Landing, Culture Shock, Dueling Populisms, and Puppies

First of all, we’re back in the U.S. of A. So buy me lunch, those of you with the few remaining expense accounts. My calendar is pretty open right now.

This song always goes through my head as we approach JFK or Newark:

I’ve never been more mindful than now of the gap between Cool America (rock ‘n’ roll, R&B, rap, Kerouac, Georgia O’Keefe, Brooklyn, Yo La Tengo, etc.), and weird uncool America (a certain combover artist with a fake tan, Branson, Missouri, the NRA, Paul Ryan, The WSJ editorial board, Fox News,). It’s always been this way, but folks, we’ve reached the point where we’re living in different universes.

Our departure from the mostly cool country of the Repubblica Italiana was sad and a little painful., Okay, quite painful, literally. I succumbed to the flu, despite having gotten the vaccine a few months ago. I guess it didn’t cover the Italian variety. I spent days on a recliner—the bed was too horizontal and I felt as though I were drowning—and prone to freezing and then being overheated within a 15-minute timespan. We delayed our departure, only to worry about a strike the day we left in honor of International Women’s Day. Luckily, the strikers provided for a few hours for safe passage and we took off more or less on time.

But then…after a terrific flight on Norwegian—good prices, good premium economy cabins, decent food and drink and legroom—we landed in Newark. In one way, it trumped JFK; no one was shouting at us as we went through passport control. On the other hand, no one guided us, either, and the time savings allegedly granted by using the app Mobile Passport proved illusory, except at the end when our keepers decided to let users through, like they should’ve at the start. Note to self: Sign up for Global Entry.

We left an Italy with a caretaker government following indecisive elections that split the vote basically 3 ways, between the “populist” Movimento 5 Stelle, the center-right (including the inflammatory Lega) and what’s left of the Left. None of those by themselves got enough votes to form a government and nearly two weeks later, the jockeying and negotiations drag on.

The results are being compared to the fuck-you Trump vote in the U.S. And yeah, a lot of people who voted for M5S and the Lega were motivated by the same reasons otherwise nice Americans voted for the odious Trump. The establishment parties haven’t exactly done right by the peeps and haven’t really offered a compelling vision of life with them other than to say, hey we’re not crazy.

But there’s a big gap between the continents. In the U.S., with the Republicans controlling the legislature, executive, and probably the courts, there’s been a rollback of everything that makes a country civilized. These Ayn Rand acolytes have tried to kill the Affordable Care Act, enacted the most regressive tax regime in decades, and have killed off scores of environmental rules. They aren’t even trying to give lofty reasons for their actions. It’s just Obama did this, so we’re undoing it.

Looking at the victorious parties in the Italian elections shows a different story. None of them talked about reverting to a free-for-all health care market. In fact, they criticized some of the erosion demanded by the European Union budget masters. And both the Lega and M5S plan to implement a minimum income for citizens; they differ in the amount (either around €800 or €1000 monthly). Where they do resemble the Trumpistas is in their contempt for immigration. But there, they’ve got some facts on their side. Italy has taken up a disproportionate burden of rescuing thousands of refugees at sea. And like Greece, it’s taken a budgetary and a social toll on the country as Italy’s Euro partners look the other way. It’s a bit different from the non story that is the U.S. being overrun by Mexicans, when in fact since the Great Recession, traffic has gone the other way.

It’s a sign of how far to the right political discourse has gotten in the U.S. And also a sign that to some extent, Europe right now is still more open, more tolerant and more equitable than its old partner across the Atlantic.

There’s one unambiguous, wonderful thing about being back. We’re back with our kids. And knowing that the InterWeb loves the doggies, this little creature is back cuddling, begging for food, and stomping around Snug Harbor Cultural Center like she owns it.


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