José M. Tirado is a Puertorican poet, Buddhist priest and political writer living in Hafnarfjorður, Iceland, known for its elves, “hidden people” and lava fields. His articles and poetry have been featured in CounterPunch, Cyrano´s Journal, The Galway Review, Dissident Voice, La Respuesta, Op-Ed News, among others
There is little doubt that, come Nov. 9, a fractured USA will plod on with one of two of the most disliked politicians in recent memory to try for the White House in place as President. Should Trump win, an astounding transformation will have taken place. A blustering, lying bigot will have ridden a wave of White discontent into a sea of political and cultural disenchantment and who will immediately face widespread opprobrium at home and abroad. His supporters, many proto-fascist and proud of it, will celebrate appropriately. How that ends, no one can predict, but opposition will be fierce and quite possibly ugly.
If Clinton wins, all kinds of stories will be created including that of that an intelligent, ambitious woman so resentful of her philandering former President husband that she took to politics to redeem herself and her gender and finally broke the Great Glass Ceiling. Such myth-making hogwash will grow even worse as apologists unite behind her warmongering ways while the streets are stocked with military-suited police forces dampening dissension. However, the opposition to her will probably be large as well, with armed right-wingers screaming about impeachment on one side, and the scattered remnants of Bernie Sanders´ voters fighting vainly to keep her honest from the other side.
I do not need to remind anyone that Presidential politics has hit new lows and it is this which has finally tipped my hand. The same pattern repeats itself every four years with some Troglodyte on one side threatening the end of Western civilization, facing a minor Trog from the “other side” for whom we must pinch our noses and select as the “lesser of two evils” or else the sky will fall and endless wars, social cutbacks, and ever more restrictions on our rights will follow. I am old enough to have figured this one out. And I´m not invested in it anymore.
It will be a mess either way.
For a third of my life I have lived away from the US, first in Japan and now in Iceland. Feeling more like an exile than an ex-pat, my connection to the US gets slenderer with each passing year and honestly, this is fine by me. I am no longer someone who abstractly speaks about being a “world citizen”, I now feel like one. Nevertheless, given the nature of nation-states, I must retain a passport for travel and thus, to which state I “belong” becomes an important issue. Now that the election is over, I feel it´s time for me to make a decision. This coming year I will be seeking citizenship here where I live, in Iceland.
The fact is, America, it’s over. I’m letting you go.
The signs were long in coming.
For years I have not cared about USAmerican cultural spectacles like “Super Bowls” and, when relatives this past January said they were staying in rooting for their team that weekend, I asked them “Why?”, not knowing it was the weekend of that over-sized spectacle. It’s only my children who keep me aware of the latest music styles, honestly, I couldn´t identify but one song of Lady Gaga and the so-called World (sic) Series makes little sense to me since Cuban, Japanese, or other teams out here in the world don´t play.
Having never seen the Kardashians or heard them speak (I am fortunate, though I have seen pics) I can´t imagine their cultural significance. I know little of “vines” and understand “memes” as FB items only casually. I´ve never seen an episode of Game of Thrones, or an episode of 40 Rock, and Jane the Virgin is something I know about only because of my connections to Latino academics and writers who pen articles happy to see some Latino/a face so publicly (and “Latin/x” puzzles to no end).
But those silly cultural trends are small, and not the biggest part of my decision.
Other trends I am quite up on and they are a bigger part of my story. I know about the near daily police killings–I watch with stomach-churning anxiety every police video released and all the compendiums made into repeated memes. Beatings of Occupy activists and before that, “free-speech zones” first got my attention that something was going terribly wrong, that this place I had left had already changed beyond recognition. We see maybe the most exciting and possibly important protest movement in years, the Standing Rock, No Dakota Access Pipeline protests winning hearts and minds around the world but losing (again) the “war” as few expect the fracking, the consequent earthquakes, and the misery caused by our addiction to non-renewable and non-clean energy sources to be abandoned under either a Trump or Clinton administration.
