Observations from Oxford

Jonathan Janssen- Staff Writer

Perhaps it was due to my overwhelming sleep deprivation and jet lag, or maybe my continual amusement at little oddities such as the airport signs designating that “toilets” – not “bathrooms” – could be found on my left, but I did not manage to overhear a single casual conversation in the United Kingdom until I got onto the coach that would take me from London’s Heathrow airport to my new residence in Oxford.

Here, having finally found a seat and breathing a relieved sigh, I relaxed enough to hear the words of the men sitting a few seats in front of me. They were speaking quietly and with unfamiliar accents, but my blood ran cold as I made out two words that drew me in a little closer:

“Donald Trump”

Yes, even across the vast Atlantic Ocean, the spectre of American politics haunted me. As the two men rehashed arguments about reactionary voting, change for change’s sake and nationalistic sentiment, I was struck by a realization which, in hindsight, should be obvious: America does not live in a bubble. The world is watching, and right now, many are laughing.

What does this realization do? For one thing, it humbles. In shops and pubs, I felt the shame of being an American abroad. Attempting to hide my accent, I talked in short, soft phrases, speaking only when words were required of me. No matter how much I told myself to relax, I felt the burning eyes of the people of Oxford, sure to recognize the stupid American walking among them. I was far from, as the iconic song proclaims, “proud to be an American.”

The British fixation on American politics did not end when I stepped off the coach at Pullens Lane. On the first night of my arrival, our director welcomed us to Oxford, and then several of us stood around in the kitchen discussing the election results and upcoming inauguration. With a sense of pride and humor, the director recounted how his daughter – a dual-citizen of the U.S. and the U.K. – called him on the U.S. election night – crying – and asking for her U.S. citizenship papers so she could rip them up.

Of course, it costs a pretty penny to rescind one’s citizenship to a country, so her dual-citizenship still stands.

It was at this point that I really started to wonder if much of the world’s anti-Trump sentiment was not, perhaps, a bit irrational and emotion-driven.

And my experience was nowhere near its end. Our official orientation was frequently interrupted by Trump jokes, and there was an official segment – added this year – about growing British resentment toward the American presence in the U.K. due to the man’s victory. Of course, in a true love-hate manner, this antagonism mixed with Britain’s relief as the world’s fixation shifted from the U.K.’s self-proclaimed embarrassment at their referendum decision to exit the European Union to the election of our 45th POTUS.

The boiling hatred burst at Oxford on Jan. 20 when Trump took the Oath of Office. Pubs across the city hosted comedy troupes doing special “Trump nights” and many students complained of their inability to study inside our gorgeous Radcliffe Camera library due to a riotous protest taking place outside its historic walls. The American protests, likewise, bare witness to the absolute vitriol that the Left-leaning side of the world holds towards President Trump and his supporters.

The zealous devotion from the Right – calls to “bend the knee” to our “God Emperor Trump” – and the emotion-fueled tantrums of the Left – violently protesting and silencing any voices of argument – have been giant testaments the world that Americans do indeed live in the “Divided States of America.” Internet trolling from the Right and safe-space clamoring from the Left have proven to the rest of the world that we are a nation of deep turmoil and hatred for our ideological opponents.

This brings to mind the following thoughts.

Students that attend a Christian institution such as Dordt College have a unique honor and responsibility from now on: pursue academic legitimacy in a Christ-centered manner. We must work harder than ever on our essays, our lab reports and even our class engagement because every action counts. We will soon be handed the wheel of the world from the generations above us. For our future’s sake, let us never tire of chasing after success in the eyes of the Lord and our fellow neighbor and friend.

As Kingdom citizens we must reject the societal trends that threaten to divide us, and instead act with integrity and legitimacy in our political involvement, especially, but also in our academic, charitable and recreational endeavors.

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