I recently returned from one of the most eye-opening cultural experiences of my life; 3 weeks in modern day America.
It’s not the Confederate flag-waving, open carry nuts in the South that left an impression; indeed, we spent most of our time in the Pacific Northwest, where ‘Black Lives Matter’ banners and stickers outweigh even the Stars and Stripes in most neighbourhoods.
It wasn’t the red hat wearing pro-Trump idiot brigade, extolling the evils of ‘fake news’ while pledging their intellectual allegiance to Rush Limbaugh. In fact, I didn’t see a single ‘Make America Great Again’ hat, and one solitary Presidential block of chocolate (in an Airport gift shop) in the entire time I was there – quite a departure from last time, when we were swamped in the warm embrace of Obamania.
No, this time, it was the air of resignation that I found especially striking – as though people were mourning the loss of their country’s once unquestioned moral superiority. And perhaps more than that, the loss of their pride in the American ideal.
We felt this no more profoundly than in our interactions with the newest wave of American immigrants. As one does in 2017, we took Lyft and Uber rideshares to get around most of the time – and as a reasonably decently-paid job with low barriers to entry, we found many of our drivers were recent arrivals to the US from all parts of the world – Pakistan, Ethiopia, Nepal, Iran.
However, far from feeling upbeat about their new home, to a person each professed a strong desire to move on as quickly as possible. Yes, they said, I need to get my US citizenship so I have a safety net in the West – but I can’t see myself still living here in 5 years.
Equally, every single person expressed a strong desire to migrate to Australia – to subject themselves to an entirely new, no less arduous visa process and start their lives once more from scratch.
To this, there were only ever two answers; peace and opportunity.
Twenty, even ten, years ago it would have been folly for a recent immigrant to consider giving up the American dream for some Southern Hemisphere backwater. Now, it’s looking like the smart play.
“Too many guns” was the reason one of our new friends, a Pakistani immigrant of three years, shared with us. “Too much violence”. Coming from a man who had fled decades of bloody terrorism and tribal rivalries at home, this assessment certainly struck a chord with us.
Then I read that 105,000 Americans had been killed with a gun since Sandy Hook, and I found it hard to question the logic.
But it is about more than the fact that America is home to more guns than people. That’s been the case for years now. Today, emboldened by their morally absent national leadership, hateful views are being espoused more freely than they have been for 50 years – and are swiftly working their way into mainstream discourse.
If you were a recent immigrant to America, coming in on the promise of hope and a better future, right now you’re probably feeling that promise quickly fading into the distance. And what it’s being replaced by is not looking so appealing.
Obviously, as a migration expert with my own agency, I can see that this dissonance represents one of the biggest opportunities in recent memory for Australia to benefit from the myopia and cognitive dissonance of countries like the US, which is turning its back on some of the most highly educated, hardest-working people fleeing the conflicts that, in many cases, that country has either started or inflamed.
And yes, I handed a couple of our drivers my business card.
I just hope that our own Government maintains some moral fortitude and doesn’t take us down the same path of fear, rejection and isolation that it has chosen in its treatment of our refugees.
Thankfully, it’s not what the Australian people want. We are a nation proud of our rich social tapestry, which is the shared heritage of all the cultures that make Australia what we are.
So, to those whose American dream is being quietly snuffed out, we say – come join us in the land of peace and opportunity. We’ll be thrilled to have you.