Victoria Jelinek


Homage to the USA

Patriotism is supporting your country all of the time, and your government when it deserves it. Mark Twain

USA flag_Jasper Johns.jpgI was born in Oregon and spent most of my childhood there. We fished for crawdads in mountain creeks during the summer, took inner-tubes down small rapids, climbed the trestles for the Great Western Pacific trains, biked everywhere through the fields and pastoral lands, with the gentle mountains in the distance. We ‘drag raced’ down Main Street on the weekends, saved money for the state fair and Turkey Rama, picked magic mushrooms in the forests, and went to Friday night football at the high school – not necessarily because of interest in the game, but because it was a community social event. My family regularly camped and hiked at Neskowin, Canon Beach, and Newport City, and ate clam chowder at “Mo’s.” I remember that my bright red feet from the cold of the Pacific Ocean would not deter me from playing in it. We grew up skiing on Mount Hood, and dining at a pizza barn near Government Camp, as well as hiking at Multnomah Falls and through the Cascades. Family holidays involved traveling in our VW van with a styrofoam mattress laid out in the back for we children, staying in Motel 6’s or KOA campsites. I remember that hanging our washing out to dry made it smell even lovelier after a rain, and lying on my back in order to look up at the leaves of the many ancient oak and maple trees on my family’s property (though raking them in the autumn was an onerous task). Badminton and croquet over a bumpy, rooty lawn. Trading candy with my siblings after the Halloween haul on the floor of our den. Thanksgiving as the only time my father would cook things simply.

Typical to a small town girl, I moved away as soon as I graduated from high school: first to Portland, then Seattle, then London, then New York, then Los Angeles, then Berlin, then back to London, then to France. I’ve now lived in Europe for a third of my life, and half of my adult life. I’m formally naturalizing as a French citizen on Thanksgiving this year (not through my own design, but because that’s what the Minister of Interior set as the date). I’ve always maintained that one place is not “better” than another place – they simply represent our different needs and desires at a given time in our life. The inherent values in Europe, of a safety net for the public, even as there are capitalistic markets, align with my personal values: healthcare for all, housing subsidies for those in need, mandatory WEEKS off of holiday, paid, per year, plus personal days, and free (or almost free) university education. Additionally, the pace of life is slower in Europe, and I appreciate this because I believe the frenetic pace of American life is debilitating and anxiety provoking for the populace.

Visiting the USA each year, keeping in close touch with my family, and assiduously reading the global news each day, means I have watched all the negative elements of my native society become exaggerated: workers not taking the minimal days off they have ‘cause they can’t afford to, or they’re afraid they’ll lose their jobs; the employment figures being misrepresented, as many people have to work two or three jobs to make ends meet; there is no time for most Americans to simply rest, ‘cause they are always working, and stores and restaurants are always open, implicitly encouraging the people to consume more than they need; the cost of an emergency or a long term illness fells a person or a family who does not have adequate healthcare coverage; even as the USA has the most highly trained teachers in the world, they are paid the least and the public school system receives substantially less each year in federal funds than the penal system does; diets for most Americans are evidence of a cultural polarity – there are those that are hyper ‘healthy’ with diet and exercise, and those that are obese. Suffice to say, that the milieu that I want to live in is one in which there is a social safety net for those that pay their taxes (however nominal), and people are encouraged to have time to eat, think, and spend time with their families and friends.

That is NOT to say that I am not also in love with my native land, the USA. I love it and it hurts me personally when people criticize it, even as I may agree with them intellectually. For me, I think of my interesting, liberal childhood, the gorgeous and diverse nature of the land itself, its film, its music, its ingenuity in all things, and my heart fills with nostalgia, pride, and gratefulness. Even as I have lived abroad in tough times – the Reagan/Thatcher reign, the GATT Talks 1994, Bush Jr’s reign, to name a few – I have always been proud to be American ‘cause I believe there’s a certain ‘energy’ to us, both good and bad. But now, to see my beloved country so divided within itself, and so alienated from the rest of the world, truly breaks my heart and makes me feel ashamed of what it happening there.

The intolerance and loathing from both sides of the aisle – the fact that there ARE just two choices in American politics – is shockingly fierce and illiberal. To observe cynical, self-serving politicians capitalize on the American people’s personal fears and anxieties, encouraging tribalism, so that the people will be too busy infighting and creating scapegoats, that they will not notice what is happening to their land and their laws, is starkly shocking and sad. It’s as though all the goodness of the USA – its receptivity to new ideas, its consequent ingenuity, its warmth, its diverse and gorgeous cities, natural landscapes and wildlife – are succumbing entirely to its underside – blind ambition, greed, racism, anger, violence, and ignorance. My defense of my native land in conversation here usually goes along the lines of explaining the context for the current situation (the electoral college, the Southern Strategy, Super PACs, Fox News, and an effective smear campaign against Socialism as “commie” interests, the vast swaths of land effecting perspectives), but this falls deaf on European ears. Ironically, they seem to believe MORE in the idea of personal responsibility for one’s destiny socially and politically than Americans generally do, even as we are professed individualists. Even so, they will politely listen to my contextual explanations if the wine keeps flowing, then they predict that it’s simply a repetition of historical dominance of given countries, the fall of the Roman Empire, so to speak, and if there is any fear here, it’s that it will effect the world order ‘cause there will be no one to lead in global policies that monitor corruption, extortion, human rights infringements, and the need for clean energy. Lamentably, the USA and its leaders cannot be quarantined.

For the first time in history, Europeans know what a midterm election in the USA is and are paying attention. I’m pensive and worried today ‘cause I really don’t know what tomorrow’s vote will bring. I’m skeptical that despite all the noise, voters will NOT turn out in the droves that they need to in order to offset the gerrymandering and voter repression. I worry Trump, enabled by sociopathic ideologues like Pence, McConnell, and Ryan, will declare the results – IF they indicate congress will have a Democratic majority – as false and refuse to adhere to the vote of the citizens. My Danish husband says, “That’s impossible! That would be breaking the law, no?” I don’t know what to say to that. A president who has been accused of sexual harassment repeatedly, found fraudulent in his financial declarations and business endeavors, who has never revealed his tax returns publicly, who has been ‘caught’ telling as many as 200 lies in a single week publicly, whose administration has altered law and protocol to put two justices on the Supreme Court and push through over 50 more judges on the lower courts, and who has turned back clean air and clean water protections, food protections, and undermined national parks borders, caged children in privately profiting detention centers that refuse elected officials entry into them, and now has used the US military as an election gimmick to capitalize on his bases’ fears and racism (ostensibly declaring martial law)…well, it’s not inconceivable that he and the sitting GOP’s will just refuse to budge, no? What will the world do then? Perhaps it will be just the excuse to invade and topple this regime. But who could do it? China, Russia and Saudi Arabia have, together, the military might to take on the USA, but why would they do that when they have so much invested in the country? Alas…

Despite my worry and misgivings, I will try to believe that America will re assert itself as a land of hope for all. As the Marquis de Lafayette wrote about the USA after the French helped the Americans to overthrow the tyranny of the English: “Humanity has won its battle. Liberty now has a country.”

 

 

 

 

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