November 7, 2021
Image: Oriol Malet
Last century millions emigrated from Europe to the United States fleeing instability, violence and poverty. Thanks to them, millions can return today. They are lucky to be able to access a Spanish, or Italian, or German, or Polish, or Irish passport. One of the lucky ones is my friend Lenny, a Boston resident with whom I covered the US presidential election a year ago.
Lenny said that if Donald Trump would win he would emigrate to Ireland, the country where his father was born. Now that President Joseph Biden is shipwrecked in the polls, the Democratic Party just this week suffered severe setbacks in state elections and Trump has established himself as a clear favorite to return to the White House in 2025, Lenny is preparing to make the suitcases.
The United States is not Argentina, not yet, but it is a politically unstable country where there is a growing risk of political violence and where too many people live in poverty. The constitutional democracy of Washington, Jefferson and company is in jeopardy. Because it loses legitimacy. A high percentage of the population, all Republicans, insist on believing that Biden came to power after fraudulent elections. A smaller, but not irrelevant, percentage think that the Jan.6 assault on the Capitol to try to reverse the election result and keep Trump as president was a justified action.
Lenny is no red. He has always been a patriot and fervent capitalist who over a long career has worked for big banks and has been a journalist for venerable financial publications. “I must confess – he wrote me in an e-mail a month ago – that hearing normal Americans speak makes me question our democracy … the oceanic scale of their ignorance stuns me … it seems to me that trying to change the situation with words, articles, speeches is like trying to empty the Pacific with a cup of coffee”. This week, after the electoral victories of the party that idolizes the orange god, he wrote to me: “I have an Irish passport in hand.”
Europe has long been a much better place to live than the United States
I say to him: why did you take so long? The Trump phenomenon accelerates disenchantment in thinking people like him, but the truth is that Europe has long been a much better place to live than the United States. If I were an Argentinian with the possibility of choosing between emigrating to the United States or, for example, to Spain, I would not think about it for a second.
A few numbers to start with. It is true that the GDP per capita of an American is twice that of a Spaniard. At first glance the data is devastating, but let’s scratch a bit and we will see that the average is deceiving. One percent of the population owns a grossly huge share of wealth, unimaginable in Europe. If you are a born achiever, if you have talent and energy in abundance, the United States is the place, yes. But for the common of the mortals, or for rich people with a minimum of social sensitivity, no. The inequality is brutal; poverty, unbecoming, and the family shield inherent in Latino culture is a foreign concept. Which explains the heinous crime. The annual death toll from firearms in the US stands at around 20,000; In Spain, as in European countries with a similar population, it does not usually exceed 40.
Then there is access to health. The United States pays more in medical expenses per capita than any other country, but – another index of inequality – ranks number 30 in the world in terms of the quality of its health system, according to international organizations that are dedicated to measuring these things. Spain is in position eight; six European countries are in the top ten. There is no free public health care for everyone in the United States and 26 million Americans do not have private health insurance, so if you break a bone (cost to fix it in the hospital: $ 10,000), it is better to stay at home.
The bad luck factor does not enter the equation. Being out of work in Detroit is infinitely worse than being in Seville. Have a job, too. The quality of life of an average person in the United States, for more money they earn per hour than a Spaniard, is sad in comparison. For the food they eat and the obesity it generates, for the lack of family shelter and for the cult of the Protestant work ethic. Americans do not have the legal right to paid vacation. More than 28 million never have them, and the rest depend on the generosity of those who employ them. Most receive between five and fifteen paid days off per year. In Spain, as in almost all of Europe, they receive thirty.
English journalist Tina Brown, former editor of The New Yorker magazine, recounts in her memoirs what an Italian investor once told her at a meal. “It is easy to turn half a million dollars into three million in the United States. But you know what? I do not want. Because it means raping those poor fucks, the American public, more than they have already been raped. Do you know what the difference is between the European peasant and the American peasant? The American peasant eats shit, wears shit, watches shit on television, looks out the window and sees shit. How can we keep raping them by giving them even more shit to buy? “
The life of an American is sad compared to that of a Spaniard
The only consolation is that the shitty lives of Americans are soon over. Or before those of the Europeans. Thanks to the health system, what they eat, homicides and the stress of their working lives, their life expectancy is 77.3 years, below all European countries. In Spain it is 82.3.
We live much more pleasant lives in Europe. Even Brexiters see it. The conservative English magazine The Spectator proposed an idea to combat Trump fever and convert the electorate to the serene social democracy that Biden proposes: give a passport to the vast majority of Americans who do not have it and give them five weeks of halidays in Europe so that they could see how the average European disposes of his time on Earth. Nice idea. But there would be a danger, or a possible blessing, depending on your point of view. Forget about the instability that Trump fosters. The disappointment could be such that when they returned from Europe they would start a revolution.