Not Your Typical American Holiday

In the days following the GOP National Convention President Obama commented on the tone of the Trump messaging, stating “the idea that America is somehow on the verge of collapse, this vision of violence and chaos everywhere, doesn’t jive with the experience of most people…the fears that were expressed throughout the week just don’t jive with the facts….” Having just returned from a vacation in the States, driving from New York to Georgia and back again,  I agree wholeheartedly with the President.

Initially, I was invited to attend a retirement party in Georgia of a former university professor, however I thought by making the long drive it would give me the chance to witness for myself what was taking place south of my border. Admittedly, I had some reservations as I planned my route through 10 states lodging in campgrounds, hotels and with friends in Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Ohio.  This wasn’t my first trip to the USA, rather about my 30th, but unlike others I wanted to learn what was on the minds of everyday Americans.

I didn’t just slip into the country rather as I moved through the Customs line, having scanned my NEXUS card, I was asked numerous questions by the US Board Officer before being accepted into the country. The idea that the American border control is broken was not my experience that day or any time prior when I visited. I wondered if this experience of scrutiny would repeat itself throughout my trip with the recent events that have unfolded in the country. I was pleasantly surprised along the way it was far less suspect and much more welcoming than I could have ever imagined.

My first overnight stop took me to a Pennsylvania campground where I sat by the pool for hours talking to numerous people about business, the Dallas shooting, Nice and the political primaries. As a self-proclaimed US election junky I could hold my own in the conversation and share my Canadian perspective on current events. At no time did I feel or hear a panic about a collapsing economy or about a country in chaos, rather I learned about compassion for the families affected by recent tragedy, a need to improve race relations and institute gun reform. These were thoughts from charitable people grappling with and if their government was willing to lead the change.

The one conversation that resonated with me was with Bob. He spoke about his fears of Muslims, his concern of illegal Mexicans taking American jobs and why he was an unregistered voter. As we drilled down on these issues, I learned he had a greater fear of being selected for jury duty if he registered as a voter than his fear of any attack on Americans or for his job prospects.  His rationale not to exercise his civic duty certainly took me by surprise!

As I made my way through Virginia, North and South Carolina I was met with friendly, helpful people. I witnessed police talking with local shop owners, handing out tickets and responding to the few traffic accidents on the highways. Where was the chaos or the red alert in the towns and cities? It wasn’t there, rather people going about their daily lives, being pleasant to one and another and helpful to this sometimes lost tourist. Perhaps I should have not been swayed by the media and political hype, while they (reporters and pundits) dissect the shootings of the Baton Rouge police officers, the nation-wide Black Lives Matter demonstrations, the Florida hospital shooting and the divisive political discourse of the day.

My three-night stay in Georgia was reflective of my two-day drive to the state. I met people who are engaged in community development, mission work at home and abroad, arts and culture and education. These were people truly making a difference in their professions, giving back to their communities and acutely aware that the events at home and around the world have become the unwelcome, new normal. There was a heightened concern for the outdated US gun control laws and a need to bridge the divide in their country and around the world, however in a sobering, thoughtful way, not one of uncontrolled fear or panic.

The ‘idea that America is somehow on the verge of collapse, the[is] vision of violence and chaos everywhere’ was far from my experience and echoed in the opinions expressed by  the many Americans during my 7-day adventure.

After departing middle Georgia I passed through Atlanta and onto Tennessee. Of course the people were as friendly and accommodating as others I met along the way. Settled at a campground in the hills the conversations were not dissimilar than in the other states. The GOP Convention was just kicking off that day and the news of Baton Rouge was still fresh on everyone’s mind. It wasn’t long until the discussions move from vacation and jobs to religion and politics. In spite of the strong political national and world views there was a real curiosity about Canada, our politics (Trudeau admiration), the kind of Toronto I live in and why Canadians say ‘sorry’ so much. We compared economies, education, healthcare, gun laws and immigration. The dozen or so people I talked with (until the sun went down) were genuinely interested in affairs outside the US without a hint of America first sentiment.

I wish I could have stayed in Tennessee longer, however I had to push on with my drive through Ohio and onto Canada. The trip was more than I imagined and I was pleasantly surprised that the political posturing and rhetoric was not matching up with my experience, rather I learned that the Americans I met along the way are charitable and welcoming, concerned about the human rights of others, disturbed by the elevated crime rates and the lack of gun control. I especially appreciated the shared view that there needs to be profound, bold and collaborative leadership at all levels to resolve the issues at home and abroad.

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