Now that we have a (brief) moment to breathe… Confessions of a School Trip Chaperone

Now+that+we+have+a+%28brief%29+moment+to+breathe%E2%80%A6++Confessions+of+a+School+Trip+Chaperone

I remember vividly the night DT became president in November, 2016.  I was hanging out with two fellow teachers in a hotel room in Washington D.C., flipping between channels covering election night. 

 

A palpable quiet had descended over the District of Columbia, a traditionally Democratic stronghold.  Most of the polls had called it wrong.  The world had just watched Hilary Clinton’s significant lead dwindle and the man who was to become the 45th president of the United States surged ahead.  By the end of it all, DT held 306 electoral seats to Hilary’s 232.  We sat in stunned silence with the rest of the District.  But wait a minute.  Hadn’t Hilary won the popular vote by more than three million ballots?  I was mad, but I felt like crying.  

 

We had come to D.C. on a school trip with a large group of students.  Unfortunately, the trip had started off on a sour note.  Prior to our departure, back-to-back domestic terror-related deaths tied to extremism had made travel to the United States more tedious.  For example, if the name on your airline ticket wasn’t exactly the same as on your passport, you might be barred from flying to the U.S.  To make matters worse, DT was stirring the xenophobic pot.  As the BBC reported, “Scapegoating Islam and vilifying Muslims was far more than merely campaign messaging; for [DT] it was a winning strategy.”  

 

On November 4th, we flew to Toronto without mishap.  But upon landing in Washington D.C., as we moved through immigration and security, one of our students was pulled aside by security officer.  I approached, the student, Theo.

 

“What’s up?” I said.

 

“The officer wants me to go with him,” Theo replied.

 

The security officer held a hand up to me.  “Sir, please step back.”

 

I bristled at the gesture, but mustered some calm.  “I’m his teacher.  We’re on a school trip.  If you need to take him somewhere, I really should accompany him.”

 

“Please step back, sir.”

 

Theo shrugged.  “I’ll be all right Mr. D.  My Dad warned me that something like this would happen.”

 

“I’ll wait here for you,” I said.

 

The security officer didn’t like this.  “Sir, please finish passing through security.  You can meet him on the other side.”

 

The group met Theo a few minutes later.  Apparently, security had done a body search and asked him a few questions.  They had the right to do this, but I was dubious about their motives for selecting Theo.

 

When we got to baggage claim, forty-nine students rounded up their suitcases; only one student’s suitcase did not arrive.  You guessed, it.  Theo—last name Mohamed.

 

Theo was a jovial guy, but his mood was starting to change.   “I can’t believe this,” he said.  We couldn’t either.  Theo’s dad, Dr. Islam Mohamed, a cancer researcher respected across Canada, later told us he’d often faced similar scrutiny at U.S. airports.

 

To make matters worse, Theo Mohamed’s suitcase didn’t show up for another two days, forcing us to buy him new clothes in which to tour D.C.  What was done to him, was done to all of us.  We were mad, but we felt helpless against this type of discrimination.

 

It made the election of the Bigot in Chief two days later that much more bitter.  It’s why I wanted to cry.  Theo’s experience was just the tip of the iceberg.

 

While Theo’s suitcase was still MIA, D.C. treated us to an enlightening experience.  We visited multiple landmarks and museums, among them Arlington Cemetery, the Lincoln Memorial, Capitol Hill, the White House, and more significantly, the Smithsonian, the Holocaust Museum and the Museum of African American History.  Students and chaperones alike came away from these places with a clear sense of the strength of the American character:  that no matter how cruel the world became, somehow Americans would claw their way back to that idealized notion of democracy, of the good, what E.B. White referred to as “the mustard on the hotdog” and “the score at the beginning of the ninth”.  

 

But the outcome of the election had tainted all of that.  A spray tanned loud-mouthed, misogynist-of-a-celebrity from the hit show ‘The Apprentice’ had stepped from the fray of political front-runners into the most powerful position on earth.  And he had done it on a platform of fear mongering, isolationism and catering to the rich, that included a temporary ban on Muslims, building a wall and making Mexico pay for it, and repealing the Affordable Care Act. And worst of all, he had done it (we assumed at the time) legally and with the semi-reluctant support of the Republican Party.  Like the rest of the world, I don’t think they quite knew what they were in for. 

 

Don’t get me wrong.  I was no Hilary fan.  I had never liked her smugness, nor the fact that she’d sold out to big pharmaceutical companies, and, as a result, quite abruptly ended her fight for universal health care, which, if memory serves, coincided with the prospect of a presidential run.  But given my dislike of Clinton, that should tell you how dreadful a leader I thought DT was going to be.

 

Being a Canadian, I have the privilege of being interested in, but much less affected by, U.S politics than my American counterparts.  I can only vote in elections north of the 49th parallel.  But having lived in the U.S. and attended American International Schools growing up, it was as ingrained in me to follow the outcome of the U.S. elections as it was to follow the NBA Finals.

 

So there we were, three adults, slack-mouthed and wondering what the hell just happened, like much of the rest of the nation.

 

The effects of the election continued to haunt us as we toured New York City on November 10th.  That evening, as we gazed down from the top of the Empire State Building at the teeming streets below, one of the Kutcher twins said, “Hey, what’s going on down there?  It looks like ants flooding the streets!”  Angry Democrats were storming towards T’s Tower on Fifth Avenue.  

 

On the campaign trail in 2016, DT had notoriously said, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and wouldn’t lose any voters, okay?” He’d mimicked firing a gun with his expressive little fingers. “It’s, like, incredible.”  Now, a vociferous crowd with a legal permit to protest descended on the 58-floor skyscraper, partly because it was a symbol of all they detested about DT, and partly because, like us, they didn’t know what else to do.  From all accounts, the election had gone fair and square to the Republicans.  Their soon-to-be Cyrus would be crowned in January.

