Expat Chronicles: Homeland Drama

One advantage of living overseas is that there’s a big ocean between you and the drama back home. Admittedly, that’s less of an advantage now than it was, say, 30 years ago, when the internet didn’t exist and the only news you could get, if you chose to get it, was to either tune into TV or radio newscasts or grab a newspaper. Today all you have to do is fire up your laptop and chances are you’ll be bombarded with angry headlines or outraged posts inside of a minute.

But there’s still a big physical distance between yourself and that outrage. You don’t find yourself walking into a convenience store, for example, and seeing some pistol-toting militia wannabe yelling at the clerk to By God Learn Some Dang English. You don’t hear the old guy with the MAGA cap trading insults with the young pink-haired woman in the “Resist” T-shirt.

There’s plenty of political discord here in the UK, but it seems pretty well hidden from everyday life, and anyway I largely tune it out. The ongoing nervous breakdown over Brexit is more confusing than disturbing to me. I’m not happy about the prospect of Boris Johnson leading his own team of nationalist zealots into battle against dark-skinned immigrants, but I’m not going to let it ruin my day.

The current U.S. political shitstorm, however, often does ruin my day. I suppose I could just ignore it, but I choose not to, for whatever stupid reason. I’m an American, so I take interest in what’s happening there the same way an expat Indonesian takes interest in Indonesia or an expat Norwegian takes interest in Norway. I’m no flag-waving patriot, but I do care about what’s happening back in the homeland. I do have moments of pride mixed in with moments of disgust. I go see jazz shows here in London and remind myself that this music originated in America, just like rock n’ roll and hip-hop (thanks, Black America, for your many gifts to the world).

But then there’s the other part. The part where the person who holds the highest office in the land tells four congresswomen – all American citizens, three born in the U.S., all duly elected by millions of other American citizens, none Caucasian – to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” You probably know the story by now, but if not you can read about it here.

The response has been both predictable and depressing. Mainstream Republicans have refused to condemn the infant on Pennsylvania Avenue for his words and actions, as if unfiltered racism is no big deal as long as the money keeps flowing in the right direction. The left reacted with shock and anger, but then quickly descended into the usual nitpicking over whether moderates or liberals should run the Democratic Party. Much of the media has turned it into a political scorecard. Who benefits? Who loses? What’s the impact on 2020?

I’m not smart enough to figure it all out. I used to think I was pretty politically astute, but then the 2016 election cured me of that. What I do know is that it’s a pretty pathetic day when a lifelong bullshitter who avoided Vietnam and has a long record of racial and sexual animus somehow hustles his way into the White House, decides he’s the one who gets to choose who’s American and who’s not – then gets a round of applause from the part of America that’s never been forced to explain where its ancestors came from.

Again, all four of those congresswomen are American citizens. Three were born in the U.S. and one was a child when her family fled Somalia to seek refuge in a country where people have long been invited to seek refuge. They are Americans. They have a right to challenge it and try to make it better, whether you agree with their positions or not. They don’t have to apologize for that. They don’t have any place to “go back to” except their hometowns of Detroit, the Bronx, Chicago and Minneapolis. Their ancestors came from elsewhere, but then so did every other American’s ancestors except for those who descend from the Sioux, or the Lakota, or the Cherokee, or the Seminole, or the Navajo, or the Choctaw, etc.

Their main crime, apparently, is that they’re not white or male. I used to think (hope?) America was bigger than that. I was probably wrong then. I’m hope I’m not wrong now.

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