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« One Year Home: American Politics and the Art of Survival | Main | The GOP, Mephistopheles and the Theater of the Absurd »

One Year Home: Could be Better, Could be Worse

As of February 26, 2016 I had been in the United States for one year after living in the United Kingdom thirty years. Oddly, I still feel newly arrived in the land of the free and home of the brave. On occasion people ask me “how it is” or “how I’m doing” being back. It’s always my sense that my answer is never quite satisfactory.

The truth is, the answers are complicated and complex, and are, perhaps more than I want to admit, dependent on the particular day I’m asked. But a year has now passed and I thought I would take some time to answer for myself how it is and how I’m doing living again in the United States. So, for the next four weeks I will be writing about being home:

One Year Home: Could be Better, Could be Worse
One Year Home: American Politics and the Art of Survival
One Year Home: Calculating my Health
One Year Home: Apply Pie and Jesus

Today I’ve posted a response I made to two American friends living in the UK. They asked how I was adjusting. As you read this, and the other reflections to follow, remember, I was 30 years outside the U.S. 30 years is a long time so I am bound to see things differently…

Three things that frame my thoughts before I begin. First, my glass is always half empty and often nearly empty (you may find this link interesting: Hermeneutics and the Half Empty Glass). Second, the move back to the US was not my idea. Third, I lived in the UK for nearly 30 years (perhaps the most important of the three).

Depending on what I’m thinking about and doing at any given moment, adjusting to living back in the US is easy or difficult. When I home reading, cooking, writing, having dinner with a friend, watching The Big Bang Theory (and sports – I hate soccer, bored by cricket, frustrated by rugby so I’m enjoying football and baseball again), talking to our neighbors, etc., it’s very easy being back. When conscious of what is happening in the country, it is very difficult being back. But basically, it is very difficult for me not to think of the US as a civilized society.

Over half the people in this society are offended by the notion of providing healthcare for citizens, never mind visitors. This offense is, of course, driven by an intellectual failure grounded in an ideology most people don’t even understand. In a sense the prevailing ideology is a kind of anti-ideology, meaning it is an ideology against something not for something. It is negative at its heart. Instead of believing in something, American democracy for example, it’s about not believing in something, socialism and communism (though I doubt most people even know what the words mean). It’s about protecting America from a threat that does not exist. Belief, whether in something or not in something, often trumps facts and molds reality to its own image until reality seems warped into absurd fantasies (for example, the percentage of Republicans who still believe Obama is a Muslim from Africa is disturbing).

So here in America medical care can be very good to excellent if you have the insurance and can pay for it, or it can be nonexistent if you do not have insurance and cannot pay, though Obamacare is making strides in fixing this problem. I have insurance through my wife’s job. I’m also in Medicare. I have a good local doctor and the clinic that has taken over my prostate cancer care is very good. Obviously, though we have insurance, we also receive bills each time we have medical care. Just as obviously, we pay for medication. These bills are not a problem for.

A personal theme begins to emerge here. While I have good healthcare, I’m disturbed that my country wants to cuts loose those who cannot afford healthcare and opposes universal healthcare in principle. Would I have felt the same if I had not lived for 30 years with the NHS and received excellent care? Perhaps not. We’ll never know.

I lived for 30 years in a country that does not have a gun culture, is not a weaponized society, and would be shocked to see a man and a woman walk into the grocery store with 45’s on their hips and assault weapons over their shoulders. In America that is considered an expression of our freedom, not a social pathology. At our Christmas Eve church service a large man with a long bulky coat came in and sat by himself. He didn’t want a hymn book or an order of service. He sat the whole time with his hands in his pockets and a mean look on his face. Two members of the church came up to me afterwards and asked what my strategy had been if the man pulled out a gun and started shooting – I was standing close to him throughout the service. I said I hadn’t had one and hadn’t thought of having one. They told me to think again. Welcome to America. 

