I moved to Mexico at least partly because the Bush administration was so brutal to so many. They killed many of the things I loved about the USA. Like hope, pride, and the feeling of belonging to something I could be proud of. We Americans weren’t perfect, but we sure as hell tried. We had high ideals and the world knew it. Then Bush happened and it all changed. It was incredible how quickly things deteriorated. For me, a pall spread over the US. It was depressing.
When Bush won the election, travelers like me saw the change in our image stark and clear, within the first year. People who used to love us didn’t. We joked about wearing Canadian maple leaves while traveling.
Of course whether or not people in foreign lands welcome us as tourists isn’t really very important. What is important is that the world lost respect for the USA and travelers were the ones who saw it first hand. The Bush administration believed that America existed on an island, that it didn’t matter what others thought. They had no respect for the points of view of the rest of the world.
Just after Bush invaded Iraq, JB and I went to Vancouver BC for a weekend, took our dog, and were shopping for a reasonable hotel room on Robson St. We found one and were only given a key AFTER the owner had grilled us about our political stance. When it was clear, in the first five seconds of this conversation, that we were deeply unhappy with the road our country had taken, he visibly relaxed, gave us a discount, and expressed sympathy.
Other parts of the world weren’t as affable as Vancouver, so we stuck to places we thought wouldn’t give us a hard time. For instance in Tokyo, where they think everyone outside Japan is nuts (and maybe they’re right), everything was fine. But I had the feeling that if we’d gone to Europe during that time, we might have encountered less friendly faces. Not to mention hostile demonstrators. A lot worse than a hotel owner in Vancouver.
The trouble was, America really had changed. I felt ashamed of my country. The war was a TV production, with its own logos and music. Terms like “Shock and Awe” were supposed to inspire us. The administration had identified a market in the part of our population that was beginning to feel lost. Kind of like what Hitler did with a demoralized Germany, but to our credit, Americans didn’t totally fall for it.
People were (and are) suffering because they couldn’t get reasonable medical care. Lines outside the food banks in Seattle grew and grew, but there was less nutritious food inside. The private sector will pick up the slack, we were told, but the private sector was suffering too. Bush loosened restrictions on banks and big business. Smaller companies closed, selling out to bigger ones if they were lucky. And then the economic system collapsed, the country drained by the war against a fabricated nuclear threat. My friends started losing their jobs. Other friends, who were granted sky high mortgages without being asked for proof of income, lost their homes. Yes, it was their own fault, but it was human nature for millions of Americans to borrow money they couldn’t pay back.
The government became, to me, a mean and ugly thing. Racism re-emerged from the sewer lid it had been under. Jew jokes were all the vogue. It became okay to openly criticize ethnic minorities. Mexicans crossing the border illegally were shot in the back. The feds put up a wall. It became fashionable to use incorrect grammar, as, we were told, the intellectuals had tried to ruin the country. Hick accents and an Aw Shucks attitude were the banners of the new Right. Making “humanism” a dirty word was a direct attack on values I loved and respected. The good old boys were comfy, though. Comfy and rich.
By the way, I’m not saying that illegal immigration is not a problem, but I do think that the way we handle it defines us. Who among us doesn’t have immigrants in their families? People looking for a better life? Who among us doesn’t have grandparents who spoke another language when they got here? There has to be a better solution than shooting people as they crawl desperately across the border. Just because some of the rest of us got here first is not a good reason to be intolerant. No one “protected our borders” from our grandparents. There has to be a better way. No, I don’t know what that might be.
And how about global warming? They said it was an elitist concept hatched by the reviled “intellectuals.” No, why go to the Tokyo conference with every other country in the world, to discuss the dire effects of pollution and wild energy consumption? We are better than everyone else, we don’t have to pay attention, we are the leaders of the world, global warming is a myth, a plot against our corporations and a threat to our freedom to buy SUVs if we want to. The Global Warming Myth injures corporations and they are they backbone of America. Electric cars? Better miles per gallon? These are direct attacks to all we hold dear.