 

I was glad that the students got to see these two pillars of the U.S. constitution being upheld:  the right to vote (despite the quality of the contenders); and the right to (loud but) peaceful assembly.  But aside from that, the only other real satisfaction turned out to be sharing the best Cannoli in Little Italy with my two counterparts.  Otherwise, I was pretty depressed.

 

Here’s the timeline according to Business Insider:

 

  • November 8th.  At 2:30am on the night of the election, Hillary Clinton called DT to concede his win.
  • November 9th, the General Services Administration authorized the release of funds for the presidential transition.
  • While we were still in New York, Clinton made her concession speech and the Defense Secretary gave the formal order for a peaceful transition of power.
  • On November 10th, DT and Obama took an hour and a half together in the Oval Office, and Obama shook DT’s hand in front of the cameras.

 

Although not happy about it, I understood that herein lay another crucial example of the democratic process:  the peaceful transfer of power to the new leader.

 

There are many reasons why DT will go down as the worst president in U.S. History, most of them still unfolding. I could recount tales of sexual misconduct, harassment, bullying, white supremacy, racism, homophobia, transphobia and xenophobia.  I could throw down diatribes of collusion with Russia, cozying up to despots, obstruction of justice, impeachment, staff incarcerations, nepotism, anti-environmental policies, Me-first legislation and a criminally slow pandemic response.  (For a full list, it’s worth visiting “Lest We Forget the Horrors:  A Catalog of T****’s Worst Cruelties, Collusions, Corruptions and Crimes”  .)

 

But instead, let me harken back to what happened to Canadian Theo Mohamed, upon entering the U.S. with a school group.  The spirit of that moment continued to plague me well after we returned to Canada.  

 

Two months later, on Friday, January 27, 2017 (one week after his poorly attended swearing-in ceremony), the president signed an Executive Order banning foreign nationals from seven predominantly Muslim countries from visiting the country for 90 days, suspended entry to the country of all Syrian refugees indefinitely, and prohibited any other refugees from coming into the country for 120 days.

 

Now, one might argue, these were only temporary bans designed to appease his base, in whom he’d stoked a plethora of fears, to fulfill a campaign promise.  But we had already come to learn first-hand how harmful DT’s haphazard yet calculated political moves could affect a KSS student simply because of his last name. 

 

To counter, on January 28th, Justin Trudeau said he would take refugees banned by the U.S.

 

When we started to plan our next New York trip, this issue came to the forefront, and I addressed it at a Department Head meeting:  What if a KSS student was turned back at the U.S. border for being Muslim?  While the notion didn’t get much traction at that time, on December 8, 2017, KSS principal Troy White released the following (abbreviated) communication to all parents and staff:

 

“Dear Parents:


“At the last School District #23 Board of Education Meeting, the Board of Education approved the ‘no child be left behind’ policy for all Out-of-Country Field Study Trips (current and future):

 

“Given the uncertainty of new travel restrictions and when they may come into effect, should any situation arise that results in students or staff being excluded from a field study trip across an international border, including being denied entry to another country despite having appropriate documentation, the field study trip will be cancelled and the group as a whole will return home and not proceed.”

 

“Our school district is multicultural and inclusive and these essential principles of our school system are integrated into all of our policies, programs, operations, and practices, including field trips….”

 

At least on the home front, decency had prevailed.  At least our school district led by example. And fortunately, the next trip went off without a hitch.

By Wednesday morning, November 4, 2020, Jo Biden and Kamala Harris appeared to have won the presidential election, running on a platform of inclusivity, putting American’s health first in the fight against Covid, and drawing the nation together.  Today, Friday, November 13th, the contested states of Arizona and Georgia were officially called for Biden, giving him 306 electoral college votes to DT’s 232 (the exact opposite of the 2016 election).  What is more, both the Election Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council and the Election Infrastructure Sector Coordinating Executive Committees have determined “The November 3rd election was the most secure in American history.”

 

 Joe Biden and the first African-Asian-American, let alone woman, elected to the vice-presidency, Kamala Harris, will ascend the throne, and I’m pretty happy.

 

Yes, as I write this DT is still giving his soft opposable thumbs a work out crying election fraud through Twitter and forcing the Republican congressional and other leadership into a morally compromising position.  Yes, DT is going to try to make life difficult for the incoming administration.  Yes, he’ll probably take it to the brink of a Coup D’état, only to divert and begin his new Fox-rivaling media empire.  But the writing is on the wall for Agent Orange, and eventually he will face banishment from the White House.

 

But DT will come first in something—The Triad of Shame:  he is now the only president in history to have been impeached, served only one term and lost the popular vote (twice).

 

I look back on that election night in our D.C. hotel room, I look back at the humiliation Theo Mohamed must have felt being singled out by security, and the Canadian women in hijabs turned back at the Ontario-U.S. border.  I think of my Mexican-American friends who got accosted after DT described his southern neighbors as rapists and murderers, and I think of the assault on the environment by revoking important conservation laws.  I think of the Asian-Americans bullied because DT called it the China or Kung Fu Virus, and the 244,172 dead (as of today) in the U.S. due to a botched Covid response. I think of Don Jr. calling the current Covid death toll as “Almost nothing.”  And I think of Melania wearing an overcoat that said, “I really don’t care.  Do U?” on a trip to visit immigrant kids at a border detention centre.

 

Donald Trump is on the way out.  I really DO care.

 

Don’t U?

 

It’s, like, incredible.