What I said above about healthcare and ideology is even more profound here. Americans love weapons, engage in a rather dubious interpretation of one bit (the Second Amendment) of a 226 year old document, and celebrate violence perhaps more than other cultures (our love of football is not simply because we admire skill, for example). It seems no amount of death, no amount of dead children, can turn Americans away from their weapons. Living in Britain I was insulated by culture and distance from all the talk, news, attitudes, and utter crazy nonsense of living in a weaponized society. But here, no insulation. Most states have legalized open carry and concealed carry. Armed men with weapons suitable for warfare take over government property. Children shoot their siblings by mistake. Imagine going back in a time machine and getting some parents from the 1950’s and bringing them back to a school having a massacre training day where some of the kids are doused in red die and are asked to play dead. All the stats demonstrate that people with weapons kill more than people without weapons, but Americans live in a strange ideological trance that denies reality.

There are 350 million Americans, and while 90 of them shoot and kill 90 other Americans each and every day, it probably won’t happen to me. I’m probably safe, and yet, I’m disturbed living in a country where an obvious social pathology is grounded in and protected by an interpretation of a document written 226 years ago. While I will more than likely not die by a gun, I’m disturbed that so many do. And I’m disturbed by the fact that ideology renders statistics irrelevant. I am disturbed by social insanity. (See: Guns versus Spoons ~ And the Best Killing Machine Is? and An Open Letter to American Gun Owners) Would I have hated it as much if I had never lived in the UK? Perhaps not. We’ll never know.

The US is a two party political system and one of the parties has gone off the rails, controlled by Christian fundamentalists and rightwing ideologues, and again, I am no longer insulated by distance and culture from the craziness. What does it say about a country that offers up a dozen crazy and scary people for the presidency? How can it be that Trump is so popular? What does the future hold for such a country? We no doubt over use the world “fascism”, but we are beginning to see what an Amirian version would look like. I sometimes listen to the candidates and feel as though I have stepped into an alternative reality. Am I the one who is crazy? I don’t have to vote for crazy candidates, and yet I’m disturbed because I live in a country where millions of people will and do.

I could go on, of course, with other examples (I haven’t even mentioned race!), but you get the idea. But why do I worry about guns when I probably will never be bothered by them? Why do I worry about a country’s attitude to healthcare when I have, and can afford, good healthcare? They are good questions that I find difficult to answer.

Part of it is that I had been away for so long and had found my home, and all that that implies, in a country that in some ways is very different (and not so different in other ways, of course). My neighbors here in our little community have heard gun shots not far from our homes. No big deal. Probably a drive-by. It seems no one was hurt. But it is a big deal if you lived for 30 years in a place where that was almost impossible! People shooting people shouldn’t be normal.

And I guess the issue of adjustment is linked to one’s attitude about involvement in and awareness of what is happening beyond your home and your immediate relationships. Should one be aware and informed or not? I suspect it is healthier not to be. But I have always been a news junkie so the chance of me putting blinders on is remote (See: Pursuing Knowledge and Happiness ~ The Impossible Possibility). At the bottom of all this, I have difficulty being a member of a society that is blinded by ideology, a society that was birthed in weapons, racism, and violence over 200 years ago and now seems unable to transcend the darker side of its nature.

Now, you might say that I am only talking about one half of the country, and to a certain degree that is true. But the other half control many local, state and federal legislatures. While the Occupy Movement was moving and important, the Tea Party movement elected people to local, state and federal governments and has thus shifted legislation and policy to the right. The other half, that red half, is often loud and aggressive and they vote. They can carry their assault weapons into the café and may enjoy the moment when those of us drinking our coffee wonder if they are getting a drink or are going to shoot us all. To make it worse, at least for me, that possible enjoyment they might feel is protected by constitutional ideology and legislation. What a crazy place.

Am I unhappy? Well, reading this I bet you think I’m miserable! I’m not. I love the openness and friendliness of Americans, and I don’t find it shallow as some of my Brit friends claim it is. There is a strong progressive tradition here and in many ways we lead the world. I am actually secure in a home that we can afford and I love. Our church is not only open to all, it wants to be open to all. And it is not passive and frightened, but eager to live being inclusive in practice and policy. Things are cheaper!! And there is something about the notion of “coming home” that should not be dismissed.

Of course, all this may be mute because I have no choice but to adjust or live in my disturbance.

Next week: One Year Home: American Politics and the Art of Survival

Copyright © 2016 Dale Rominger

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