Rt. Hon. Jacinda Ardern
260 Tinakori Rd
Wellington, New Zealand
Dear Prime Minister,
Can I come stay there for a little while? Not forever. Just until this awful mess blows over, and the America I knew comes back.
It’s hard to imagine now, but this was once a country where openly mocking asylum-seekers would be unacceptable, even disqualifying, in a president, no matter one’s views on immigration. As would lying right to voters’ faces. And making ignorant, unhinged statements.
But our president did all of that, and more, in a speech in Michigan on Thursday night, and his people ate it up. He made fun of those fleeing violence at the southern border, saying he saw one asylum seeker who “looks like the heavyweight champion of the world,” thereby proving “It’s a big fat con job, folks.” He told the crowd in Grand Rapids that he got them $300 million in funding for the Great Lakes — even though his own budget actually cuts most of the funding. And he went on one of his nonsensical rants, this time about wind-power, a technology he is evidently expert in.
“Windmills. Weeeee. And if it doesn’t blow, you can forget about television for that night,” he said, adding, “I know a lot about wind.”
You weren’t watching, of course, prime minister, because you were busy leading. Around the time President Donald Trump was railing in Michigan, you were in a park in Christchurch, where 20,000 attended a memorial service for the 50 Muslim men, women, and children killed by an Australian white supremacist as they attended Friday prayers two weeks ago.
Your speech was magnificent. The victims, you said “will remain with us forever. They are us.”
“Even the ugliest of viruses can exist in places they are not welcome,” you went on. “Racism exists, but it is not welcome here. An assault on the freedom of any one of us who practices their faith or religion, is not welcome here.”
We used to live in a country where saying such things would be unremarkable in our president, regardless of his party. We used to be able to count on the fact that he would give comfort to the victims of a mass shooting, no matter who they were. That he would not hesitate to publicly and unequivocally condemn white supremacists, and deplore Islamophobia.
Not any more. When Trump called you to ask what he could do to help in the wake of the massacre, you said you told him “New Zealand needed sympathy and love for all Muslim communities.” Good luck with that. Hours after the attacks, asked whether white nationalism is a rising threat around the world, Trump replied, “I don’t really.”
The contrast could not be more stark. When your country’s darkest day came, you didn’t just talk. You donned a headscarf and hugged grieving families. You roundly condemned the shooter and refused to say his name. And you enacted a ban on guns like the one used in the attacks.
You are the kind of leader every country deserves. And that includes Australia, where the shooter’s supremacist leanings found fertile soil, tilled by openly bigoted politicians, whose success with voters prefigured our country’s current predicament.
Of course you’re not perfect, prime minister. Who is? But somehow, you managed to be human and a woman, and still win New Zealand’s highest office. How is that possible? More remarkably, you managed to survive having a baby while leading the country, returning to work six weeks after your daughter was born. No big deal, you said: “I am not the first woman to give birth.”
Could such a thing ever happen here? We have multiple brilliant, accomplished, funny, serious, energetic women trying to win the Democratic nomination for president this time around. Any of them would be worlds better than the current occupant of the White House. They have dedicated careers to helping the very voters Trump seduced then betrayed. Yet giant chunks of the electorate won’t be budged from their tin-pot Messiah, or wouldn’t consider a woman as president.
It’s all pretty dispiriting. So I need a little break. A couple years in your lovely land, or maybe six. Just to restore my faith in humanity, not to mention my sanity. Please?