‘Why would Norwegians want to come to America today, except as aid workers?’


In the aftermath of the dispiriting September 29 slugfest on US television – it was neither presidential nor a debate – British journalist Simon Kuper’s lament for America is worth a careful read. Not just for what he said – “European attitudes to Americans are shifting from envy to compassion” – but his analysis of the change. (Click here to read the piece, if you can. It is, unfortunately, behind the Financial Times’s paywall but you’ll hopefully find the gist below.)

The change, Mr Kuper suggests, has been a long time coming.

He examines the glorious 1980s, when, aged 10, he moved with his family to Palo Alto, California, for a year. Everything was golden and the American promise – the pursuit of happiness – seemed to stretch interminably into the future.

In 1993, Mr Kuper enjoyed a fabulous year at an American university. He met “a Briton with a working-class London accent who had found happiness in Boston, a city where nobody cared to locate him on the class ladder.” To that British transplant to America (as well as to Mr Kuper) “the US was a place where Europeans could reinvent themselves.”

Then in 2004, Mr Kuper married an American. Interestingly, he withstood her badgering to apply for a green card, noting that “American life was losing appeal.”

One of the clearest indicators of the change was a chance 2009 encounter with a Palestinian in the Gulf, who “was sending money to a relative in California bankrupted by the financial crisis.”

That change – in America and how the world sees it – is exemplified, Mr Kuper writes, in multiple realities. Average US hourly earnings today are about the same as when the Kuper family moved to Palo Alto in 1980. Mr Kuper’s American friends spend their lives worrying about how to pay for healthcare, pay off college debts, support their children’s university education and squirrel away enough to retire.

Accordingly, who would really want to immigrate to the United States today? (Other than Hondurans? On October 1, more than 3,000 US-bound Hondurans crossed into Guatemala as part of a caravan.)

But, few Europeans would want to come to America today – for good – Mr Kuper says. For all that Donald Trump wants more immigrants “from places like Norway”, Mr Kuper suggests  there’s really no reason to expect that will happen.

“The question is why Norwegians would want to come to America today, except as aid workers,” he writes. “On the contrary, I suspect many Scandinavian-, German- and Irish-Americans are now rootling in the attic for grandpa’s birth certificate.”

It is one of the saddest – but probably truest – parsing of the way the world sees the US today.