Spin the Globe with Justin Butner

A world citizen may provide value to society by using knowledge acquired across cultural contexts.

Devastation in Real Time

I wrote the majority of this immediately after the 2016 US election. The emotions in it are those of someone still in the throes of processing what had just happened. The past two months have brought staggering developments that few would have predicted. But they have also brought some level of acclimation, acceptance, and acquiescence as they wear us down to the strange times we are living in. My hope is that in reading this you will be able to go back to a time when the unthinkable was new, when you were resolved that you were going to do everything in your power to fight for the future, lest we forget.


It was a foolish exercise to check the internet before I got into my mediation. While I have been better about checking my phone before I accept that I’m awake, I have been worse at checking it before I try to free my mind from distractions and sit without thought. For obvious reasons, this doesn’t go well. Some days are worse than others.

It seemed apt on that day that the guided meditation was the last in a pack focusing on taking a step back from becoming personally involved with thoughts by asking one simple question: “Is this all a dream?”

And, on that day, more than most, I hoped that it was.

The morning was Wednesday, November 9. It was my 9am, which was Tuesday, November 8 at 9pm back in Washington, DC. I had just spent an hour switching between the New York Times and Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight. I was watching the events of the night unfold, or rather unravel. It was still early enough that the likelihood was less than 50%. But that was much higher than the 20% that it should have been or that everyone had been expecting. And so I sat, asking myself, “Is this all a dream?”

I’m not one to hide my emotions strongly, so when I got to work I responded to my manager with a “I’m doing terribly, today, actually.” He realized I wasn’t joking and sat with me. “It’s not over yet?”


“Well, then it maybe is not bad.”


“Have you breakfast?”


“I make you eggs.”

The difficulty with being on the other side of the world from a major overnight event is that I’m watching it unfold in real time throughout the day. Any chance I had of focus on work or personal tasks was shot when that dial tipped 50% probability. I stared at the screen in disbelief. As the needle nudged upwards, as states were called, as votes came in, as it all happened. I stared. I dove headlong into Twitter and Facebook. I watched as the rest of the world, those that were awake, began to react.

I saw Australians and Kiwis, and a consortium of European travelers who were still in Asia on travel, all jumping in. Disbelief. Shock. Horror. Disappointment. Offers of asylum and places to stay.

As the results became more solid, I left the office. I needed a drink and a hug. As I stood in the Chill Zone hugging Ben, the first tears came. “We just Brexited,” I fumbled out through a cracking voice. He looked confused. “We just elected Trump. We’ve gone full Brexit.” With a shocked look on his face, as he processed the impossible words, he took a walk to the fridge and without words pulled out two beers. I asked for a shot of whisky as well. A few plugs of my beer left enough room to top it up into a boilermaker. Within ten minutes that drink would be gone.

“How could this happen?”

Over the course of downing my drink, I explained it from my point of view. The Voting Rights Act being dialed back (1). Wisconsin’s refusal to issue voting IDs, then it’s conflicting information and misinformation (2). North Carolina’s restricted hours (3). The NC GOP’s bragging press release (4) and active voter suppression (5). Polling locations in Michigan’s issues with broken machines (6). People all over being stuck in long lines (7), being told to go home when the polls closed. Restricted polling locations (8). Comey’s “new evidence” a week before the election (9). The media’s false equivalency (10). The media’s treatment of the candidacy like a joke at first, then burying stories that would have ended the contest six months ago to keep ratings up, then their belated realization that they had let it go too far, unable to dial it back in the last month before the election.

Trump’s election wasn’t a mandate of the people. It was a hard-won theft on many levels.

The only positive I could think of was that there was likely to be far less rioting, church burning, and mosque firebombing in the coming week.

I polished off my drink and headed back to work. I spent the next few hours refreshing the news, reading explanations, watching the drama unfold. And drinking. Sporadically I would think back to my friends in the US, to those who are not white, those who are not straight, those who are trans, those who are in any way not cis hetero white males. I thought back to my family. How were they likely taking it? And then I thought to my niece. She was the one I cried for. Welcome to the world, kid. We had the hope of grabbing the wheel and heading into the future but it appears you were born just in time for us to drive it off a cliff. You will inherit the scorched earth. We have failed you. I closed myself in the luggage room in the dark, I sat on the floor, and I cried.

This is not a loss of an election. I was upset when Jim “I’m the NRA” Gilmore won the governorship of Virginia. I was angry when Scalia tipped the courts toward W in 2000. But I was not devastated. I was not crushed. Though I disagreed with them on issues, they were politicians who had ran political campaigns and were constrained by the rule of law and, to some extent, decency. This was something else. This was hate. This was a dictator who openly preached hate, courted it, and won on it. This wasn’t a loss on issues, and it wasn’t going to be okay.

