Originally Published in Slate
Molly Olmstead - November 10, 2020
Donald Trump will leave office on Jan. 20, but the president’s policies—consistently anti-immigrant, anti-science, and intolerant—have left behind thousands of damaged lives: people who found themselves separated from their children or parents, those who have come to fear for their own safety over their gender identity or race or sexual orientation, those who have lived in constant fear of deportation, and those who lost loved ones to an unnecessarily horrific pandemic.
Slate spoke to four Americans personally affected by the administration’s policies about how Trump has affected their lives and how they feel about a future without him as president. These interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.
Mahdis in California
Mahdis is an American citizen who has been waiting three years to reunite with her husband, who has been kept out of the United States because of Trump’s travel ban. Mahdis was born in Iowa and grew up in California. She fell in love with her husband, Arash, when she was 15 and living in Iran. Ten years later, they married. She moved back to the U.S. in 2017 to start Arash’s process of applying for a green card. His application has been stalled since. Mahdis now lives in Irvine, California, teaches English as a second language, and is pursuing a master’s degree. Arash still lives in Iran, owns a travel agency, and hopes to study interior design once he arrives in the U.S.
It was October 2016 that we decided, OK, it’s time. I knew that I wanted to live in America because I grew up here, and I love this culture. I moved here in the beginning of 2017. And then that was the time that Trump pushed the travel ban. Arash had his interview in January 2018. And they said, ‘We don’t know when we’re going to give you a visa. It’s under administrative process.’ For a year and a half, that was reasonable, because of the travel ban. But last July, they started giving visas again, but I don’t know, it’s like the travel ban is still there. They say that men are more dangerous coming from these countries [because of mandatory military service]. My husband is not a threat. He’s going to be adding something to society; he wants to go to university here. He’s not going to be a burden for the government.
I am an energetic person. When I was working in Tehran, I got an award for being the most energetic person and having the most positive energy in my company. But right now I’m very down. I’m always weeping. I’m just 32 years old. And I am living through stress every day. Four years of my life, where we have to make critical decisions—have a baby, buy a home, save up for our future—were ruined by the policies of the person who is governing the country. I’m an ESL teacher; typically, my job is to teach about America, because they’re all immigrants. And I am supposed to tell them that you can have the American dream. If you work hard, everything is beautiful, everything is achievable. I hear these comments from the students: “What kind of a country is America that you cannot have your husband with you?” And I don’t know what to say.
My [comprehensive] exam was on Nov. 6. My master’s degree depends on this test. My friend [had just] received this email rejecting [her husband’s visa] case. So I had this nightmare, and I was waiting for the letter to come. I was crying in the middle of my comps. I missed a page on the test and didn’t answer like 20 questions. I knew the answers, but my mind was blocked. And then the next morning I woke up to Joe Biden winning. I felt relief. I felt amazing. I’m just like, OK, I don’t even care about the comps anymore. It was miracle news.
We had this great feeling of victory for one day, because the next day, we heard the Trump administration has been trying to put sanctions on Iran. So I’m hoping and praying for the best. Right now, I’m 90 percent hopeful, and there’s that 10 percent dark side. But before it was 10 percent hope and 90 percent dark. Even my husband in the past two days has been smiling. He has said, “OK, I think I should get ready. Maybe there’s a chance and we’re going to live as a family together.” Before Biden, we could not make any decisions. Between Nov. 3 and the seventh, I was like, “If Trump comes back, he’s going to take revenge, and he’s going to make it very hard on us.” This was my plan if Donald Trump became the president again: I would go live with my husband somewhere, maybe in Turkey. I was not going to stay here. But I have hope now. And I know that even if, God forbid, Arash received a rejection letter, I know that there is a chance we can fight it. Even if this thing happens, we can do something about it.
Everyone was calling me and they were congratulating me and saying, “We’re so happy that finally you’re going to be together.” But I didn’t do anything special to celebrate. I always have in the back of my mind my husband and our German shepherd. So I’m just like, I can’t have fun. I can’t celebrate like normal people do. It just doesn’t feel good. And like, OK, I’m just going to wait for them to come join me, and then we’re all going to celebrate together.
Esmée Silverman in Massachusetts
Silverman is a high school senior who lives in Easton, Massachusetts, and identifies as a transgender lesbian. She is 18 years old, and she was a freshman when Trump rescinded protections for transgender students. She became politically active in 2016 because she was inspired by the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign.