Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Thoughts On Returning To The US After A Month In Argentina

I wrote this yesterday.

I’m over the Pacific just west of Acapulco, about three hours from landing in LA.  We’ve been out of the US for just over a month.  This is the longest stretch out of the US since  twelve years ago when we were in Thailand for three months where I worked as a volunteer with an NGO that helped poor farmers.  .  

As our return was nearing this last week, I began to think about Jews who traveled outside of Germany - or other countries the Nazis would take over - during the 1930s and then returned.  Many, if not most, ended up in concentration camps.  Should I seek political asylum in Argentina?  

No, I’m not a target.  Yet.  For now the targets are people with darker skin than mine.  Jews are in a strange never-never land.  They’re, as always, in the scopes of white nationalists/neo-Nazis, but the president’s son-in-law is Jewish and his daughter converted.  Being pro-Israel is a conservative thing now, probably because of strong Evangelical Christians support of Israel.  So, what happens to Jews who have serious questions about the way Israel is treating its Arab citizens and the neighboring Palestinians?  

But that’s an aside to the terror Trump is causing among Central American immigrants to the US.  This fear isn't unlike what Jews, LGBTQ folks, Communists, Romani, and others felt about the Gestapo arriving at their door.  You can say that they aren't intentionally killing people on the border, but that came later in Germany as well.  People just knew it was bad and they may not see their families again.  Same as now.  This fear affects more than those seeking asylum - a perfectly legal thing to do.  It includes those in the US without documentation, including all the dreamers, and those with papers who could find themselves targets anyway,  The same thing happened in Argentina in the 70s and 80s, and in Chile under Pinochet.  In the later two places the US was supporting the abusive governments.  

And I thought about all this as we lined up in Lima for our last leg of our trip home.  Nearly all the people with us on this plane are NOT native speakers.  I didn’t hear anyone speaking English.  It was all Spanish, maybe some Portuguese.  Many dark skinned people.  We’re on a Boeing 787-8. Maybe 300 people.  How many planes like this fly into the US everyday from the south?  

What does that say about Trump’s policies on the border?  And the ICE raids? (Yes, I realize this past weekend’s raids didn’t actually happen in the scale expected.). Does it mean that all the focus on the border is simply for show?  Does it mean Trump isn’t worried about legal immigrants as he says, just undocumented ones?  Does it mean Democrats ought to acknowledge the many people flying in legally?  Probably all those questions are more complicated than yes/no answers could cover.  Clearly the treatment of people seeking asylum on the border is outrageous and easily preventable if the Trump administration cared at all.  But there’s also a high level of incompetence in the administration, and most likely the contractors for the camps are making a fortune.  

But what happens next?  Are things going to return to normal after the 2020 election?  

Even if the Democrats win the presidency and the Senate, I’m not sure they will.  Trump has pushed the norms of governing in the US so far beyond respect for the law, for decency, for precedents, for freedom of the press, for respect for one’s opposition, that it will be hard.  And Trump and his supporters will fight any loss in the streets and in the courts.  (Or the long shot possibility is that they will lose their steam.  But don't count on it.  They have lots of guns.)

But what if we don’t have a fair election, or a fair enough election, to get rid of Trump and the Republican majority in the Senate?  By that I mean more cyber and other propaganda from abroad and from conservative billionaires.  I mean voter suppression and hacking  voting machines.  Germans didn’t think that Hitler would last, but he meddled with the system, and the burning of the Reichstag, which many think the Nazi's instigated.  And so he stayed in power.  Trump’s majority on the Supreme Court leaves us with no guarantee that justice will be served if elections are challenged.  We already have the Florida election decision that gave Bush the election in 2000, from a less conservative court. And the court majority just recently had no objection to political gerrymandering.  

So asking about returning isn’t the silly question some might think.  And I’ve only been talking about the US.  I haven’t mentioned the catastrophe that is Alaska after Dunleavy’s vetoes weren’t overridden.  

These are dark times.  I guess the main reason to return is to fight to get my state and country back.  

[We didn't seek asylum in Lima.  We're back home.  And I know Argentina will stop dominating my brain very fast.  But it's time to more seriously and intensely work for a better Alaska and USA.]


  1. Steve, so much to think on. Let me start by saying, welcome home. You're in a tough place to be now and I have a lot of respect for those who carry on: thank you.

    Your thoughts on 'coming back' to America reminded me of that time I was on a plane flying back from South Africa in 1972. I was so gloriously happy to see the Brooks Range as we crossed those mountains (back when international flights crossed the polar regions). I was so shocked by the way America felt once I was back on the ground after months away.

    During that time in SA, I had come out to myself. But it was the wildness of Alaska I was coming home to, a place the new generation I was part of fought to protect as natural ecosystems. Gay rights work came later.

    Alaska is a home to many good things in my life, and this is to say Gene and I are coming back to Alaska one last time to close banking and remove the remnants of our lives there to our home back in England. Would like to see you both, maybe talk about these gaps in our lives lived in different places called home.

    To the good fight, then!

  2. Would be great to have a long chat over dinner and dessert in person.


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