United States: My first trip in five years laced with trepidation as I enter a badly divided country

The United States is as divided as I've ever seen it and I return to it for the first time in five years. I am not looking forward to it.
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Sunday I return to the United States for the first time in five years. Am I overdue? No. I am overdue for a colonoscopy. I’d almost rather do that. I’m going to Moldova and Romania in October. I look forward to that. Same with possibly Ukraine. The U.S? No.

Since the U.S. started circling the drain under Donald Trump, I told people the only events that could get me back would be a high school reunion or a family wedding. My 50th reunion in Eugene, Oregon, is July 20. My nephew’s wedding outside San Luis Obispo, California, is July 20. I am attending only the reunion’s meet ‘n greet in a favorite old tavern, The Paddock (est. 1947), July 19 then catching a 6 a.m. flight the next morning for California.

I have two fears: One, I will walk into “The Pad” and see all my ex-girlfriends, scowling at the door, waiting for me with full beers in hand; two, I will walk into any tavern in the U.S. and see MAGA hats.

I look forward to the reunion, grudges notwithstanding, and the wedding. But I’m returning to a country divided like two groups of soccer hooligans squaring off before a match. 

United States divided

Since we last went to the U.S. for Christmas in 2019 … let’s see. What has happened? Well, a cop in Minneapolis murdered a Black man on video and Republicans defended the cop, Trump pooh-poohed Covid leading tens of thousands of Americans to their deaths, he killed Roe vs. Wade, he instigated a riot on the capitol, he got convicted for falsifying records to cover up hush money paid to a porn star he shtoinked four months after his wife gave birth then saw his fundraising skyrocket, Pres. Biden impersonated an extra in Night of the Living Dead in a debate and we Democrats are scrambling for a possible replacement.

I can picture Biden being dragged by his heels out of the White House, babbling about Delaware’s salt water taffy. If only Trump had left that easily.

South Eugene High Class of ’74

The U.S. is a mess like I’ve never seen it, and I lived through the Vietnam War. That’s coming from me living in a country that has had 69 governments since World War II and whose current prime minister has been slammed for leading a party with fascist roots. 

I’ve been told to brace myself for sticker shock. Don’t expect a glass of wine under $10. Then get ready for the headache three hours later. Car rentals are nearing the price of cruise ships. In New York, where I’m spending two nights on the way over and one night on the way back, the average nightly cost of a hotel has topped $300 for the first time.

But politics is what separates the U.S. from the rest of the world although we’re all suffering from inflation. That isn’t Biden’s fault. I’m trying to figure out how to keep my backpack under eight kilos or ITA Airways will charge me €120 for both Rome-New York legs. ITA: Inflation Through the Arse.

Avoid politics

I told myself, as I did when I visited in 2019, not to discuss politics. Since Hair Hitler’s election in 2016, I have met three Americans in Europe who were Trump supporters. All ended badly. We were yelling nose to nose within 30 seconds.  

Granted, in Eugene and San Luis Obispo you’ll find more hats sporting marijuana leaves than the MAGA label. But a 50-year high school reunion is a melting pot that has been stirred in various locales for the last half century. Who knows if our old star pitcher shows up with a giant American flag draped over his pickup?

In my home country, I already feel threatened. In Rome I feel safe. During Trump’s apocalypse of a presidency, I’d read his rants, his threats, his insults and would take my venom out on faceless readers on Facebook. But then I walked outside in my Monteverde neighborhood and felt like I entered a new world, one in which no one likes Trump nor believes Covid would go away when warm weather arrived.

Italians don’t have the hatred I and my fellow Democrats have. Italians’ big question was always: How in the world did Donald Trump get elected? Now it’s: How in the world does a country with 320 million people not have a candidate better than Trump or Biden? Or resemble Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni and put at least one proper English sentence together?

Current situation

I have no answer. It’s embarrassing. It’s exasperating. It’s confusing. 

All I know is Republicans now have the upper hand. Biden’s debate two weeks ago could not have gone worse if he projectile vomited on the moderators. Now Biden’s one bad night is suddenly worse than Trump’s one bad presidency.

And I don’t want to hear about it.

I’m going to discuss our playoff baseball team from 1974, other people’s kids and, if anyone asks, my new book. I’ll drink cheap beer, eat Pacific salmon and walk along Oregon’s beautiful, wide, unspoiled beaches. 

I’ll laugh with old friends, toast my nephew and go winery hopping in Southern California. I will not campaign for Biden. I will not rant about Trump. This will be a mission in peace.

I will return to Rome with Clif Bars, Excedrin and memories. Then my friends in Rome will ask me, “Was it good to be home?”

I’ll answer, “No. I am home. Rome is home.”