Being an American abroad right now

March 15, 2019

I started writing this last weekend, but I wasn’t able to finish it. With my teaching load, I find that I write much less than I could earlier in the year, but I am still trying to get out one post a week. This one is a little more introspective than I’ve been in a while, but the events in New Zealand on March 15 shook me up. So here goes…

My daughter and I left the USA in August 2018 to spend the school year in Mongolia. It felt good to get away (or to “get out,” as I thought of it). The relentless assault on our country and the world by the current administration was hard to bear, and I was looking for some distance. This wasn’t at all the reason we moved (we were mainly taking advantage of an opportunity I was offered), but it seemed like a beneficial side effect. On the whole, it has been, because it has given us both a different vantage point for looking at the country where we both were born and had lived the majority of our lives. On the other hand, for me, it has increased my anxiety about the havoc the president is wreaking at home and around the world.

The latest news, the fact that an Australian white supremacist was inspired in part by the current American president to massacre Muslims during Friday services in New Zealand, is almost too horrific to bear. As is the fact that that president fails to publicly state that white supremacy as a global problem, which it clearly is. He has consistently failed to express any appropriate level of condemnation of white supremacist terrorism in the USA or overseas. In fact, he has supported it and actively encourages violence in political speeches and rallies, and is no doubt a white supremacist himself. This has a global effect. Clearly.

This is just the latest in a chain of horrors that my daughter and I have watched from afar. I’m not going to go over them all, but one that stands out is the hearings of now Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, just a fine lad who liked to get blind drunk in high school and college and can’t really be blamed for what would happen next because assaulting women is “normal” behavior. It was good to have some distance from that, because the proceedings felt like a prolonged assault not just on Christine Blasey Ford but on every woman and girl in America. We could feel it all the way over here in Mongolia. Never mind that the Supreme Court composition has shifted drastically for years to come, as well.

Another is the ongoing treatment of people along the border, and those traveling to our country, seeking opportunities, as people have been doing for generations (including my own mother and my father’s grandparents). There are the family separations that supposedly are no longer policy, but their effects continue, especially for the families that have been destroyed. Then came the ridiculous, costly, disruptive pre-election stunt of sending troops to the border, the efforts to ram the border wall down the country’s throat, and the farcical declaration of a national emergency.

And on. And on. An endless parade of horror.

And behind it all is the backdrop of climate change, which should be the foreground now, as more and more reports show us just how dire the situation is. Instead, we have the administration’s single-minded efforts to destroy our environment as much as possible while they hold power, so that their pals in industry can make as much money as possible and fill their coffers before the whole system collapses. (I wonder if they expect all that money to have any actual value when that happens, but that’s a question for another post on another blog.) This has been the hardest for me, knowing how it potentially destroys my daughter’s chances for having a decent life.

Indeed, March 15 was meant to be a day of demanding climate action by youth around the world. And it was, with over a million school children in over a thousand cities in over a hundred countries walking out of classes and marching to demand that their elders actually do something substantial about the disaster we are all facing. But it soon became a day of shock as the news from New Zealand broke, and that overwhelmed the international news media instead. We’ll never know if the global climate strikes would have been the front-page news they should have been, and needed to be. All the international news outlets were soon devoted to the horror unfolding in Christchurch. And eventually came the revelation that the president of the United States had inspired its perpetrator.

I struggle daily with what to do with all of this. I would like run from this country that seems to have become such a global terror, but my daughter and I are both citizens, and we have a personal stake. I want to live overseas long-term, and she and I are planning to do so for her high school years. I would like to be able to live as though none of this matters, to be selfish, to do what works best for the two of us. But obviously that’s not possible.

So I am left redefining (again) what my life is going to mean, how I can best use it, what its purpose is. We all have these questions all the time, but some people seem to think about them a lot more than others, and not everyone thinks about them in a global context the way I do. I also want to set my daughter up to have a good, meaningful life. Part of coming to Mongolia now has been giving her a chance to see how differently people around the world live, but also how, especially now with climate change, we are all in this world together, and we all affect each other. (Mongolia is one of those countries being terribly affected by climate change without having contributed much to it.)  I think she had learned some of that, and there’s more to come. After all, she’s only in 7th grade. For her, the journey is just beginning. She doesn’t need to stay in the US, either. That’s part of what I was showing her as well. She can be wherever it makes the most sense for her to be.

What I fear, though, about the current global climate, is that it may become more difficult for people to choose to live differently, to live outside of the boxes we’ve created. There seems to be a backlash against the kind of freedom that allows for that. I’ve always been privileged by having a US passport. I’ve been able to go places more easily than people with many other kinds of passports. My daughter has the same privilege. Part of me wishes that privilege would be revoked. Americans need to bear some of the burden we’ve placed on the rest of the world for electing this particular president and giving him the power of the United States government to wield as a personal plaything. (And no, I’m not saying he can do whatever he wants, but just look at how much money he’s made off the presidency, and how important he’s been able to feel. It’s infuriating.)

Perhaps this is what moving overseas and the resulting shift in perspective have done for us. It’s reminded me and taught her what is possible if we work for a world where people can achieve their potential without destroying others; indeed, that destroying others isn’t necessary, and isn’t part of having a good life. It’s reminded me and taught her what is at stake in every decision that every person, every country, makes from here on out. Like it or not, we are all in this together, and we need to start acting as if we are.

5 thoughts on “Being an American abroad right now

    1. That’s true! Undoing the damage will take time and involve everyone. Unfortunately, with climate change, it’s time we don’t have. I think we’re going to be very lucky if we manage to avoid societal collapse. But we have to try!

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  1. I’m with you, Jericho. There are hardly words for the travesty that’s in office right now and the destruction on so many levels. I’d love to dissociate myself from it – would love better to see a real solution that will save the planet and put decency into place. My kids think about it, too. A lot of people in this country aren’t thinking about any of it, just running along like lemurs, talking about sports.

    Discerning point about Christchurch subsuming news of worldwide school kid walks-outs for the earth.

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  2. A friend in NZ compared it to 9/11 as far as impact on their small country. That brings up a lot of targeted violence that has effectively driven the world’s attention strategically.

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