Remember the mantra of the right during the Sixties – love it or leave it? When activists complained about America, they were told to find some other country to live in. Some of them emigrated to Canada. But most stayed in America. Those that didn’t succumb to drugs and other excesses of the hippie lifestyle got jobs and bought houses, and otherwise accepted the society for what it is.
As an immigrant American, I expect that when some people read my blogs, they might wonder why I don’t go home.
After all, I whine a lot about the injustices here and about the cockeyed political system that seems designed to give power and wealth to the least deserving members of American society.
People like me, who tend to have liberal ideas, are unlikely to feel comfortable in this country. Americans aren’t like Jamaicans or Canadians. They are overwhelmingly capitalist and seem to believe in their hearts that the rich deserve to get richer.
In a Salon.com interview today, Michael Kazin, professor of history at Georgetown University, puts it this way:
Most Americans accept the basic ground rules of capitalist society. The ideas are that if you work hard you can get ahead and that it’s better to be self-employed than employed by the people. They believe that the basics of a capitalist society are just or can be made just with small alterations. Americans want capitalism to work well for everybody, which is somewhat of a contradiction in terms since capitalism is about people competing with each other to get ahead, and everyone’s not going to be able to do well at the same time. That’s simply not possible.
The left in Europe arises out of a more traditional class structure, and the left parties there were formed on the basis on those class divisions. Most European countries had feudal societies before they transformed into nation-states. When those societies became capitalist, they retained many of the old divisions both in terms of people’s consciousness and in terms of the new social structure. Peasants and lords became workers and employers. So, the parties there tended to fall along class lines much more than in the United States, and people growing up on either side of the class boundary fueled the movements on the left. Even though the differences between the labor or socialist parties and the centrist or right-wing parties have diminished over time, the vision of a socialist society is still alive in many European countries. In America, however, socialism and communism were never more than marginal beliefs.
So if I’m not happy in America, why don’t I go home?
I could respond that, as I understand it, America was set up to allow dissent – not just allow it but value it as a useful contribution to the country’s welfare.
But that would be – as they say on television – disingenuous.
The truth is that even if I wanted to go, I couldn’t. Not without serious economic penalties.
Like many Americans, Sandra and I invested most of our savings in our home, and when the housing bubble burst, home values plummeted. Selling now, if we could find a buyer, would mean taking a severe loss. It makes sense to stay and wait out the recession.
Besides, where would we go?
Canada is tempting, of course. Sandra keeps saying that’s where we should go.
But it’s a long way off, and I’ve been away for a long, long time.Who knows what I would find there today? I have many close relatives there but most of my old friends and colleagues are dead. And I hear the country is shifting politically to the right, mimicking America. All I can be sure of is that it will be bitter cold for most of the year.
Jamaica is warm and I love Jamaica. At least, I love the Jamaica I remember. But I’m sure that the Jamaica I remember is long gone, and I know I would find it frustrating to live there today. What’s more, we wouldn’t be able to take our pets. Jamaica has stringent quarantine laws to keep out rabies.
So, unless Michele Bachmann or Rick Scott becomes president, Sandra and I are stuck here for a while.
But don’t expect me to quit my bellyachin’.