If I’ve learned anything this week, it’s just how sheltered the lives of most Americans are. They live on a great big almost-island, bordered by a couple of massive oceans to the east and west, serene Canada to the north, and delicious Mexico on a tiny sliver of the south. There hasn’t been a war on American soil in more than 150 years.
Most Americans live in gilded prosperity compared to the rest of the world. A working class family in the United States lives in a house most earthlings would consider a mansion. A car is a given in most households. So are appliances, heat, air conditioning, running water, good furniture. Most families don’t have to worry about food or medicine. Education is free, at least through high school. The political system is fairly stable, with elections held on a set schedule, and just about everyone complying with it.
Compare that with the rest of the world. Some countries are in a constant state of flux, moving from one regime to the other, switching governments the way rich people switch vacation destinations. Hunger is commonplace in many parts of the world. I don’t mean hunger in the sense that you don’t have enough money to buy two Big Macs, so you’ll have to settle for one. I mean hunger in the sense that you might not eat today. Or tomorrow. Thousands of communities don’t have clean water. Many don’t have indoor plumbing. Many don’t have access to modern healthcare. Many don’t have access to decent education, or enough jobs.
We live in London, a very vibrant and modern city. Almost everyone here lives in homes people in America would consider small. We live in one of the bigger ones, and it’s like 1,200 square feet. There are three small bedrooms and an office with a tiny bed. There are three small closets. We don’t have air conditioning. The schools don’t have air conditioning. Our refrigerator is small. Our backyard is tiny – and yet we are lucky to have it. We don’t have a car here because we don’t need or want one, and anyway there’s nowhere to park it.
And we are considered pretty well off here.
Some Londoners living today remember the German bombs that hit this city 80 years ago. Most of Europe has been through war over the last 80 years. Not distant war, where you send your troops overseas, but war fought right in your backyard. As recently as the 1990s, the Balkans were involved in a vicious, bloody war following the breakup of Yugoslavia.
Wars have been waged for decades in Africa and Asia. South America this century has seen bloody conflicts in Columbia and Paraguay.
I have friends who have had to escape war as refugees.
I have friends whose grandparents’ homes were bombed.
My wife’s grandfather survived the Bataan death march, and came to America to build a better life for his family.
America has been a land of relative peace and prosperity. Most Americans have plenty to eat and nice homes to live in. And yet many Americans are constantly, continually, almost physiologically aggrieved. They see ghosts around every corner, and monsters under every bed.
We saw evidence of that this week. On January 6, a throng of several thousand of these aggrieved Americans descended on the U.S. Capitol building to protest a free and fair presidential election. They were there because their candidate, Donald Trump, lost. He has spent months saying the election was rigged against him. Many protesters were average Americans. Some were domestic terrorists hell-bent on staging a coup that would prevent Joe Biden, the president-elect, from taking office. Just about all of them were white.
They carried guns, explosives and enemy flags onto the grounds of the Capitol building, then smashed their way inside while Congress was in session to confirm Biden’s win. The police in charge of protecting the building were oddly ineffective in stopping the intruders. This was in stark contrast to Black Lives Matter protests that occurred over the summer, when helmeted and heavily-armed police units were lined up in force, and used tear gas and other weapons to push the protesters back.
The protesters who stormed the Capitol building proceeded to destroy property, attack police officers, pose in Congressional offices, steal things, and threaten the lives of elected leaders. Several people died. Secure data may have been compromised. The president did nothing for a long time, before finally sending out a video that said he understood their anger, the election had been stolen from them, he loved them, but they should leave now.
This was a coup attempt. This was terrorism. This was Banana Republic 101.
All because an election didn’t go their way.
I witnessed this from across the ocean, from our home in London, where we get the U.S. news broadcasts. My reaction was not one of sadness, or shame. It was one of raw, unfiltered anger. I was enraged by what I saw. I couldn’t focus on my work, or anything else. I was consumed by hate. I detested this mob. I wanted blood. I wanted to see the wrath of the law come crashing down on their heads. If a military unit had been sent there to mow them down with machine-gun fire, I would have been fine with that. If that same unit had been sent to the White House to drag Donald Trump and his enablers away in handcuffs, I would have been fine with that, too. There was no limit to my appetite for revenge.
I say this as someone who has never considered himself a patriot, but who still keeps a small American flag in a glass vase on the kitchen shelf to remind myself and our daughters of who we are, and where we come from. I say this as someone who insisted that his daughters learn U.S. history while last year’s lockdown forced them to home school. I printed out worksheets about the American revolution, the presidents, the states, the Civil War, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights movement, the women’s rights movement, famous American scientists, business leaders and artists. They were told to study the worksheets and answer tests along with their regular schoolwork.
Every year we celebrate the Fourth of July with hot dogs.
I am no patriot, but neither am I an anti-American dissident. I’m somewhere in the middle.
And yet when I saw what was happening, I wanted to see my fellow Americans’ blood.
This is insanity. My bloodlust is insanity. The anger of that angry mob is insanity. Much of the rest of the world looks at America, with its big houses and pretty lawns, its full bellies and shiny cars, its air conditioning and appliances and glitz and wealth, and wonders how in the hell so many people there are so angry. What on earth can they be so unhappy about?
How can an election get so many people unraveled? How can the president spend weeks and months and years in a state of perpetual anger and grievance, the son of a millionaire, who never wanted for anything in his life, who went to the best schools and married models and lived on an estate the size of our neighborhood here in London?
How can his followers – many of whom have good jobs and big houses, who never have to worry about racism, or any of a thousand other slights – call themselves victims? How can they demand “freedom,” when they are the freest people on the planet?
What makes America – white America, the richest America – think it has anything to complain about, anything at all?
Man, I hate my country sometimes.
But that’s mostly because I want to love it all the time.