As Henry Giroux recently said, “War has taken on an existential quality in that we are not simply at war; rather, as Étienne Balibar insists, “we are in war,” inhabiting a war culture that touches every aspect of society.” I think that´s right. The divisiveness and antagonisms between citizens of the same country erupt periodically in race explosions (over the murders of Blacks by police) and an atmosphere of low-level violence exists in even the most banal of political discourses. I didn’t feel comfortable when I left and I feel even less comfortable looking at it now. It truly is “a war culture”.
When I left for Japan I was 23, when I came here to Iceland I was 42 and in the intervening years I’d already witnessed a gradual coarsening of politics, an undercurrent rising of anger and hate. As I softened, partly by absorbing Japanese politeness and quiet, and partly feeling tempered by exposure to other cultures, the US became angrier, crueler, and more insulated. Reagan was President when I first left and the jingoism and willful blindness of his oligarchic entourage seemed to give everyone on the street permission to begin openly hating gays (who were dying from some mysterious disease at the time), “welfare queens” (many of us understood what that really meant – Blacks) and Grenada and Nicaragua and tough talk seemed to bring out the foolish imperialist in the average person on the street no matter what the facts were. Bluster became the rage on marginal TV stations, first Morton Downey, Jr., then gradually the “shock jocks” (including Trump’s BFF Howard Stern) were getting airtime all over the places I visited when I’d come back to the States. Then they became regular commentators and their ilk filled network television, many becoming guests and consultants on network news and on this new network, Fox. That bluster helped build Trump, and his possible election as US President tomorrow may be the historically inevitable result. Certainly, his ascension as putative working class champion and Man-Who-Will-Deliver, the US’s own American caudillo, is a result of all these trends. By the time I came to Iceland, Bush the First was President and there was Sept. 11 and the end was plainly in sight.
It’s become too much for me. The US, as a country where nearly 80% of the people believe in angels but barely half accept that climate change is real, is a country moving backwards, not forward. And in the little time remaining in my life, I want to live in a place where people move forward, peacefully, with their ambitions sincere and their lives openly and proudly connected to the larger world. I don´t feel that bragging about how great you are is the appropriate default position to take publicly, when millions remain poor, disenfranchised, and bitter about being politically powerless while fearful of immigrants seeking better for their lives. It´s too painful. There has been a growing gap between US culture and myself, that combustible mixture of easy access to guns and little access to reason and comradeship. I don´t like the low level daily violence, the anger, the resentment, the defensiveness, the loudness, the commercialization of everything, the fake news, the phony “issues” and the willfully insular perspective. I also don’t like the macho posturing that is part of everything, leading to so-called open carry laws allowing guns in churches, schools, and bars. That is a madness people outside the US see with a clarity that is as sharp as it is obscured by the violent defense of it in the US. You can keep it. It ain´t me.
So, simply put, unless it´s to visit family or a friend, I’m not going back. Ever. And I cannot conceive of any reason to ever live there again. The US has lost me. We’ve grown apart and it’s time to officially call it quits. I don’t feel “at home” there and I do not identify with it anymore. There are tons of people I admire there, many more I love and wish to see again. But overall, the US has become “that” country, a place of constant anger and bitterness, open racism, and a dangerous, infantile denial of reality, whether that´s the urgency of climate change or the need for less war and military intervention.
America, it’s over.
I’m a part of the bigger world now; even while living in Iceland, a small, isolated rock in the north Atlantic, I feel more connected to the rest of humanity- and more influenced by and more liable to be influenced by the world and its peoples than I ever felt in the US.
I’m sorry. It’s over, America. I’m tired and need a smaller, happier, safer life with people who feel a part of their world. With what time I have left of my life, I want to help make a difference in a place where that’s actually possible. Where the smallness of the country belies a greater connection to the larger world outside. Where despite differences, people appreciate resolving them non-violently, talking instead of yelling, seeking compromise and consensus instead of conflict and contention. There are no utopias out there and Iceland has much I am dissatisfied about (long winter darkness among them). But it’s been home for a number of years and I am comfortable here in ways I never was anywhere in the States. As I said, I’ll visit my family and friends when it is possible. But I’m not ever going to live in the US again. That’s finished.