When I left the United States for the United Kingdom in 2015, with Black Lives Matter at its height and my book on child victims of gun violence recently completed, some assumed that it was the racism that had pushed me away. But, as I would point out, if it was aggressive policing and racial disadvantage I was seeking to avoid, I would not be heading back to London.
When the UK voted to leave the European Union in June 2016, many Brits then asked if I regretted leaving the States for the xenophobia and isolationism of Brexit Britain. But if it was xenophobia and isolationism I wanted to run away from, I’d point out, I wouldn’t be running toward America.
When the United States elected Donald Trump five months later, American friends told me I was lucky I had left. However bad things were in Britain, they assured me, they couldn’t get any worse than this. Meanwhile, some British doomsayers insisted they had it worse: “Trump will be gone in four years, but Brexit takes us out of the European Union forever.”
The argument about which country is, at present, the most dysfunctional is of course futile, since the answer would render neither any less dysfunctional. Britain set itself an unnecessary question, only then to deliver the wrong answer. Those who led us out of the European Union had no more plans for what leaving would mean than a dog chasing a car has to drive it. Not only do we not know what we want; we have no idea how to get it, even if we did. At a meeting in Davos, Switzerland, in January, British Prime Minister Theresa May kept pushing German Chancellor Angela Merkel: “Make me an offer.” To which Merkel replied, “But you’re leaving—we don’t have to make you an offer. Come on, what do you want?” And May would only repeat, “Make me an offer.”
America, meanwhile, has chosen a brazen bigot and misogynist as the embodiment of its national aspirations. Erratic, egomaniacal, and an embarrassment, he lurches, increasingly isolated, from crisis to crisis. On any given day, any number of things that might normally qualify as a headline scandal—a porn-star spanking, policy U-turns, impetuous tweets—are relegated down the page to make way for even more outrageous transgressions. To dismiss Trump as simply a buffoon would be to disregard the very real consequences of his actions—lives lost, relationships destroyed, treaties broken—and the power he holds. Owing more to the traditions of demagoguery than democracy, he launches wars on all fronts—trade, military, and legal—to bolster his own standing.