It’s been 10 days since I returned to my other home in New Zealand. When I first returned to live for the majority of the year in the United States this past spring, I wrote a short piece explaining why Ruth Bader Ginsberg had the right idea when she chided that if Donald Trump became the next President, it was time to move to New Zealand. I happily explained what I loved about my adopted homeland and why I had been reluctant to return to the United States even though my husband, a native Kiwi, had been recruited back to his former job with the State of New Jersey.
At the time, it seemed there was as much chance of Donald Trump being elected as there would be a 7.8 earthquake centred on the East Coast of New Zealand, revealing a previously unknown major geological fault which would trigger tsunami warnings and cause extensive structural damage to major thoroughfares as well as the foundation of major high rise structures in New Zealand’s capital of Wellington.
It also seemed impossible that New Zealand’s ridiculously popular Prime Minister, John Key, would resign before seeking a fourth term in office. But last week, he surprised the world be offering his immediate resignation, stating that he needed to spend more time with his family.
It was all gobsmackingly unbelievable.
Within weeks, all these improbable events transpired, triggering what I can only describe as Post Traumatic Election Disorder, a diagnosis whose symptoms eerily resemble my experience of growing up in a household of Holocaust Survivors, where no one slept, my Bubbah read the Yiddish Daily Forward all night, my father frequently screamed himself awake and my ill mother harnessed all her energy to simply walk as she suffered from a neurological muscular disorder related to meningitis she had suffered in concentration camp.
My symptoms of PTED hit hard on Election Night as my feelings of cautious optimism gradually soured to full-blown grief. As the voting tallies rolled in and the battleground states expected to turn sky blue mulled blood red, and Nate Silver’s hair started to look like he had been caught in a wind tunnel as his trustworthy predictability meter moved dramatically from blue left to red right, my head started to throb, my stomach rumbled, my blood pressure elevated to dangerously high levels and my entire body shifted into flight or flight mode.
I was getting ready to run.
Before Donald Trump was even declared the victor, I shut off the television and went to bed to wake my husband who had gone to sleep hours before, predicting Trump’s victory.
“We’re leaving, we’re going back to New Zealand.” I whispered, barely able to speak. In my mind, I was packing my bags. I was not going to be one of those Jews who believed that the Autocrat was only humouring his base, and would ease from the mysogynistic, racist, anti-Semitic, hateful rhetoric which had fueled his campaign.
My husband groaned and my dog kicked me with her hind legs.
“We can’t go back. We just bought a house,” he grumbled.
“I have to go,” I said, crying.
“If we go back, I won’t have work and we have two mortgages to pay.”
“I can’t stay here,” I cried. “We’ll start a business. I’ll find another five jobs to supplement my writing.”
“Do we separate?” he mumbled, still half asleep.
“Maybe!” I whispered, meaning it. “We need to plan our exit strategy.”
When I was little, I thought that when I turned 13, the Nazis were going to come and take me away to concentration camp. At that moment, my head flooded with images from the Trump Pence campaign rallies where his supporters shouted “Lock her up!” and “Hillary for Prison!’, their cries growing with passionate intensity as they demanded that the wall be built, immigrants deported and American be restored to its past greatness. I remembered how his supporters pushed a young disabled boy’s wheelchair when he came to protest Trump’s mockery of the infirm. My mother had spent most of her adult life in a wheelchair.
Growing up, my father, the only survivor of his immediate family, used to say over and over that the Holocaust could happen anywhere, even in the United States. His cynicism was tempered by his pride in the existence of the State of Israel, which he believed would fight to save the Jews of the Diaspora. Jews, he explained, were no longer passively being led to the slaughter, but were fighters, warriors, masters of industry and brilliant spies. The irony was that many of those same Jews who my father believed would protect us, had wholeheartedly supported Donald Trump, even managing Israeli telephone banks where they called American Jews in an all out effort to encourage votes for Donald Trump who they believed would be better for Israel.
