“In France, only the very bright can enter programs to prepare them for the graduate schools that act as iron gateways to the elite. In America, we draw our political and economic leadership from everywhere. Yes, there are loans. But there are also chances.
I am deeply aware of our health care problems. I am aware of continued segregation, the racism, the efforts to restrict voting rights. But I still believe that at its core America both recognizes its flaws and struggles to overcome them. “America is great because she is good,” Alexis de Tocqueville is often quoted as saying. “If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”
My friends don’t see it that way. They’re losing hope with each week. But I tell them it’s the best possible time to be in the resistance. Only during times of darkness can you see the stars, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said. The #MeToo movement came out of this darkness. Black Lives Matter came out of this darkness. The press is stronger and better than it has been in decades. There is a real focus on the most marginalized in society, more so than when I left in the 1980s.
I also think about my time working in places like Moscow, Turkey, Syria and Iran. I think about fellow journalists working in Saudi Arabia — our great ally — who are imprisoned and even threatened with execution simply for blogging. I’ve been followed, hacked and barred (from two of those places), but I am still able to write this and travel freely in the United States. So are the people whose views I find repellent.
We have a long way to go. We’ve been badly wounded by the 2017 inauguration, and we are still limping. But I know we can do it, because, having lived outside America for more than half my life, I still see the kind of stuff we Americans are made of.”
Janine di Giovanni is a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, an adjunct professor of human rights at Columbia’s School of International and Public Administration and the author, most recently, of “The Morning They Came for Us: Dispatches from Syria.”
Wonderful op-ed. This is especially for my two children, Daniel and Catherine.
The four freedoms stumped me, but not for long. From Wikipedia:
“The Four Freedoms were goals articulated by United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt on Monday, January 6, 1941. In an address known as the Four Freedoms speech (technically the 1941 State of the Union address), he proposed four fundamental freedoms that people “everywhere in the world” ought to enjoy: Freedom of speech, Freedom of worship, Freedom from want, and Freedom from fear.”
Here are two comments I endorsed. Be sure to check out the second one my Janine di Giovanni herself.
A lovely piece, this.
The longest I ever lived “abroad” was 2 months in London, doing an academic project. This was during the Vietnam war.
Much of what Ms. Giovanni says echos what I experienced there, both in the reaction of others–who assumed some of my personal traits were group characteristics–but also what I discovered in myself, that I am much more American than I had ever suspected.
I discovered the Brits are not just Americans who talk funny–we are very different in everything from our expectations about what life should have to offer, our expectations that we will progress and do better than our parents, our attitudes about race and class and religion but most of all our attitudes toward authority.
America is that bad boy you married because you could not see yourself living with the boring “right” boy. He’ll drive you crazy, disappoint you, anger you, exasperate you, but you know he’s under your skin and you could never really live, long term, with anyone else.
Hello Sandra Helena
While I honor your opinion, I have to correct you. First of all, I do not come from the elite world you describe. Second, on health care, I wrote several paragraphs about this which got cut – there is a 1500 word limit – about my own deep disappointment with the US health care and the strength of the French (and other European) health care systems. My two elder brothers both died from lack of health care in the US and were treated in the most horrific and shameful way because they had Medicare. At the moment, I can’t afford health care either – so I am one of the majority of Americans who is suffering from lack of coverage. I have NEVER dismissed the health care I received in Europe. On education – that is another issue.
I find your swift judgements of my life here in the US “as comfortable privileged” here in the US also unfair. You know nothing about where I live, how I live or how I struggle. While I take what you write on board, I think you should read it again to see that I do understand how deeply wounded this country is. Best of luck, JDG