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Good Grief

by Brian Frederick



On the day Joe Biden took office, I was interviewed by a local radio station – apparently, they’d wanted a Biden supporter’s thoughts on the transition of power ‘back home’. 

One of the questions I was asked was what it was like to be ‘an American in the UK’ over the past four years. Not wanting to cast a downer on the day’s festivities, I cheekily sidestepped the question by joking: “Umm… I’ve actually been a Canadian in the UK these past four years.” 

I moved to the UK in the autumn of 2012, having accepted a place on a PhD programme at the University of Kent. I had only planned to stay in the UK until my graduation. Following the successful viva voce of my thesis in July 2016, I began looking for jobs back home but had no joy. I then accepted a post as a criminology lecturer at the University of Gloucestershire. My plan was to give it three years and then return home ‘for good’. 

That was before Donald Trump was elected.

Although I absolutely loved my time at UoG, I knew of only one other American lecturer, who I never met and so I became the de facto ‘go-to’ guy on the crazy state of American politics. At first, I was happy to oblige. I saw my unofficial advisor role as temporary; I was certain, like many others, that Trump would be deemed ‘unfit’ before he’d even taken the Oath of Office —if not on the basis of his ‘backroom’ business ethic, then certainly on his reputed involvement with foreign election interference. At the very least, I was confident that even those who had voted for him would soon begin to see through their emperor’s new clothes.

Obviously, none of that came to pass and I found myself increasingly (and somewhat defensively) dodging the daily demurs of friends, colleagues and students – about the actions of ‘my’ President: “Can you believe what your President has done now?” “How can your President get away with that??” Or: “How could you vote for him???” (to be clear, I have never cast a vote for a Republican, let alone Trump).

In hindsight, I wonder how many of my fellow Americans – abroad or back home – felt a sense of grief – in this case, not over the loss of loved ones, but rather, because of the resilience of someone they reviled. I should have recognised it in myself, because what began as shock and denial over Trump’s election soon led to pain and guilt over not having done more to prevent it. The way I saw it: not only had I not ‘rocked the (Democratic) vote’, my inaction, had given its opponent a safe harbour. 

I should have also perhaps recognised that I was grieving when my guilt turned to anger. And I wasn’t alone. Looking back over the past four years of social media posts – not only mine, but my (liberal-minded) friends and family – I was struck not only by its pervasiveness, but by its progressive intensity. Indeed, people who I’d never known to utter even the most innocuous of profanities began to curse and cuss like sailors – both online and offline.

It’s no secret that Trump divided Americans. At first, my (our) anger was largely directed at my (our) ‘pro-Trump’ friends and acquaintances – so much so that by the end of Trump’s presidency, few remained on any of my ‘friends lists’. Some were easier to ‘unfriend’ than others. Others unfriended me. ‘Pro-Trump’ family members were the most difficult relationships to negotiate. 

Certainly, one might be justified in assuming that my (our) pro-Trump purge(s) had helped to assuage some of the anger, but no: sadly, it wasn’t long before we’d began to turn on each other (the row between ‘Bernie Bros’ and Biden supporters comes to mind). In an effort to manage the last vestiges of my well-being, I began to distance myself from social media. In fact, I disengaged from media altogether. Not even the BBC was ‘safe’: the risk of hearing Trump’s voice – by now, a traumatising experience – was too great.

With time, my anger faded… but not at a cost: my self-imposed isolation was marked by a profound sense of loneliness. With the loneliness came depression. The stages of grief were continuing to roll not-so-merrily along. 

And then Covid hit. 

But let’s leave it there. I’m sure none of you need a re-telling of the past 11 months. 

Contrary to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s grief model, had Biden not won the election I’m not so sure that I would have eventually experienced the upward tick towards ‘acceptance’ of a second Trump term. In fact, the thought of a renewed cycle of shock and denial, of pain and guilt, of anger and bargaining, of loneliness and depression was so unbearable, I had contemplated abandoning my post at the university and joining a monastery… one without a television and where social media was forbidden. 

And then, on the 3rd of November, my cycle of grief was interrupted. At the risk of sounding cliché, it was if I had woken up from a bad dream… in a field of daisies.

Three months on and the past four years seem like a distant memory. In fact, I haven’t given a minute’s thought to Donald Trump since he boarded Air Force One for Florida.

What will Joe Biden accomplish? That remains to be seen. To be completely honest, I would have preferred a Sanders presidency. But make no mistake about it: I’m happier that Trump lost-out, than I am sad that Bernie didn’t win; I’m happy to have re-joined the daily grind of social media; and, despite our ongoing challenges with Covid, I now watch the news with a renewed sense of hope. 

Ask me how it feels to be an American in the UK now. 😉


Brian Frederick is a senior lecturer in Criminal Justice and Policing at the University of Portsmouth. Brian also presents the Crime & Investigation channel’s latest series ‘Meet Marry Murder’. In his spare time Brian likes to walk his dog Jersey on Southsea seafront.  

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