Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

An Expatriate Of The Heart

He did everything by the book, and his marriage and career still fell apart. Now he's planning to leave the US. Is he wrong?

A sad comment from an Atlanta reader in another thread:

Little of what I was taught as a young boy still exists in this country. When I was young we went to church, our parents (lifelong Southern Democrats) worked middle class jobs and told us to be patriotic. I became an eagle scout, served in the military, raised 3 daughters and sent them to Christian colleges. What I got for my trouble of following what I was told to do as a young person was my wife leaving me for another woman, my house taken in divorce court, and the company I helped build taken over by hostile investors. Nothing political, economical or social I was told to count on still exists – not even the loyalty of my wife.

I did not despair for long though. I changed religions, became an Orthodox Christian, and began to think about how none of this matters. None of this political stuff, none of the economic stuff, none of it matters. The only thing that matters is if the gospel is true.

Now having determined that it is true, and that I want to live it out – this old “Country First Conservative” who rebelled against my Democrat parents with my Republicanism, well I’ve decided to accept defeat on this continent. I have began to travel to other countries to find a place where I can hopefully retire in peace and escape the madness of the United States. I no longer recognize my country and I don’t feel welcome here anymore. That is why I’m leaving America, for the same reason my ancestors came here, to find home.

Good luck with your hopes that a liberal like Elizabeth Warren will turn America around. This nation has become laughable except for the tragedy of our never ending wars, self loathing and vice. Next stop – East Africa.

Well, I don’t realistically hope that a liberal like Elizabeth Warren will turn America around. I don’t think politics can do it. But that’s not why I’m posting this comment separately.

I’m posting it because it really got to me, this Atlanta reader’s despair over America. If you want to post to mock his pain, save yourself the trouble. I’m not going to post it. If you disagree with him, by all means feel free to comment.

What got to me about this man’s commentary is how he’s given up on the idea of America. I’m neither going to praise nor condemn him for that. I want to understand it. Giving up on your country is no small thing. I don’t feel the same temptation, but just this morning I was talking to a friend, telling him how much I wince that my 14-year-old son is talking up the prospect of serving in the military. I was raised to be the kind of father who would be proud that he had a son who wants to serve. And I want to be that kind of father!

Still, I was taken aback by the intensity of the negative feelings I had about it. It’s not that I look down on the military — not at all. It’s that I hate what our civilian leadership has done to the military, with these never-ending wars. I want to believe that America is a force for good in the world, but I don’t really believe that anymore, at least not in the same way I once did.

A small example: there has been an important schism in the Orthodox world. Many Ukrainian Orthodox have split from the Moscow Patriarchate, and have declared their own autocephalous church. It’s a very big deal. I have avoided commenting on it, because the situation is extremely complicated, and I honestly don’t know enough about it to feel comfortable making a clear judgment, beyond lamenting schism. Politics, on both the Russian (Putin) and Ukrainian (Poroshenko) sides, are at the heart of this terrible rending of the Orthodox fabric.

Last month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo phoned the new breakaway Ukrainian patriarch to offer the US Government’s support. I can’t expect the US Government to have a theological care about the destruction of the Russian Orthodox Church, but I hate that my government is exploiting this rift to gain advantage against Russia. Last year, the US Ambassador to Ukraine walked at the front of the gay pride march in Kiev.  This did not happen under Barack Obama; this happened under Donald Trump.

Along those lines, two years ago, under Obama, I wrote about how the US State Department, in partnership with George Soros’s NGO, translated into the Macedonian language Saul Alinsky’s Rules For Radicals, and distributed them there in an effort to undermine the country’s traditional moral customs.

It gets worse. In 2016, the State Department put out a $300,000 bid to hire culture-war mercenaries to go into Macedonia with the express purpose of fighting Orthodox Christian teaching on homosexuality. The American taxpayer paid money to export the destruction of Macedonia’s Christian culture.

Again, these are relatively small things, but significant to some of us Orthodox Christians, who wonder what business America has trying to tear down the Orthodox Church and Orthodox culture abroad. (And before you say it: No, this doesn’t mean that Vladimir Putin is now our BFF.)