Then, miraculously, and only because things were so dire (and because the alternative was untenable to anyone with an IQ over 80), America elected Barak Obama. When the election returns came in, we cried with relief. I wanted to go to one of the expat gatherings they were having here in Merida to watch the returns, but early in the evening, when I realized how emotional this was for me, I knew I couldn’t go anywhere. It was a private evening for us. We saw hope. We felt joy. Things were going to get better and we could once again be proud. And I felt the slightest temptation to return to the USA, to be a part of this new day. At last, there was something I could believe in. And I could begin to believe in my fellow countrymen again. They hadn’t been totally seduced after all. Even the conservative Christian balloon, which had blown up huge with Bush’s lies about “family values” was deflating just a bit. Family values hadn’t really, in fact, been respected by the Bush administration. In fact, the policies had been eating away at the core of families, all kinds of families.
Barak Obama emerged at the Democratic Convention of 2004. His speech knocked everyone’s socks off. People began to talk about him and the Bush administration identified him as a potential problem. During Obama’s campaign, things really got interesting. They were desperate by then. The campaign was bizarre – the odds flipped forward and back for a long time.
Obama won. Amazing. Encouraging. Yes, it was annoying when they started the rumors that Obama was a Muslim born in the near East, and yes Sarah Palin was disturbing though ultimately hilarious, yes we were and continue to be afraid for Obama’s safety in the violent angriness of the USA, but the fact was, the majority of the USA had voted for him. The same people who had elected GWB had perhaps seen the error of their own ways, recognized greed and corruption for what it was, seen the cost of economic elitism and of being in the hands of an idiot and his profit-driven handlers. Or perhaps there were a lot of auto company executives, big business owners and investors who had lost everything, who finally saw that the system was no longer working for them. Whatever it was, it was a new day. I was temporarily exhilarated.
But is it better? When members of Congress are shouting “Liar” at the president as he is speaking? Blocking his every constructive move? When the Republicans spend endless hours looking for Obama’s vulnerabilities, organizing racist Tea Parties, reacting angrily to the election instead of joining in to rebuild our country? And I couldn’t believe the rudeness on the Republican side during the President’s State of the Union address. They are openly hostile to him, not just politically, but as an individual. They had too much invested, in all ways, in the Old System, and are angry that their delicious apple cart has been upset. Especially by a black man. Kicking, screaming arrogant babies who had been coddled in a sweet nest of relaxed government regulations, able to do whatever the hell they wanted at the cost of damaging the lives of the rest of us.
They are stonewalling his efforts to fix the country. Health care, for god’s sake. It shouldn’t even be a controversy. The issues are so nakedly clear. Insurance companies vs. the well-being of the population. Duh. Not a difficult choice, it wouldn’t seem. But they claim that Obama’s plan is communistic. The new plan would break the health care system and ultimately, the country . They sound like the belligerent, arrogant, spoiled children that they are – children with investments tied up in the status quo.
Who imagined that within a year, the economy would begin to pick up? It is practically a miracle. Or it’s because Obama and his brilliant, out-of-the-box team have come up with real solutions. Unfortunately for the old guard, the solutions included sanctions on their outrageous profits. This has made them really really angry and they have been gathering their forces. It’s getting ugly. And they’re gathering impetus. It’s discouraging, it really is.
Now anyone with any brain knows that the Republicans represent corporate interests. They have never, in recent history, been known to support anything whatsoever that is for the good of the general population. They are heavily invested in the war. Their factories and businesses are getting obscenely rich from war profits. Their investments have done very well for a long time. Didn’t even they see the economic crisis as a problem? Apparently not. All those repossessed houses that went back to the banks who pocketed the owners’ previous house payments and then resold the homes – who gains from that? If we were so interested in Family Values, why was there no program to help the home-owners? All the banks had to do was draw out their payments, to give people some grace when they lost their jobs. I know, a bank is a business. Yet they were steadily rewarding their own people with billions of dollars in incentives and bonuses. Obama is beginning to eat away at that.
(I think it’s misleading to use the term “home owner” for someone who has “bought” a house. In most cases, the homes don’t truly belong to them for many years, for their entire working lives.)
