Patricia a. nugent from ugly to mean vox populi

Travelogues don’t typically interest me. I cringe when I ask someone (just to be polite), “How was your trip?” and they give a blow-by-blow of the sights, activities, and food. I don’t enjoy looking at the dozens of photos returning vacationers scroll through on their phones, as most scenes I could better appreciate in National Geographic.

My trip got off to a sober start. The woman next to me on the plane was headed to Appalachia to help improve housing conditions. “The poor are getting poorer,” she said. “And they have no idea how directly their lives are being affected by our national political landscape.” A grief counselor, she described the linkage between fear and rage, explaining that America is a rageful nation because of the politics of fear.


That dangerous combination makes foreigners afraid to visit, she said, as evidenced by an international conference on death and dying, originally scheduled for Minnesota, being moved across the border to Canada because professionals from around the world didn’t feel safe coming to the U.S.

We didn’t want to throw our country under the bus on foreign soil (only the president can do that without reprisal, apparently), so we sheepishly replied that we couldn’t justify his actions. We felt the shame and the truth of what our driver had said. Why is Trump alienating our allies? Perhaps a question best answered by the Special Counsel.

In the Rocky Mountain National Park, we took a bus tour to a Canadian town where you can only live if you work there, due to the environmentally-sensitive location. As the driver explained the logic, an American woman spewed, “Well, that would certainly take care of the immigrant problem!” Clearly more concerned about immigration than the environment, although the latter presents the threat.

Canada has more money to spend on infrastructure because they’re not handcuffed to the military-industrial complex. We saw high speed rail and bike paths, complete streets. There were fences along both sides of the Trans-Canada Highway to protect wildlife from cars and vice versa. There were grassy overpasses and underpasses to help wildlife cross the road without danger. Another travel companion told me he’s been working on creating one in southern California as a corridor connecting mountain ranges for cougars because they’re currently landlocked, leading to inbreeding and poor health. A coalition of environmental groups is raising private funds to buy land, with no financial support from the government. But they still face opposition from those who don’t value the ailing species. “I don’t think it’ll happen in my lifetime,” he lamented.

We stopped at a tourist center where orange t-shirts were on sale, causing me to comment to the clerk that it’s the color adopted by American students to protest school shootings. The young woman with multiple piercings and purple hair walked away without responding. When she returned, she pointedly said, “Your NRA thinks the answer to gun violence is more guns. How does that make sense? I’d worry about sending a child of mine to a school in the States.”

Back on the bus, the driver explained that indigenous people in Canada are called the First Nation, respecting that they were here before Europeans. Although that nomenclature is somewhat controversial because nation doesn’t reflect the natives’ cultural structure, it does validate their pre-eminence. “People should be called what they want to be called,” he declared. “They are decidedly not Indians.”

The bus tour ended in a small town. A gift shop offered neckties of a smiling Canadian prime minister and a screaming U.S. president. (I apologize, but please scroll to the photos I took with my phone.) They also prominently featured Donald Trump toilet paper in the window, which I’ve also seen in the States. The clerk told me it was a brand-new item and quite popular. I understood but felt a little defensive, my own innate sense of nationalism kicking in.

Returning to the airport one week later, we shared a shuttle with another couple. As they exited, they told us to have a good trip. A tear rolled down my face as I wondered how this Middle Eastern couple would have been treated in my country. I heard myself admit to my companion that I wasn’t sure I wanted to return to the United States, to my homeland, the only place I’ve ever lived. Because it doesn’t feel like my country anymore. I recalled a neighbor telling me she bought a house in Mexico and keeps her passport in her car in case she needs to escape. An American who lives in Canada sent me a map of how to sneak into the country in case the borders are suddenly closed. He provided the name and phone number of someone who’d help me across should the Underground Railroad need to be resurrected.

We saw children sleeping in the airport. I was jarred because they resembled immigrant children in the U.S. separated from their parents. But these kids were safe – they were in Canada, with their parents nearby, awaiting their flights. If I’m traumatized by the photographs I’d seen, I can only imagine the trauma of those separated children and parents.

Two days after arriving home to New York State, I learned that a friend is being targeted by a white supremacist. With a Confederate flag on the back of his pick-up, he drives past her home shouting “Nigger” while raising his middle finger. This truck shows up outside the senior citizen center where her 87-year-old mother attends classes, a woman who’d witnessed lynchings in the segregated Deep South in the 1940s. The police say nothing can be done – his actions are not a crime.

From Ugly Americans to Mean Americans. Perhaps we always have been, and the thin veneer has been stripped away because our president has modeled cruelty toward children, women, gays, the disabled, journalists, minorities, immigrants, and Moslems. Our president has modeled cruelty toward the world. Perhaps his face does belong on toilet paper; he’s shitting all over everyone.