Land of the Brave? Trump victory and the American Scots who saw it happen

Nathanael Williams

CommonSpace spent the US election night amongst some of Edinburgh's American expats to gauge their reactions on a momentous evening

“WE’LL still do it, we’ll do it – I know,” that was the desperate phrase uttered by a group linguistics and biosciences students standing in a crowded bar in Edinburgh as the result for Florida came in.

Through muffled sobs that spread through the Golf Tavern in Edinburgh’s student quarter, Americans who had come, hoping the nightmare of a Donald Trump presidency would be put to bed, saw that likelihood grow and grow as the numbers came in.

The atmosphere had been pulsating with optimism and many jokes at the tycoon billionaire’s expense. Students, ex-military personnel, designers, engineering majors all milled with each other in an area so choked a ballot slip couldn’t have fit between the gaps of the crowd. In such meetings you see the positive side of national unity and identity amongst individuals far from home, still passionate about the meaning and purpose of their nation.

Karen Polnus from Cambridge, Massachusetts, that hub of liberal intellectual certainty, spoke earlier in the night about her sense of woe that a lot of damage had already been done to the prestige of American elections.

Speaking to CommonSpace, the 31 year old doctor of languages said: “I mean – I think about how the conversation, the national conversation has developed… it’s disturbing and wounding. I have an uncle who I got into an argument about over him supporting Trump – you know he’s the kind of guy who wants government out of his life.

“But his family benefited from programs like the GI Bill after the war. He went to college through a government bursary system. It’s astonishing the gap there. The same kind dissonance you found in Brexit – I think.”

Gina Tang, an Asian American ex-military voter from California, also mentioned her fears of the destruction of any idea of America being a society centered on diversity or that the progress made over the last few decades could be halted or reversed. “When it’s acceptable to disrespect the office of the presidency by calling a man and his families all kinds of slurs, that’s when you sense something has been broken.

“It’s like old divisions have been opened up fresh.”

There were stories very similar to this throughout the crowd which was a mixture of Independents, Clinton supporters and a high proportion of Bernie Sanders supporters who would later lament their candidate’s absence on the ballot.

Matthew Grollber from Colorado who just arrived back in Edinburgh after campaigning in the states for Clinton (or rather as he was keen to express against Trump) said: “I personally voted for Bernie with my ballot a while ago in the primaries but I still hoped she could do it – I don’t know. She has a lot of flaws, but there’s a lot of sexism too.”

“It’s like old divisions have been opened up fresh.” Gina Tang

Two major lighting points changed the mood in the Golf Tavern from jovial nervousness to sickening dread. Cheers rang out as New Mexico and Connecticut went predictably to the former secretary of state but a deftly silence hit the room as the state of Ohio was called for Trump. Then the coup de grace came just after 3 in the morning, setting off a flood of tears and slumping on chairs, when Florida with its 29 electoral votes was declared for Donald Trump.

At this point with Clinton on 197 and Trump on 222 electoral college votes, the finishing line of 270 fast approaching, an art student who is registered as Independent but who has Republican-voting parents expressed her distraught.

Iris, 22 said: “My dad voted for Clinton, he’s not too liberal but voted for her cause he couldn’t stomach that guy [Trump]. I’m not moving back.” She wipes her reddened eyes and swollen cheeks adding, “I guess we didn’t really understand how vicious people felt and how divided we are now.”

Hardly anyone spoke as the wide screen TV boomed out the last states. Like America, back home – these new Scots will dread facing the new world and its post Trump politics.

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