A conflicted Fourth of July

We spent the Fourth at a lovely picnic hosted by our friends Bill and Edith, and with a few other people some of whom we hadn’t seen in years because they live in a small community of expats in a quadrant of the San Miguel countryside we’d never visited. 

Though the menu contained the usual fare of hamburgers and corn on the cob, there weren’t any Fourth of July props like American flags or music. Except for a couple from Venezuela and a Swiss woman, the picnickers were Americans and San Miguel old-timers, some who had arrived here twenty or thirty years ago and professed no interest in ever moving back to the U.S. 

For them, Mexico is the last stop. 

We’ve encountered that attitude among quite a few other friends, even more recent arrivals. Some have  become Mexican citizens, though I’ve never heard of anyone who renounced their U.S. citizenship. They don’t want anything to do with the U.S., except to continue getting their Social Security or other retirement checks.

Such nihilism regarding the ol’ sod has always puzzled us. “We love the United States, it’s our country, warts and all,” Stew and I would tell each other. Indeed, we’ve periodically talked about a “Plan B”: Some place in the States where we might move back to, maybe for medical reasons or the final stretch of retirement. 

During the past few months, though, those negative attitudes are beginning to make sense to us. The U.S. is not just passing through a phase of political or social disfunction—McCarthyism, homophobia or other -isms and phobias—that our natural American optimism reassured us would be overcome if given time.  

Even some Americans still living in the U.S. question whether the country will get past the current spiritual slump. According to Forbes magazine, at the Center for International Living, which helps with relocations abroad, there has been a sharp spike in inquiries from Americans who are alarmed by the Roe v. Wade and rulings on guns by the U.S. Supreme Court, and are considering a move abroad. 

For starters, the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol, horrifying as it was, may not be a one-off event, such as labor riot or some other civil disturbance, but the leading edge of a substantial political movement that wants to claim power at any cost, even if it takes overturning the results of an election or otherwise rejecting the peaceful transition of power.  

There’s also the rise of what one prominent Protestant minister calls “Christian fascism,” or the imposition of a religious vision of government on the country. Rev. Jerry Falwell, Anita Bryant and Phyllis Schlafly may have come and gone, or so we thought, but now a U.S. Supreme Court seems bent on enshrining their anti-abortion, and possibly anti-gay marriage views, even if the majority of the American public rejects such extreme views. 

With the inmates gradually taking over the asylum, all sorts of craziness suddenly gains currency, such as charging women who chose abortion with homicide, and those who might drive them to an abortion clinic with “aiding or abetting” in the commission of a crime, or persecuting women who cross state lines to have an abortion. No word yet on penalizing men for their share of responsibility for the pregnancy. Indeed, Texas and Oklahoma have become laboratories of policies that extremists a few years ago only fantasized about. 

And just yesterday six people were shot and killed and scores wounded when a lunatic opened fire on a Fourth of July parade in the wealthy and otherwise placid Chicago suburb of Highland Park. Sadly, this is not a unique tragedy but one more episode in a string of mass killings commonplace in the guns-for-everyone America of today.

My innate optimism keeps me from giving up on my home country yet. But on this past Fourth of July, the fatalism of many of my expat friends who have chosen Mexico as their final destination may have infected Stew and me.  

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