It turned out to be a busy day for tours. People came in. Every one of them asked. Usually only a few do, but today everyone seemed to hear it in my voice. “Where are you from?” I told them that today I was from Canada. I wasn’t ready to discuss it. It was too fresh and every time I saw their look of confusion, then the small wave of understanding, I started to crack a little. I kept tissues at the desk.

When the tour came back for the day, a group of 6 women from around Europe were all smiles. They had just come back from our 2-day Mountain Trail. I had been planning to join them, but had forgone it in favor of getting some work done. The last time I had gone on the trail, Brexit had happened. This time…

One of them turned on her phone. She needed to check the results of the election she said jokingly.

“No. You don’t.”

They heard it in my voice. Everyone froze. They all turned to look at me. With wet eyes I just shook my head.

“You’re joking.”

I shook it again.

Everyone frantically turned back to the one with her phone. She looked down, thumbs flying, then a pause, then her face sunk. Everyone else followed suit. There was silence. Then, finally, “How?”

“Drinks are on me. I’m three deep at this point. You’ve got some catching up to do. Who wants a beer?”

As we all sat around the table, the conversation was heavyhearted. No one was happy. No one understood it. I had the best understanding of the logistical ‘how’ it happened, but I wasn’t any closer to really grasping the larger ‘how in the hell could this happen?’ We talked. At length. About the implications. About what it would cause. About how it could have been avoided. At least I think that’s what we talked about. From that point on I remember only bits and pieces. It had been an emotionally draining day, and alcohol was now involved.

I jumped over to the desk to sell more tours throughout the time of drinking and commiserating. The sales side of things didn’t seem to suffer. After my shift, I took the group out to see the town. The town after my shift ends consists of a few bars and a couple clubs. We aimed for my favorite bar. Then on to the club. I walked them back to their guesthouse, then headed home, where I puked and went to bed, sick of the world (and possibly beer).

In the days since, I have allowed people to guess at my accent and I have not corrected them. It is easier that way. I have been Canadian. I have been Kiwi. I have been British. Those that guess American usually ask. How could they not? How could we let it happen? How did it get this far? I have yet to meet a traveler happy about the outcome. Some may not be disheartened or angry, but at best they are indifferent. Many of them have opinions about it. Some of those are well-informed. Some less so.

No American I have met – and there have been only a couple – has been happy about it. And how could they be? These are Americans who are traveling in foreign countries and surrounding themselves with people of other races as a vacation. I haven’t seen the breakdown of this statistic, nor do I think it is available, but I would be willing to wager that an overwhelming percentage of Americans with passports for non-military reasons were on the losing side of this election.

As the days (and now months) have passed, this has not diminished. The rest of the world is sitting in judgment of what we have done. They have stayed surprisingly well-informed about it. As have I. The news reports are a strong part of my day now. I have never been more up to speed on the political climate in the US, the goings on, the appointments, and the suggested appointments. I have spent the time since the election going through several stages of loss. Denial, depression, anger. There has been no bargaining. And I have not come to acceptance. I will not. This is not in the realm of politics. This is not okay. Nor do I think, when all is looked back on with perspective, that the election was fair or real (11).

One of the reasons for my sojourn in Laos has been my desire to figure out my direction. How can I help the world? What do I want to do with it? What would make me happy and what direction should I head in? The recent weeks have given me a much higher level of anxious energy behind that. I don’t have any answers. But I am twitching to find them.

  1. www.nytimes.com/2013/06/26/us/supreme-court-ruling.html
  2. https://www.thenation.com/article/wisconsin-is-systematically-failing-to-provide-the-photo-ids-required-to-vote-in-november/
  3. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-election-northcarolina-insight-idUSKBN12Y0ZY
  4. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/11/07/north-carolina-s-racist-voter-suppression-is-working.html
  5. http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/11/north-carolina-early-voting/506963/
  6. http://motorcitymuckraker.com/2016/11/08/broken-voting-machines-among-widespread-problems-metro-detroit/
  7. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/elections/2016/11/08/voting-polls-election-day/93201770/
  8. http://www.theroot.com/articles/news/2016/11/less-polling-places-for-people-of-color/
  9. http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2016/10/comey-accused-of-breaking-the-law-with-his-clinton-reveal.html
  10. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/the-danger-of-false-equivalence_us_57db909ae4b04fa361d99724
  11. http://www.esquire.com/news-politics/politics/news/a50738/russia-wikileaks-2016-election/

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This entry was posted on January 12, 2017 by in America, Laos, Luang Namtha.

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