Which Israel, I thought? And which Jews? Hadn’t they realised that Donald Trump’s chief campaign tactician, Breitbart’s Steve Bannon, had said that he didn’t want his children attending schools that enrolled Jews and that many white supremacist “alt-right” organizations, including the Ku Klux Klan, vigorously supported Trump’s candidacy? Didn’t they see Trump’s last anti-globalisation campaign video chose George Soros, Janet Yellen and Lloyd Blankfein, all Jews, as visual representatives of the ‘satanic’ ‘greedy’ opposition who oppressed the hard working people of the United States? Didn’t they realise that the tropes and images skilfully manipulated by the Trump campaign echoed those proposed by the virulently anti-Semitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion? Were these Jews consciously or unconsciously participating in their own demise?
The day after the election, I walked in midtown and passed Trump Tower where dump trucks loaded with sand protected the gilded entranceways as armed guards stood sentry, and peaceful protestors, resembling striking union workers, paced the sidewalk in front of Bergdorf Goodman and Harry Winston, shouting encomiums of solidarity and protest. The last time I had seen sand filled dump trucks guarding a midtown side street was when Netanyahu was staying in town to address the United Nations General Assembly. It seemed a warning oracle, presaging violence and wars to come.
I then went to have a peaceful massage, only to spend the hour listening to the masseuse, who told me that she had to change careers when she lost her job and her home was foreclosed upon, rant about how good Donald Trump was going to be for America, how he was going to rattle the establishment and shake things up in a wonderful way, including the imprisonment of George Soros who she believed was the satanic image of globalisation. When I asked her if she realised that Trump was spouting anti-Semitic tropes in his final campaign message, she plangently replied that she thought Soros was Greek. I left the massage even more tense than I had arrived.
Within days I was back in New Zealand. Walking through the town of Napier in the middle of the day, the silence roared with such a deep quiet that I thought I was falling asleep standing up. I was back in the South Pacific in the summer. I was safe. It was peaceful. But I still felt horribly ill at ease. This was also my home, but was it where I belonged? Palm trees were swinging in the breeze as I took a long walk with a good friend on a deserted pebbled beach in Haumoana.
“It will be all right, mate!”was the universal declaration I heard from both friends and acquaintances alike. Kiwis are known for their stoicism and independence. Unlike New Yorkers who go to the doctor if they have an unexplainable itch, Kiwis have to be dragged to the hospital when their broken bones are breaking through the skin.
It’s a strange time.
In the week since I’ve been back in New Zealand, I’ve discovered a swarm of bees nesting in the eaves near my television aerial, my car was rear ended by a jobber’s van while I was waiting for my turn to enter a roundabout, a gust of wind blew my bedroom window off its hinges and a tui committed suicide, throwing itself against my glass door. My little town of Havelock North is still recovering from the contamination of its main water source which sickened one-quarter of the population, even triggering Guilliame-Barre syndrome in a number of its victims. There are water restrictions imposed on all of us even as a Chinese factory, with the consent of the local Hastings Council, is freely taking water from one clear aquifer to sell it abroad.
My Jewish friends, children of war refugees, have all told me how while growing up in sleepy New Zealand, they would look out over the ocean, dreaming of transcending worlds and time. Now they declare how relieved they are to be living in a relatively liberal twin island nation without any land borders, even if the land beneath them unpredictably shakes and trembles and rages with the ferocity of caged animals.
I left my home country in a state of shock. Unlike the days after 9/11, when I flew back to New Zealand from New York, leaving behind the solidarity discovered by those united by suffering, I left behind a nation divided by schisms of public hatred probably not seen since the American Civil War. Discourse has been replaced by accusation and vitriol. Those with the loudest voices are met with death threats. Each day brings another horror and yet also another hope. Though I am relieved to now be back in my other home of New Zealand, I know that this time of renewal will be necessary to garner the energy to recover from my PETD and return home to rejoin the battle for universal human rights, social justice and humanitarian freedoms.
It will not be all right, mate. We can not give up. My father also said that as long as there is life, there is hope, as long as we do not forget So I welcome those who want to come and experience the beauty and freedoms offered by New Zealand, but now is the time to gather our forces for the struggle ahead. It will demand the best of all of us.