|Sunrise in northern Michigan, November 2016|
If you love Donald Trump, you might believe that there is a media conspiracy dedicated to preventing him doing what he was elected to do. If you loathe Donald Trump, you might already think he's done enough to be impeached. Instead of stepping into that minefield, I've just been trying to think of what I would say to a foreigner if they asked me the question: Why should I come to the United States?
It's been almost exactly fifteen years since I moved here from England, so this is partly for my own benefit, too, to enumerate some of the good things I continue to see in my adopted country:
- The landscape: the variety of the landscape in the US is incomparable. Things that stand out in my mind after travelling to 36 states: taking long walks through the hills, mountains, woods, and swamps of Vermont; watching the sun set in the Nordic pine forests of northern Michigan; driving through the rolling prairie grasslands of South Dakota, seeing the wind take visible form as it swept across a vast swathe of grass, bending the tops of the stalks and creating a shadow that rolled towards our car from five miles away like a single wave on the ocean; the astonishing beauty of the western deserts, from the high desert of New Mexico to the Mars-like red rock landscape of the Mojave desert to the spiky Joshua Tree-filled lands of the western Mojave. One can find similar examples of outstanding natural beauty in different parts of the globe, but I can't think of another country that has some of the best examples of every kind within its borders.
- The cities: yes, it's true that consumer culture seems like it can turn every town into an identikit collection of roads, ranch houses, and strip malls, with a Starbucks on every corner and a Walmart out by every highway. But the further you go in the States, the more you see the individual cultures of different cities: the Yankee-Irish vibrancy of Boston, the colossal energy of New York City, the Caribbean-French-Black culture of New Orleans, the Mexican-Indian heritage of the southwest, the subtle laid-back feel of San Francisco.
- Friendliness: if I only watched cable news, I would probably end up hating everyone and everything, no exceptions. But if I step back and think about everyone I know, and most of the people I have met during my time here, I would say that everyone, almost without exception, has behaved politely towards me on first meeting. And some of the finest human beings I've ever met -- the most intelligent, the most civic-minded, the most outward-looking, the kindest, the funniest, the most beautiful -- are Americans.
- Positive attitude: it's a cliche about Americans that they are positive, "have a nice day" spouting go-getters. But the cliche happens to be true. If, like me, you're a European with an awareness of the tragedies of human history and a generally pessimistic view of human nature, the American disposition to believe that the best is yet to come and that everything will turn out ok in the end can be wearing. But I only have to spend a little time in Europe, where a general "can't-do" attitude can turn asking for a coffee into a power struggle, to make me miss being among people who generally want to make something happen rather than complain about the impossibility of changing things.
- Openness: this is related to the last point. In England, and even when I encounter British people in the States, I can guarantee that within a few minutes of meeting for the first time, the "accent game" will be underway. That is, the British person will say to me "where are you from?" As soon as you name your home town, you can almost see the wheels turning in their brains as they try to answer the question they really want to ask, which is "what is that accent?" Which to a British person, means "what does your accent say about your social origins, and where do I place you on the social scale in relation to my accent?" In the USA, a variation of this can happen, but usually because even the mildest foreign accent can sometimes completely flummox them (particularly, I have to say, rural Americans). It's never about social class. Mostly, when I tell an American where I'm from, they just say they've always wanted to visit there, they did visit and they loved it, or they have relatives who came from there.
There are other things I could say, but if you've never visited the USA before, the cities, landscape, and the general attitude of the people are still more than enough reason for you to consider a visit.