I am a Venezuelan citizen by birth and, since 2011, also a U.S. naturalized citizen. Having lived in the U.S., off and on, for some 20 years of my long life, I decided to emigrate to the U.S. in 2003, as the situation in Venezuela became intolerable for a person who loves freedom, democracy and a civilized quality of life. I wanted to be a good citizen and the U.S. looked like my best choice. I was fortunate to be accepted as a resident, first, and eventually as a new citizen of this great country. I graduated in the 1950s as a geologist at the University of Tulsa and count that stay as one of the happiest periods of my life. I returned many times to the U.S. and did work here during the 1960’s and 1980’s. Every time I lived here I felt very much at home. I felt De Tocqueville was very right when he spoke with admiration of those qualities of Americans that made possible the great progress of the nation. He referred to them as the habits of the heart: civic responsibility, hard work, social solidarity, family life, religious convictions and common sense.
When I came here, in 2003, I noticed changes in American society that were not for the better. The country did not have that shining quality that I remembered, but this did not bother me too much because, newly arrived from Venezuela, the contrast between the two societies was great in favor of life in America. I started to live my American dream, particularly in the areas related to good citizenship such as being able to pay taxes in a simple manner, without infinite complications (yes, there can be joy in doing this), paying utility bills online, doing volunteer work, living in a polite environment, saying “have a nice day” and meaning it, stopping at red lights, not stepping on the grass, big and small things that are very difficult to do in the Venezuela of the XXI century, due to the explosion of social resentment and hatred that the government has generated in the country. I reveled in being a good citizen. I also saw that, with modest means, I could still have a good quality of life: public services worked, letters arrived on time, the bus stopped at the scheduled time, markets had what you need, medicines and medical attention could be readily found, even if expensive. I could take walks in beautiful parks without fear of being bitten by a dog, mugged or killed.
After a few years I started to take these very good things for granted and I started noticing the warts. But, even then, I compared this life we had with the life we had left behind and the balance was still, definitively, very favorable. My American Dream was kept rather intact. Even today I have no doubt that when the U.S. catches a cold is because most of the rest of the world already has pneumonia.
However, I cannot help noticing clear signs of deterioration in what is now my country of adoption. Perhaps the fact of having become a naturalized citizen, which makes me a shareholder, has contributed to my more critical perspective. The fact is that I perceive the country is losing ground in several aspects.
One, the political sector seems to be losing its capacity to reason things out, to reach compromises for the good of the country. Bipartisanship had always been a strong quality of American politics. Today it is being replaced by mutual distrust, acid exchanges, by looking at dissidents as enemies, not adversaries, and for an attitude of upmanship at all costs, disregarding the dangerous national consequences of harsh political infighting.
The second is the intensification of racial friction, bordering on open warfare. I had assumed that the presence of a black president in the White House would serve to minimize this friction but, to my surprise, it has intensified it. Never before had I seen so much open animosity between U.S. races as today, to the point that a portion of society has felt obliged to say that “black lives matter”, something that should be too obvious to be an explicit social demand. Discrimination is exercised by whites against blacks and by blacks against whites. Intuitively, I feel that an exaggerated social attitude among “progressives” about political correctness has done more harm than good, because now the reaction against this overstressed correctness is turning violent and has become a political slogan of extreme political postures.
The third is the decline in the public regard for the intellectual quality of leadership and its preferences for notoriety. Looking at the low quality of most of the current presidential pre-candidates in both parties I cannot help believing that the country could soon be displaced from its position as leader of the free world, although it is also true that this deterioration seems to be a global phenomenon. In a country of 300 million inhabitants it is hard to believe that society could not find a better candidate than Mrs. Hillary Clinton, the wife of a former president or that of a still another member of the Bush family. A presidential race in a democracy should not look like a hereditary monarchy. The surprising popularity of Mr. Donald Trump is, to my mind, indicative of this deterioration, because he is a man who seems extremely dangerous to have in the White House in times of global turmoil and, even more so, as commander in chief of the largest military force in the world. He has become an attractive candidate to millions who admire notoriety rather than intellect or who feel that any change is better than what we have at this moment (Exactly what many Venezuelans felt when they decided to put Hugo Chavez in power). At this rate of increasing frivolity it is not inconceivable that one of the Kardashian sisters could become a presidential candidate in the medium term.
The fourth seems to be, this is more speculative, that the volumes, speed and quality of the immigration coming into the U.S. during the last 20-30 years or so are proving difficult for the country to digest and integrate into U.S. society. This was already the topic of a highly controversial paper by Samuel Huntington in FOREIGN AFFAIRS some years ago. In an empirical manner, I find that many Latin American immigrants claim not to be “happy” living here and feel the U.S. does not give them what they desire. And yet, no one of them is planning to go back to their countries. They remain here and have created their own communities within U.S. society, have their own newspapers and political pressure groups and behave as if they were an independent state within the U.S. nation. They have not integrated and, sad to say, many have become burdens to the U.S. rather than social contributors and taxpayers. The cumulative effect of this alluvial immigration has been to greatly increase government social costs and to deteriorate social services, including schools, hospitals and social security programs.
As a result of these perceptions my American Dream has gone a bit sour. But at my age I cannot move to Australia, I might not even survive the trip. Nor I really want to do so. I will remain living in the U.S., which I still see as a great country. I have come to admire, respect and love the United States of America as much as I love Venezuela, my country of birth. I still see around me much of the social good qualities mentioned by De Tocqueville and have decided in my heart that this is the country where I want to spend the rest of my life. Being a citizen allows me to be both appreciative and critical. And, being a native Venezuelan, I will keep trying as hard as I can to persuade my country of birth to adopt many of the good qualities that have made the U.S. the great country it is today.