Letter to a European Friend

Dear good friend,

I’m sorry for the delay in writing back; We just returned. The Post Office had our mail with your letter all summer.

It’s good to know you’re OK.  Unfortunately we didn’t go anywhere near your home in Croatia as we had hoped – staying close to our work in Prague.

From what you write — I guess if we HAD come to visit — we would have had some serious political debates with you.

President Trump - White House Photo
President Trump; – White House Photo

You say you like our President Donald Trump. But many Americans fear Trump, his associates and his ugly neo-Nazi supporters  (Charlottesville) will cause more violence and hate with a real possibility of another Civil War. Not to mention the other real possibility of a war — with a nuclear North Korea. Of course the current war of words and tweets between Trump and Kim Jong-un wasn’t yet an issue this summer. Oh – and this past weekend our “busy” President took on the National Football League and its majority black players on “taking a knee” during the ritual National Anthem singing which opens nearly every professional sporting event in the US. I’m sure you saw something about THAT one on your own TV news. Everyone else did.

Back to what’s behind President Trump’s tweets and continued rallying cries to his political base. It’s complicated. It’s partly about race and immigration. And the fear of permanently losing what you once had. And it’s partly about less educated, small town white men specifically being left behind by technology. Because some tech education and training is needed now to do even basic industrial jobs like welder or machinist. Literally all jobs now involve technology at some level.

There are also the deep cultural differences among us.  Attitudes are liberalizing much more quickly in the cities than in the countryside. Some of this is happening in many European countries as well. But we are a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic country as you know. Some of Trump’s anti immigrant supporters had (white) immigrant grandparents or great-grandparents themselves. Some of those grandparents and great-grandparents may not have been very warmly received because the US has a long history of fearing “the ignorant immigrant hordes”.  Although we were ALL immigrants in the beginning here except the native Americans.

It’s even harder, we know, for European countries to accept and integrate immigrants and refugees because you are each mostly made up of one national group with a long history. The Czechs for example are desperate to avoid even the handful – 3000 – of migrants the EU wants them to take. But in a global world where the internet and trade connect all of us – nationalism in individual European countries or here in the US just doesn’t make sense. And without resettling migrants or somehow making Syria and Lebanon and the other conflict-torn countries safe and possible to work in again – the migrant camps will just turn out terrorists eventually. It’s what happened with the Palestinians after the Israelis isolated them in camps which over generations grew into teeming, angry cities.

In the US there are retraining programs available for out-of-work  factory workers. But many of the older ones don’t want to learn anything new. Or move to where the new jobs are.  And even some younger people lack ambition and just want to work in the kind of well-paying, union jobs (like auto or steel worker) their fathers and perhaps grandfathers had. Jobs which simply will never exist again. No matter how inward looking the US becomes. Even coal mines (which should be gradually closed down and the miners retrained) are now using robots instead of people.

All of this might be manageable in time because most younger people were born into the technical generation and have used internet, tablets and smart phones from childhood at home and at school. But with President Trump literally supporting violent reactions among his supporters – anyone who knows US and Western history in general is really worried. There have even been discussions about his mental stability. Beyond his not being ready or capable of being President, with all of its responsibilities and need for highly intelligent analysis of information and events.

As for the right wing leaders of Europe you write about –like Marine Le Pen – they all want to turn their countries back to the 1950s – at best. Le Pen wants to take France out of the European Union. Her ideas are worrisome. And I think most French voters thought so as well, thankfully. Technology and the changes which are racing through industry and almost all professions make going backward and protecting old ways of doing things (French farmers, inflexible work rules, high import tariffs) impossible .

I wonder what you have made of the German elections and the far right populist party which for the first time since the end of WW2 has taken a sizeable (13%) number of seats in Parliament. This harks back to your history in Europe and I’d like to hear your explanation and what I imagine would be your defense.  But of course – had we seen you this summer — it wouldn’t yet have happened.

So let’s talk a bit more about the email, smart phones and other tech innovations you still disdain. In Europe as well as the US – waiters at restaurants are using iPads to take orders and register credit cards (with add-on chip readers or magnetic strip readers). When we have someone from a small, family construction company come to our US house to bid on a repair or other job – he or she uses a smart phone to take photos and write up information on tablets. Or on phones. Everything is emailed or texted (SMS’d in your world), banking is done on phones or websites, my salary from my freelance work is direct-deposited into my bank account. It’s done that way in Prague also since Czechs under Communism completely skipped the checkbook era and now actually charge you if you go to the bank to deposit or withdraw your own money instead of using a bankomat (ATM). I imagine it’s the same in most of Croatia. So you’re probably already involved in the tech world — just to get paid.

You, like some of President Trump’s US  supporters, may not trust apps or the internet or email but like them you’re isolating yourself. The entire world of information (real facts not “fake” news) is right in your smart phone or tablet or laptop or even on a library computer if you don’t have your own. You can Google anything. Wikipedia has huge amounts of (mostly) accurate information.

Unfortunately there’s also a dark side. It’s the same internet and social media which have allowed the neo-Nazis and far right groups to organize so well. And to circulate the fake news most Trump supporters insist is real. Then there’s ISIS which has used technology masterfully to get recruits and plot terrorism. But technology itself isn’t good or bad. It just IS. People can use it however they wish. PEOPLE are good or bad, not the technology they use.

I’m testing your English which I think is quite good. And challenging your statements in your letter. Which is what I do as a reporter and journalism lecturer. And now as a blogger – which allows me more intellectual space for analysis and opinion.

I have typed this on a Word document on my iPad – easier to use than a laptop. Now I’ll print it and mail it to you. It will take at least 5 business days.  Email would be immediate. I have the same problem with my first New York City roommate – after I graduated from university and left Boston. She also has refused over the years to get email.  Along with my 89 year old cousin now living in a home for seniors.

Take care my friend! Think about what I’m saying. Don’t just admire a strong man. Or someone who just TALKS like a strong man.  Admire a smart man or woman! Someone who wants to move his or her country forward.

We’re friends so we should be able to have these discussions. Over here –discussions are getting difficult. If not impossible. Look back at my Civil War reference.

(Note: adapted from an actual answer to an actual letter (on paper) from Croatia)

 

 

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