Lifestyle & Culture

The Expat Experience: Trump has turned my America into the ‘Shining Illusion on the Hill’


When I was a reporter for European Stars & Stripes back in the 2000s, covering the SFOR Peacekeeping Mission in Bosnia, I wore out my Bosnian colleagues – the Avramović sisters Ivana and Angelina – with my chauvinism: America is the best. We’re the smartest. We’re the freest. We’re the Shining City on the Hill for the rest of the world.

I was a bit of a hypocrite because I loved living in Europe, Turkey and the Middle East. But I loved America – especially the South – when I was home and was annoyingly jingoistic about it.

To the right of Attila the Hun on foreign policy, I constantly reminded my European friends how the good ol’ U. S. of A. bailed their asses out over and over again to protect our shores – and because it was the right thing to do. To this day, America remains the only world power that invaded Europe, then not only left voluntarily, but spent billions rebuilding Germany on the way out the door.

If we Americans were nothing else, we were competent.

Son of the South

The author, left, with Brian Brislin, doin’ what Kentuckians do.

As a Son of the South, I was proud of my native Kentucky despite all of its failings as one of the poorest of the 50 states. I would tell anyone who would listen how great it was to grow up shooting, hunting and fishing, riding around in fast cars and listening to the best music while falling in love with the prettiest girls.

It was all true. And now it’s over. Just like that.

The country that has always produced the right leader at the right time – Lincoln during the Civil War, FDR during World War II and Obama during the Great Recession – is leaderless. My friend and fellow expat Daniel, who’s British, noted this week how America appears “rudderless” to the rest of the world.

As Europe recovers, America is surrendering not just to the pandemic – millions of people left without health insurance and 150,000 needless deaths – but to anti-science extremists with beliefs straight out of the Dark Ages.

I could quote Nietzsche and Hegel here on the transitory nature of empires if I wanted to show you how smart I am. Instead, all I want to do is tell you how sad I am.

I think Trump’s greatest “legacy” – along with his sheer incompetence – will be revealing an America as hollow as the Statue of Liberty. I wonder if we can ever return to anything like the American Ideal Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, Hamilton and other Founding Fathers envisioned.

Every day Donald Trump is in the White House, the odds increasingly are against it.


The truth is, Trump is an irrelevant joke. The New York Times has a riveting post about how Trump is the first president in American history to completely ignore a national crisis.

Other than Brazil, America is the only country on the planet where the leader can – with impunity – tell citizens a pandemic is a hoax, then recommend injecting Lysol to fight coronavirus.

The problem is, even if President Trump loses in November, we still end up with a 70-plus-year-old president of questionable ability, dealing with a congress full of crypto-fascists such as Jim Jordan, Matt Gaetz, Marsha Blackburn and Rand Paul from Kentucky.

Whoever succeeds Trump walks into a trap, because Trump’s presidency destroyed the illusion that America has any behavioral norms. If Trump can brag about sexual assault, ridicule political opponents and do nothing when the Russians interfere in our elections and pay the Taliban to kill our soldiers, righteous public indignation that contained past executive branch excesses simply isn’t there. If he loses in November, who says he’ll even leave office?

When inchoate anger and kleptocracy replace Lincoln’s incorruptible integrity, you’re headed down the slippery slope of reshaping America as a Banana Republic, and I’m not talking about the apparel chain.

No national vision

Watching all this from the placid Netherlands, it’s not so much Trump I’m worried about as that homegrown Hitler he’s opened the door to.

Trump’s presidency (and I use the term lightly) has revealed that about 30 percent of Americans are angry reactionaries. The scariest part of this is that neither he nor his base can even articulate a vision for America. No “the business of America is business.” No Great Society. No “ask not what your country can do for you ….” No Ronald Reagan’s Shining City on the Hill. No George W. Bush’s compassionate conservatism and colorblind, merit-based appointments of Condoleezza Rice and Gen. Colin Powell and more Hispanics than I can name.

Trump stands for nothing, which gives him the flexibility to pivot wherever he thinks his base is going – the perfect setup for a more competent authoritarian to ultimately replace him.

The saddest element of all this is that it took four years to go from the post-recession Obama Renaissance to the Trump Tragedy. Four years. The rot was always there, just below the surface.

Yes, Europe will benefit from America’s decline. There will be a new generation of American expats fleeing the chaos including tech innovators and entrepreneurs. But we’ll all face a darker future; an emboldened China and a ruthless Russia, not to mention homegrown nationalist extremism, knowing we can no longer count on America.

About the author:

Terry Boyd is co-founder of Dispatches Media, based in Eindhoven, Netherlands. Boyd has been a military reporter, business reporter and an entrepreneur, founding Insider Louisville, a pure-play digital news platform, in 2010.

Boyd & Family are long-time expats and have lived in Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands.

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Co-CEO of Dispatches Europe. A former military reporter, I'm a serial expat who has lived in France, Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands.

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