I am angry that self interest and racism have messed up my previous home, my country. Angry that I can’t feel comfortable there any more. Yes, I love Mexico, but it is not my country. I will probably never become a Mexican citizen, not because there is anything wrong about it, but simply because I am not Mexican. The politics here affect me, but they don’t claw at my heart the way politics do in the USA. They aren’t mine.
A lot of our young American people are hopeless. And they are right. There is no hope for them. They can’t afford $100,000 a year for college tuitions even if they tried to go, and they can’t get decent jobs if they don’t go. They are looking at spending their working lives in crappy hourly jobs, the Trades or the service sector. The Trades have always been hard to get into. Relatives are accepted to apprenticeship programs, leaving out those outside the closed circle. The service sector pays crap and has no appeal to young people.
The math is simple. No more family farms, a drastic drop in rural employment, loss of pride and hope. The result? People moving en masse to overcrowded cities with weak infrastructures. Millions of country kids gone to hell on methamphetamines, an epidemic in small American towns. We have only to look around us to see the tragedies created by this economic dead end. It will take a lot to fix it.
Since Obama was elected, there have been some improvements. “Green” is no longer a bad word, or a concept relegated to aging hippies. Non-white children have a magnificent model. It can happen. A miracle yes, but the possibility exists. The economy is improving. Gay people are no longer sick Devils. People are getting some jobs back. But the racism has become worse. Personally, I don’t understand how President Obama stays sane. How his wife stays sane. How they can protect their girls from the crap being hurled at them. Never has an American president been this personally reviled.
I am tired of hearing that the racial climate is “getting better.” It’s been 150 years since rich people (legally) lost their slaves. Time to get over it. But it gets insidiously worse. Adamantly unwilling to share any power, the good old boy owners of our country are looking at black people and saying – By god, they aren’t so stupid, they CAN learn, they aren’t all dissolute drunks, they aren’t all after white women, they aren’t all clowns, they can even gain more power than we have. And that is terrifying to them. It causes them to act out in desperation. It causes them to have racist meetings called Tea Parties under the mantle of accepted politics. All those black people must be frighteningly angry at them, they think, because of all the crap they’ve done to them over the years. And now the President is black. He might kill them all if they don’t watch their backs. He IS killing them all, by trying to implement reforms. What to do? Block him at every turn, spread rumors, demoralize him, revile him in any way possible. And above all, get him the hell out of there. I hope to god the Secret Service is on red alert every day, 24/7.
Tsk tsk, such dark thoughts. Maybe I just don’t belong there any more. I read the news every few days and don’t keep up with all the details. I am somewhat detached. I don’t live there any more. Maybe this is why there are expats (except for the foreigners who are just here because it’s not financially viable to live in the USA any longer, not a bad reason either). Maybe political disillusionment, combined with financial advantages, are the reasons so many of us are leaving the country. We can’t afford to live in our own country as retired people, even though we’ve worked hard all our lives. That in itself is awful. Americans are leaving the USA in droves. We in Merida can certainly see that.
Is moving out of there a cop out? should I be back there fighting, having neighborhood rallies in my home? Becoming the precinct committee-person? Putting my money or time where my mouth is? Nah, I’ll just stay here and grumble. That’s what ex-pats do, after all. Grumble. I’m a senior citizen. I’ve marched, I’ve worked for candidates, I’ve worked on voter registration drives, I’ve worked for a lifetime for what I believed in, and sometimes successfully. It was exhilarating when that happened. But now I’m tired. I want a peaceful life. I guess. And, I’ve fallen head over heels in love with Mexico, which also complicates things.
My wish is that Obama and his dream-team will be resourceful enough to continue deep, meaningful changes. That they will inexorably triumph with their reforms. That they will bring banking regulations and other wildly out of control regulatory functions back to near normal, stop allowing the war to be a source of sleazy profit, implement direly needed social programs, make it possible for everyone to have a job and see a doctor, and give all Americans a chance to flourish. They’ve done amazingly well so far, but things are beginning to stagnate.