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by Marcia Haddad-Ikonomopoulos
Having just returned from a seventeen day visit to Greece, during this contentious political season in the United States, and having the opportunity to hear the opinions of my friends who live in Greece, I would like to share my very “unscientific” findings with you. I say “unscientific” because I did not do a “man on the street” sampling and, since my friends are well-educated, intelligent and articulate, their opinions do not necessarily reflect those of their fellow countrymen. In general, I do not like to discuss US politics, nor comment on the politics of the countries I am visiting, with those living in other countries. This did not work with my visit this year. The world is concerned with our presidential election, reminding me that the leader we choose will affect the whole world.
Having been away when some of the most obnoxious comments were coming from Trump, I thought I would share with you some of the comments I encountered in Greece and some of my own personal reflections on the subject. To sum it up, most Greeks I spoke to are in absolute awe (and fear) over the possibility of Trump representing what they perceive as the most powerful country in the world. They are fearful what will happen if he should win. Are they crazy about Hillary? No, but they cannot understand how the USA has allowed such a racist, misogynist candidate to emerge on our national ticket. When asked to compare Trump to some of their most recent leaders, they laughed and added that “all politicians are thieves,” but added that at least their leaders had some idea of how a democracy should function while Trump seems to know nothing about either national or foreign policies.
I, also, found that among the youth of the country the image of the United States in Greece is changing. Usually, when asked where I come from (my accent when speaking Greek is a sure giveaway that I was not born in the country) and I mention the United States, I get comments about wanting to visit someday. Not so much this year. A comment of a young employee at my hotel in Ioannina was not uncommon. “It is very dangerous in the United States….so many guns.” While I might agree wholeheartedly, it was a shock to hear it from so many. Our image overseas is definitely tarnished. It reminded me of a visit to Italy in the 1980s where a young person in Rome described Americans as “cowboys” while imitating the gun-toting pose from a western movie. It was humorous then. Not so humorous now.
On a personal level, I listened with pride to Michelle Obama’s response to Trump’s ten-year old tape of his “locker room” banter and, like many women my age, recalled when we were sexually harassed. Most vivid in my personal memory was an instance when I was nineteen years old and attending Brooklyn College. I was doing some modelling at the time and was approached by the cover editor of Newsweek Magazine who informed me that they were planning a spread on college youth. He asked if I would be interested. For one day, a Newsweek photographer followed me on campus. It was quite an experience and is probably the only reason I passed Chemistry that term! The cover editor asked me if I would like to meet Marcello Mastriano (who wouldn’t) and then be on a photo shoot where he was being filmed. In the taxi cab ride back, the cover editor then informed me that the competition was very intense for the cover article and then grabbed me. I was appalled and ran out of the cab in traffic. I never forgot that instance. Needless to say, I did not make the cover. It stayed with me my life. In the 1960’s this was so common. Men of power used their power to get what they wanted with women. We can only hope and pray that the times have changed. For most they have. For Trump, it was just “locker room talk.” I can only hope that more women will reflect on such instances in their lives and ask themselves, “Is Trump’s world the world they want to live in?” “Is this the future they want for their children?”
Marcia Haddad-Ikonomopoulos is Museum Director of Kehila Kedosha Janina Museum and President of the Association of Friends of Greek Jewry and, in this capacity, runs annual tours to Jewish Greece.