Increasingly, I feel like a stranger in a strange land, like Gulliver in Blefuscu, struggling to make sense of the issues of the day.Yet I am no “foreigner” from an alien culture. I was born an hour or so by air from the American coast, and my mother’s relatives moved back and forth between America and Jamaica throughout my childhood – as they had done before I was born. My mother’s parents lived in New York during the 1920s and one of her brothers was born there.
Growing up in Jamaica, I attended prayer meetings held by American missionaries, read American magazines, watched American movies, met American tourists and rubbed shoulders with American expatriates.
As an adult, I lived in Canada for two decades and found Canadians similar to the Americans I had met, though admittedly less excitable. Eventually, I followed the sun to Florida, worked at newspapers here and became an American citizen.
So why don’t I feel more … American?
Granted, my schooling was relentlessly British. Jamaica was a British colony when I was growing up and our school books came from England. So did most of the teachers at Munro College, the Jamaican boarding school I attended for seven years.
But America is kind of British, too, isn’t it? After all, it was England that provided the early colonists, and then Scotland and Ireland as political strife and the potato famine forced thousands to abandon the British Isles for a more hospitable homeland. And African Americans seem to be very much like the overwhelming majority of Jamaicans. I often hear our Caribbean idiom in their hip-hop lyrics, for example.
So why don’t I recognize the Americans that I hear about on TV and read about in the newspaper and on the Internet?
Who are these people and where did they get their notions about life? Demographically, America has become increasingly “diverse” but each ethnic pocket seems to be a fortress unto itself. American religion is puzzling, too. Many millions of Americans claim to be Christians but display rabid intolerance and a stony indifference to the suffering of their fellow human beings. “God bless us,” they cry. “And nobody else.”
This lack of brotherhood is especially evident in politics as Americans inexorably “move to the right.”
And this inflexible self interest is evident in the way many Americans view the world today. American “exceptionalism” no longer means displaying a bright beacon of enlightenment for the world to follow. It means raining bombs on people who disagree with America’s leaders and sending American troops to invade and occupy their lands.
I see in today’s news that Dennis Kucinich has lost his seat in Congress, in part due to gerrymandering by the Republican legislature in Ohio. His defeat did not get much play in the press. The focus this morning is on the antics of those two mountebanks, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, and that charlatan Newt Gingrich. Kucinich was the kind of American I expected to find here, fiery yet compassionate, idealistic yet reasonable. So was Alan Grayson of Orlando, who was also kicked out of Congress by an increasingly “conservative” electorate. Will Bernie Sanders be the next to vanish from the political stage?
Where have all the “liberals” gone?
Why are so many Americans so “conservative”? That was not what I expected to find here. Where is the America I heard and read about as a child? What happened to America the Beautiful … crowned by brotherhood from sea to shining sea?