What got me thinking about this was a question posed by one of the resident's of Freedom Plaza, a retirement center for Seniors. This woman - and I suspect that she's near 90, and endowed with a wisdom beyond even her years and an energy and sensitivity that seems much younger - asked me: "Tom, you keep writing about how you find Ireland. Let me ask you: How do you find the United States? What changes do you see? What impresses you? What disappoints?"
Tocqueville, the 19th Century French political thinker and historian, was able to encapsulate his views of America in his treatise, Democracy in America. I am no Tocqueville, but the woman's question intrigued me. Therefore, and for what it's worth, some views from an ex-pat who hasn't lived in this country for 27 years, going on 28:
- The price of gasoline is higher than it used to be - and folks over here bitch about it. They should be thankful that they're not paying over 5 bucks a gallon. That's what I pay in Ireland for the stuff.
- Americans are out of work and they like to blame a lot of people - while it's true that many American companies have given away a whole slew of jobs by 'out-sourcing' skills to India, Malaysia, and similar (which makes me fume, by the way), I grow tired of the blame game. Yes, it's horrible when people lose their jobs (I've lost everything more than once). And it's also true that the greed of bankers, consumers, business people, congressional leaders, and regulators are to blame. But at this point - who cares? If someone is out of a job then go get one. If they can't get one, then start a business. I've been out of a job a couple of times. No one offered me much - just an opportunity. And I grabbed that with both hands, started a business, and began writing. I stopped blaming and started doing. I wish that people would stop bitching and do something constructive.
- America is not falling apart - this is one of my pet peeves: folks I know in both the United States and Europe, citing Rome as an example, seem to take pleasure in stating that the sun is setting on the "American Empire". To that I can only say: "BS". Americans are some of the most industrious in the world. They are innovators, doers (contrary to my point above), reachers of Moon Dust. While it may be true that the United States will no longer be the strongest economic power in the world (China will possibly pass us very soon), the country and its people will be able to hold its head high.
- Americans are extraordinarily giving - and not only with their money. With the smile of welcome that is on their lips as they greet a stranger; with the generosity of living that is in their hearts; with a recognition of how kindly fortune has smiled on them, and a willingness to give back. That is the America that I know. A kind hearted people firmly rooted to the soil of a great nation, who always seem to extend a giving hand when adversity strikes. That's always been the case. It was when I left and it still is.
- America has problems, but it will prevail - it is true that this country has its share of problems: a hurting economy; an enormous pile of debt; a racial question that even now does not seem to be completely resolved; high levels of crime; falling disposable income. The list goes on and on. When I left here in 1982, that list of problems was almost exactly the same. While nothing would seem to be solved, so much has also been accomplished. Yet so much remains to be done. I am concerned when I see educational funding fall, knowing that this undermines the country's most important resource: an educated citizenry. I grow desperate when I still see high levels of bigotry: against African Americans, homosexuals, Islam, and anyone else who doesn't quite fit into the 'accepted mould.' I become greatly concerned when I see our values eroded: when this country would even consider taking the word "God" out of the Pledge of Allegiance, I can only wonder what this country has become...
In the past 27 years, this country has changed. Of course it has. Some changes have been for the better. Some have been for the worse. But my attitude to the United States hasn't changed:
This ex-pat still believes that it's the best country in the world.