I don’t come to the United States very often, and when I do there’s usually a pretty good reason. In this case, it’s because of the annual Atlas 400 meeting which kicks off today in New York. I get a ton of value out of the group, and for me it’s worth making these trips (you can find out more about Atlas here.)
Because my US visits are generally short and sporadically infrequent, I’m highly attuned to little changes; this is something like out-of-town relatives who notice how much a child has grown over a period of several months, whereas parents seldom notice the small, daily changes.
On the surface, it seems like a pleasant enough place. Underneath the facade of shopping malls and little league, though, there are clear signs of decay. Eroding economic opportunities, increased bureaucracy, emerging class warfare, police state conditions, deteriorating infrastructure, reduced quality in service, etc.
Again, these changes are more acutely felt when you’ve been gone for a while because you have fewer recent experiences to normalize the extremity of a new incident.
To give you an example, I have a friend who spent 15-years living overseas without once setting foot in the United States starting in 1990. The first time he came back was in 2005, having completely missed the slow, gradual security rollouts at US airports throughout the 1990s and 2000s.
You may remember long ago, they used to let anyone and everyone into the airport gate areas, you just had to go through a dinky metal detector. Friends and family could accompany you all the way to the gate and wish you well before your flight.
This was the America that my friend left in 1990. He came back to the post-9/11 dehumanization of airline passengers without having been slowly indoctrinated into the nationwide fear of boogeymen who live in caves, and the consequent security paranoia at airports.
When he got home, the first thing he did was head down to the US Embassy and find out how he could relinquish his citizenship. That’s when he discovered that he essentially had to ask permission and seek approval for what is clearly a very personal decision. He told me later, “I felt like a feudal serf…”