The Macedonian-American Question in the U.S. Presidential Election: Diaspora Edition

by Nevena Trajkov

A short exposition, if you will on roots and values:

 

In recent years, with the horrific images of children in ICE detention, separated from their parents, I’ve thought a lot about my parents’ immigration story. It’s similar to that of most Macedonian-Americans who immigrated in the 60s and 70s from Yugoslavia. My non-English-speaking parents moved to America without having their education recognized, and, for work, took factory jobs in the suburbs of Detroit. Though they took a lower-wage labor job, the benefits and security that union membership provided them – namely health care and pension plans – also gave my folks the ability to be a part of the once-large American middle class, the resources to build a new house in a great school district, and make sure their kids were free of financial worries when it came time for college – lots and lots of college.

Neither my brother nor I ever took for granted the hard work and long hours it took on behalf of my parents to get us to our privileged lives today. In fact, had it not been for the lure of good paying union jobs in Detroit, many of us first-generation Macedonian-Americans would not have had the opportunities that so many of today’s newer immigrant families struggle to realize. We are well aware of the fortunate chance that our parents immigrated when they did, and were able to find the jobs they had. 

Our story is not a unique story, rather the story of many Macedonian-Americans. Yet today, it seems that our people have forgotten the foundations that allowed us to propel in American society. The Democratic Party is synonymous with unions and labor. The party of Roosevelt is the historical champion of the American worker, and Joe Biden not only embraces FDR philosophies, but, like us, is a product of them: hard work, a fair shot, and a faith that the social contract in the United States is something that in itself is sacred. When I think of our community, I think of an unmatched work ethic, of the Macedonian that puts in the hours, whether on a factory line, in their small business, or whatever line of work they may be in. I think of the appreciation for the opportunities the United States has given to Macedonians to have a fair chance at achieving the American dream, unlike the limitations put on us in some of the countries that we originated from, either because of authoritarianism or racism. I think of Macedonian-American students grateful for the opportunity to obtain an education and attend college without having to submit to patronage. I think of a society that values health and the well-being of themselves, their family and friends, above all. Finally I think of a compassionate community that takes care of one another, helps each other out, and shows up for friends in need. When I assess those values and position them next to the actions of Trump’s administration, I don’t see the match. Yet, when I think of Joe Biden, it’s clear that to vote in our interest – in harmony with our values – is to vote for Joe.

 

“It’s the economy, stupid”

 

While values define us as human beings, polling shows they come second to economic concerns – and here, too, Biden is still the better choice. Because of the pandemic, many of us are worried about our finances, bills, retirement and pensions, and other expenses. For those of us that are small business owners, we ask how are we going to survive the next few months, especially if employees are too scared or vulnerable to come to work. If you’re a labor worker, you ask if your job is secure. The insecurity that COVID-19 has brought to all Americans is real. We now know that Donald Trump knew last February how serious and perilous this virus would be, and yet he intentionally downplayed it, depriving us of the opportunity to take precaution and prepare earlier. Because of this gross mismanagement, coupled with a bombardment of mixed messages (some ridiculously questioning whether COVID was real), we face an existential uncertainty like never before in our lives. In an unprecedented fashion, a president of the United States placed his ego and needs over the lives of Americans. With over 8 million Americans affected, and 220,000 dead – including members of our own community- it’s astonishing that some Macedonian-Americans still ponder whether they should vote for Biden, or support Trump. Every scientist, economist, and political scientist will tell you what some politicians won’t: economic uncertainty will continue as long as COVID remains a public health threat and employees are vulnerable to it. There’s no way around this – full stop.    

 

A healthy society is a productive society

 

Because Donald Trump needed to know better than the scientists, needed to be different from the Democrats, spite drove both his rhetoric and policies on public health, and for many members in our community – like hundreds-of-thousands across the United States – his inat-driven politics cost them a loved one. As mentioned, the economy is all but certain to fluctuate from day to day as long as public health remains uncertain. I see those of us in the middle class – labor and small business owners alike – rolling up our sleeves to go work the long hours, doing jobs that at times can be unforgiving, struggling, and worried about health insurance premiums, quality of coverage, getting sick, the cost of long term care, and the burden it would bring to our families. The pandemic has brought these insecurities into full-light, and they no longer exist in the shadows. As a nation, we have many lessons to learn from COVID, with the first and foremost being: we can no longer accept the current healthcare system “as is”. The principle duty of government is to ensure the safety of its people, and it is expected that tax dollars are used to this end. It is, then, unthinkable that Trump still talks of repealing the Affordable Care Act – during a pandemic, no less – and without a replacement ready to go. In this time of uncertainty and prayer, it is nothing short of a sin to rip the rug out from under the feet of millions of Americans, giving them one more crisis to lose sleep over, to develop anxiety about, and to limit their freedoms, as the lack of health coverage impairs their ability to safely engage within society. In my Macedonian-American house, we have two words for this heartlessness: greota, never mind sramota. Like any Act, the ACA is a living law, that, after policy evaluation, is destined to be amended so that it can function better for society. Vice President Biden understands this, and has already committed to working with every member of Congress to better the Act, but Joe Biden also understands that he cannot leave Americans – especially the children – uninsured in its process. Trump, however, is on record that he wants the Supreme Court to overturn the ACA, even without simultaneously passing a replacement for it. Again, for my fellow Macedonian-Americans – who I know live for their children – ask how any of us can vote for a man who values personal, egotistical victories over small, vulnerable children. Read that last sentence once more. And once more after that. 

 

Bringing it home

 

On a departing thought, some numbers from Macedonia. The European Values Study just released the results of its survey in the country, and the findings should serve as a worthy reminder of where we come from, in terms of values. Like their counterparts in the Diaspora, 64.46% of respondents said the economy is the most important issue in Macedonia. Unlike us, however, our family in Macedonia cannot fathom living in a society that’s not expected to strive for more equality, or having basic needs met. An impressive 88.1% of those in Macedonia expect that eliminating inequality should be the goal of government, while there’s near complete agreement – 97% – that healthcare, education, and other basic needs are the obligations of government towards the people it represents. These statistics go back to the point made at the beginning of this piece: looking at the values of where we came from – both Macedonia itself, and our working-class origins in America – which candidate fits our profile best? Macedonians, it’s time to pause, look in the mirror, and understand that Joe Biden is our only dignified choice. 

 

Nevena Trajkov is a Doctoral Candidate in the Department of Politics and International Relations at Florida International University, whose research focuses on dissatisfied groups, accommodations, and consolidation in divided societies. Previously, she was a professor of political science at Eastern Michigan University, and holds a Master of Arts in Political Science, a Master of Business Administration, and certificates in Croatian literary language and writing. Her research has been presented at numerous academic conferences, including the American Political Science Association, the International Studies Association, the International Political Science Association, the Association for the Advancement of Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies, the Canadian Political Science Association, among others. She is also a contributing author to a book series on economics and government. You can find her on Twitter at @NevenaTrajkov.

The opinions expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Balkan Insider.