Berlin, October 3, 2017
These days, hearing the news from the USA is like watching a sick or injured animal writhe in agony. The brain is insane, the heart broken, the body covered in self-inflicted wounds.
People here ask me - did you know this was gonna happen? Is that why you left, came back home? But home is the US too - the familiar smells, sensations, the desert air, the towns I used to live in, the houses I bought and fixed up into homes, loved in, birthed my babies in, the friends, the work and the community.
No, I left for other reasons. I didn’t know. I turned my back and then all hell broke loose.
I guess that is not quite true. I knew the fish was rotting, and not just from the head. A few years ago, I read Tony Judt’s 'Ill Fares the Land', which predicts pretty much what now happens to an US society that has let go of its values and standards. Tony Judt’s dying words rang so true, and in a way contributed to me re-owning my European social democrat identity, paving the way to come ‚home‘.
Now it seems more insane, watching from a distance, probably than it feels being in it. All the attention on the clown president, outrage becoming the main political sentiment. The vitriol of social media, and non-social media reduced to reporting what social media says. My dear friends, seeking emotional shelter with each other, from learned practices, non-violence, gardening, love, travel. Others just tuning it all out, for self-preservation.
People here shake their heads, recent developments just the explosion of what they always suspected was true about US society and politics: dog eats dog, everyone for themselves, hollowed meritocracy, with no value tradition of solidarity.
Mix in the erosion of US democracy and the amplifying function of social media, and eventually, all that brings out the evil in people, more and more people, until the whole society is so sick it starts writhing and dying. Mass shootings and the response, or lack thereof, one painful symptom of how we missed a turn a while ago and now its all downhill and speeding up.
Watching this from here, my main sentiment now, ironically and unfortunately, is a selfish one, too: Thank not god but myself that we are out. Especially, that my children are out.
They get to grow up exposed to values we hold dear - solidarity, pluralism, tolerance, respect. Every parent in the US can still assure this for their kids too, but here it is not constantly contradicted by the political discussion and the economic reality. Here my children have access to education and health care without anyone going into debt. Rory and Kaya have access to state support while they build their respective start-up businesses.
There are some scary developments here too, no doubt: an extreme right wing party just entered the German parliament for the first time post-war. There is heated discussion, stupidity and meanness on social media, homelessness, shitty weather and heartless bureaucrats. But I feel safe, because the basic values seem still to be agreed upon. A cab driver I talked to recently had just thrown an elderly couple out of his cab because the man said that refugees should be gassed.
And the kids have the added benefit of a bi-national, bi-cultural perspective on everything, maybe helping them to understand this world and their place in it. Today is the 3rd of October, the national holiday in Germany that celebrates the re-unification of the two German states. Which is a whole other topic….Ben asks: so what is this holiday today? I explain and he, thinking of the 4th of July, asks: Is there a parade or something? No parade. No display of national pride. But a society where we feel fairly safe, free and surrounded by a tolerable amount of insanity.