The US Government is not the United States of America. You can love your country, even if you don’t love your government. But I wonder if a lot of us aren’t closer to the despairing Atlanta reader than we think. Personally, I don’t know what it would mean to “give up” on America. That said, I find our country to be an increasingly hostile, alien place, in terms of the direction of the culture, and the lack of a sense that there’s anything left to restrain its descent.

Henry Olsen, writing in American Greatness in support of Tucker Carlson’s much-discussed monologue, says:

Carlson and Trump agree that American business owners have long since stopped thinking they owe anything to American workers or communities because they are American. They contend too many American executives, responsible only to shareholders who in turn value only the highest monetary return possible, are unconcerned about whom they contract with so long as the contracts are upheld. Nearly everyone concedes this is how business operates today; the question is whether correcting or influencing this is a proper matter for public action.

Conservative dogma has said “no” for about 25 years. Treating economic action as a solely private preserve, any attempt to regulate or interfere in the terms of trade or the allocation of capital has been attacked by intellectual conservatism and its increasingly powerful libertarian allies. The fact that this has made ever more and more of industrial America a wasteland littered with closed factories, abandoned houses, and Dollar Stores doesn’t matter to these market fundamentalists.

As I’ve written here many times, American liberals view individual rights (and not duties) with the same sacrosanctity that American conservatives treat economic individualism. What we are rapidly approaching, if we’re not already there, is the creation of a polity in which nobody feels a binding sense of loyalty to anybody or anything beyond themselves. This is neither a liberal nor a conservative problem. But it’s a problem.

In 2016, in a comment under this post about cultural decline, reader Annie wrote:

There’s the commenters saying this isn’t a big deal and it has always been going on and turn off your television because it’s distracting and we all just need to relax.

The foster care system here is snapping beneath new pressures, but it’s easy to ignore if you’ve always heard it’s stressed. There aren’t enough homes for the children. There aren’t enough relatives long enough in one place. The drugs, the brokenness, the belief that pure sensation is our purpose in life… all these contribute to the empty gazes and scarred faces I see. Say it’s not real, sure. I’ve lived in the elite centers, and worked in the no-go zones outside the gentrification circles. I know the difference between the comfortable and the broken, and I’m seeing more and more brokenness.

When I walk the streets of the dingy towns surrounding Pittsburgh, or when I glance at the local stories and arrests that come after front page politeness, I see a story unfolding of families falling apart that aren’t even families. It’s just broken people trying to catch one another, shifting alliances and living arrangements every few months. It’s children moving from parent to grandparent to foster parent to uncle with trash bags of mildewed clothing and it is a cycle that doesn’t stop.

When I talk to the aging progressive or conservative community leaders in those towns, I hear confusion and foreboding. No one, wherever they fall on the political spectrum, “feels good.” If Hillary had won, perhaps there’d be a false euphoria. Certainly much of their hysteria is a result of pernicious comfort and entitled expectations. And there is certainly a false confidence amongst the Trump supporters. But there is no one among them who says things are well, or who denies we are living beneath strange, new winds. We all know.

There’s a crisis, but some people want to say because there have always been tough times or places, it’s impossible that things could get worse. That’s simply not true. It’s wiser to admit we don’t entirely understand what is afoot than to tell Rod to fiddle while the colonies of Rome are burning.

To be clear, I don’t at all expect ever to leave America. For conversation’s sake, though, I would like to know you readers’ thoughts about this. Have you left America (for whatever reason — left-wing, right-wing, or otherwise)? What has your expatriate experience taught you? Do you regret it? Have you ever seriously thought about leaving, but chose not to? What changed your mind?

Can you imagine leaving for good? Where would you go? Why would you go there? Do you really think you can get away from what would be driving you away from the US? I’m not asking in an accusatory way; I’m just interested to know what people think.

Reminder: if you want to mock the Atlanta reader, I’m not going to publish your comment.



Want to join the conversation?

Subscribe for as little as $5/mo to start commenting on Rod’s blog.

Join Now