What drives people to listen to anti-establishment people like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders? Fear, anger, and hopelessness are a few adjectives which come to mind. As I watch and read the news, and listen to the discussions regarding this very unusual American election, I am reminded by what motivated my Russian grandparents to move their family from New Jersey to the Soviet Union in 1931.
They too had similar feelings of fear and hopelessness, so they listened to a man who promised to make their lives better. The voice which promised jobs, free education, housing, and healthcare was Joseph Stalin. We all know that was a very bad decision for all of them.
I am not in any way comparing Donald and Bernie to Stalin. My point is that most people, whether they are rich or poor, Americans or even Syrian or Iranian, have similar basic needs—to be healthy, safe, and happy. We just cannot all see eye to eye on how to achieve those goals.
We call each other names, argue, sometimes to the point of violence, and often refuse to walk in the shoes of our neighbor. Our disagreements may sometimes even destroy friendships and families. We forget that, in the end, we all want at least the same basic needs met for ourselves and our families.
When my grandparents decided to follow the call of Joseph Stalin and move to the Soviet Union, they probably offended or confused some of their close friends. But they were doing what made sense to them, just like many people today, who are so passionate about a candidate who may not make sense to you or I.
So often while I was writing my book, Do Svidanya Dad: Tracing the Story of an American Family Trapped in the USSR , I saw similarities between what happened to my father’s family and what is happening today. As immigrants to new a land, particular that specific country, I should not have been surprised. But I was.