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Tuesday, July 5, 2022

What do you do if you don't want to be an American anymore?

My grandparents emigrated to America because they did not want to be part of the social and political systems of their old world country.  It offered no promise to them.  So, they emigrated to America, the women to take house servant jobs and the men to join the farm and factory workforce.  The men and their descendants soon invested in farms.  Some became factory foremen while operating farms at the same time.  However, their guiding goal was to invest in the land.  They wanted to own a chunk of America.

Owning land had much to do with having sovereignty over one's own body and one's life.  Having dominion over a piece of land gave one the resources to assert independence and self-interest.  Willa Cather's Neighbor Rosicky stated the premise:  "In the country, if you had a mean neighbour, you could keep off his land and make him keep off yours." 

In today's urbanized America, it is extremely difficult to avoid mean neighbors.  They are part of the democratic process.  When the majority votes to make Donald Trump president,  the minority lives under the conditions of their values.  There are no refuges of self-sufficiency to retreat to.  Trump does not represent just a set of policies;  he represents an entire culture. That culture affects the country, and even if Trump is not in office, his followers impose the Trumpian culture where they can.  The song is over but the melody lingers on.

Trump sparked a discussion that is unusual among Americans, and has not been widely considered since the expatriate movement of the 1920s.  During his tenure as president, some people seriously talked about leaving the United States for a more amenable democracy.  Quite a number actually did it.

The significant aspect is that the talk about alternatives to living in America is not just speculative chatter. It reflects a deep dissatisfaction with American life by some people on both the left and right political wings. 

A source of discontent is the gun violence in America.  The frequent and constant shootings have become part of the American way of life to the point that they are a defining aspect of our culture.  Most people in other countries hold the United States in disdain because of the gun violence.  We are an outlier in the rate of deaths by guns.  It is cited by many U.S. citizens as a major detraction of the nation and something they'd like to move away from.  Seventy percent of Americans think our democracy is under assault.  Thirty-eight percent have indicated they have thought of leaving America.

Many people think America needs to change, but the divide among them has become too formidable to make that a possibility.  An increasing number of political scholars think a civil war is a likelihood.  Recent Supreme Court decisions concerning abortion, gun rights, and public religious practices have caused many to question if they should try to regain rights they have lost or try to find a more amenable way to live.  That process could involve moving or dissolving the union and staking out a new democracy in a different configuration of the states.   A song lyric by John Prine captures what many people are experiencing:  "I still love America, I just don't know how to get there anymore."

The divisions among Americans is not a matter of political disagreements.  Such differences have a chance to be moderated.  The divisions are between cultures that cannot stand each other, divisions for which reconciliation is not even a consideration.  The contending forces do not want to fight.  They simply do not want anything to do with each other.  They find the talk about common ground and unity an absurdity.  We cannot resort to the ballot box as a way of resolving differences because one side is insisting that the elections are fraudulent, although multiple investigations have found that is not true.

The conclusion of some political scholars is that the country will be experience massive acts of civil disobedience in which half of the people will refuse to participate with the other half.  The country will be deadlocked and will just disintegrate.  And perhaps different forms and different societies will emerge.

We may still love America, but in reality there is no such place to get to anymore.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States