Leaving the Land

Back in the day I used to play a lot of Irish music. One of my favorite songs was “leaving the land“, sung by Mary Black:

“Leaving the land, leaving the land. Leaving all I’ve ever had, and everything I am. Leaving the land.”

I’ve been thinking about that tune lately, because I want to know if and when I should leave this land, right here, my home. Seattle.

I don’t mean to be alarmist. But I’ve been fortunate to have traveled a bit, and I’ve been to a pair of countries that were torn apart by failed governments, and one that was just emerging from repression. And two that could go either way.

It Happened There

What was it that alerted some of the German diaspora to pick up and leave? Hindsight being so clear – super easy to second guess those who stayed behind, thinking “this is as bad as it gets, it won’t get any worse”. And yet it did. So there was something that some Germans figured out.

There’s also something to be said for the courage of those who did stay, those who both saw what was happening and were determined to stick around and see if they could prevent it from happening. But they probably saw the same things that led others to leave.

And then there were the significant majority that had far less choice: circumstance, money, education, time. It’s super easy to say that you always have a choice, but choice is easier if you have those things to start.

Of course, that happened before I was born. But when I was a kid, many of the Vietnamese Diaspora settled in California. In the years leading up to and especially after the fall of Hanoi, millions of Vietnamese left their land. Their government had fallen and they left.

But it started much sooner than that, with Independence from France and the rise of a repressive government, religious persecution, and more.

Here, Too – But They Recovered

I’ve also visited the Czech Republic, but back then it was still Czechoslovakia, but barely: The Velvet Resolution had taken place 1n 1989, and I was there 6 months later, the same month that Czechoslovakia held their first democratic elections since 1946.

Jury Is Out

Turkey in 2007 was remarkable for its food, architecture, natural beauty, its welcome. Ten years later, its increasingly autocratic and barely democratic. Ironically, the man who shepherded Turkey through needed economic reforms has become alarmingly authoritarian, with an abrupt consolidation of power.

And Thailand, another country of incredible welcome, natural beauty – also tipping uncomfortably into authoritarianism. Between 2001-2008, Thailand held their most open and corruption free elections in their history. It wasn’t all rosy for Thailand, but when I was there in 2012 it seemed like there was a good chance that Thailand could continue to move towards democratic institutions. A coup in 2014 has dampened that hope.

So. What might I learn from those 5 countries?

I’ll lead with the hopeful: The arc of justice and freedom bends upward. Who would have imagined that Germany would be the anchor of democratic institutions in Europe, that Vietnam would continue to embrace an open economy, and that the Czech Republic would emerge from a repressive government that relied heavily on censorship and fake trials to control its people?

And the less hopeful:

It would be naive to think that “it can’t happen here”.  Our country already suffers from massive income inequality. Add in a bit (okay, a lot) of racism, a growing division between those with more education, money and economic opportunity and those without, and a growing intolerance of anyone that seems “other”.

Leaving This Land

Subversion of our Rule of Law. This is hard, because I don’t mean “just the rules with which I agree”. In short though, it means that every citizen is subject to the law, including lawmakers themselves. This is harder to parse than it appears, especially when you consider that in the history of the United States:

  • Slavery was legal
  • Women couldn’t vote
  • We imprisoned citizens during the 2nd World War
  • People couldn’t marry as they wished

(All of those things contravene our founding documents, but we did them anyway)

So – this sort of goes back to the boiling frog thing. How do I form a fact based opinion on how our rule of law is holding up? Here’s a few things that ladder up:

  1. Any citizen has to register because of race, color, creed, ethnicity, country of origin.
  2. Our judiciary system is subverted: appointments without confirmation hearings, etc.
  3. Our military are deployed within our borders for reasons besides national disaster.
  4. Clear and long lasting legal principles and practice are subverted. For example, allowing a president to serve more than two terms without a Constitutional amendment.
  5. Religious belief becomes the rule of law. For example, mandatory prayer in schools.
  6. Freedom of Information requests are denied en masse. (I’ll note here that President Reagan signed an executive order limiting access to information. President Clinton restored those limits. President George W Bush curtailed access to information and President Obama restored them).
  7. Everything in the Bill of Rights holds, these in particular:
    • The right to peaceably assemble is diluted. This doesn’t mean “I can trash downtown Seattle because I disagree”.  The part in that article that mentions “apply to the Government for redress of grievances” is particularly important.
    • The right to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and so on, and against unreasonable search.
    • The right to a speedy trial. And trial by jury.
  8. I am no longer allowed to make or drink beer. I’m not really being funny here; this is a super concrete example of something that seems annoyingly trivial but might also be an opening salvo in curtailing my rights.
  9. Countries that currently allow me to visit them turn me away due to my citizenship

This seems like a long enough list. And I think it takes only one; no weighting required here, no “three out of nine required”.

-Patrick Shaw

January 16, 2017








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