount of anti-patriotism among individuals in college and across the country since the election, and it must stop. You can love your country without loving its leaders. We hold national elections every two years and leadership will always change. There will be many domestic and foreign policies that our government will pursue that I and many others will not support. This always happens. About half the country will disagree with the government and half will support it. We have checks and balances that theoretically lead to more centrist policies, but for the next two years (at least) this likely will not happen as often because of the complete Republican control of all parts of the federal government. While this is occurring, the half of the country that is upset by the government can still wake up each day and fight for what they care about. We can write to our representatives and explain our positions, support institutions that need our help, or begin preparing for the next election. All of this will help shape the government, but the government is just one part of what defines a nation. After talking about President Trump, many Israelis would ask about the NBA, where they should go when they visit the USA, or tell me about food they had the last time they were in America. This is a reminder that we are more than just our government. We, the American people, are what shapes our country.
To be an American is a privilege and to represent America is an honor. The values of our country come from many different places and our leadership does not decide what they are. We do. I knew every time I spoke to an Israeli I became their image of what all Americans are like. It is not our politics that defines us a nation. America is a nation of immigrants, all with different stories, who come from different places and backgrounds. I cannot represent all of America, but America can represent all of us. Americans may not realize that the important values of domestic tranquility, promoting general welfare, and securing liberty do not just come from the preamble to our constitution. They are the values that come from the people. They are the values we each hold and care about. America has its problems—every nation does—but we are a country of great individuals that has accomplished and will continue to accomplish amazing things because of the principles that guide us as individuals. Never be ashamed to be American. Be proud and continue to care about not just our politics, but our core values.