Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Another country:
Michael Luick-Thrams’ declaration of independence

CALL HIM ÉMIGRÉ: About a year ago, Michael Luick-Thrams, a Minnesota author, historian, and public speaker, said goodbye to the United States of America, for good.

This was no rash decision, nor was it something done by a man with no options, at the end of his rope. Luick-Thrams, now 49, walked away from a successful mobile museum program and an alternative farming colony in the Midwest, a home in St. Paul and his mother and two siblings, to take up a new life as a teacher in southwestern Germany.

By telephone recently, Alan Nothnagle, a Berlin-based freelance writer, interviewed Luick-Thrams for Open Salon, trying to understand “what could have moved him to take a step that many other Americans celebrating this holiday over beer and fireworks would regard as unthinkable: Declaring his own independence from the Land of the Free.”

Below, excerpts of the credo of a man for whom the salt of life in the United States has lost its savor:

Independence Day is coming up. What was the actual cause or motivation that compelled your own personal declaration of independence from the United States?

It’s a belief that we no longer live in the same country as before 9/11. I’m not at all pleased about the changes we’ve seen since then. I think that in many ways we have become the things we claim to hate: We hate terrorism and we hate indiscriminate violence. Unfortunately, over the past ten years we have been consistently practicing just that. Invading countries, kicking in the doors of innocent people. We know that soldiers acting in our name have raped and tortured. I thought at first that hopefully this would pass. But it keeps going on. We’ve had ten years of war, and I suspect that if we had the money we would wage even more war elsewhere. It has become a way of life.

I don’t like the way the country is going domestically, either. I’m very conscious of the development in Wisconsin, stripping workers of collective bargaining rights. At some point I decided I’d had enough. I’m not going to pay taxes to subsidize this madness. I’m not going to devote part of my income to building guns and tanks and fighter jets, paying to place soldiers abroad to rape people, to kill and terrorize them. I’m not going to be a part of that. ...

One common argument you may have heard from your critics is “what if everybody did it?” Do you think everybody who feels like you do should leave the U.S.? Or is this a very personal step for you?

Everyone will have to make his or her own decision. I made mine after very, very long and studied deliberation, weighing all the options and asking myself some extremely hard questions. But I think we have a fascist climate in the United States. We should stop pretending we’re a democracy. Most people have very little influence on their elected officials. So, what if everyone left? Well, that would certainly be sending a message, wouldn’t it now? The educated class should leave. What would that say to the people left behind pulling the strings? I had to leave because I could no longer stomach the nasty things I saw going on all around me. Not just the politics, but the way the political situation mirrors the kind of people we are becoming. The values we are adopting, our disengagement from one another, a deteriorating culture. Europe isn’t perfect, but in America there is simply no counterweight to mitigate all these developments. ...

Despite all of this, is there anything you miss about America?

I miss my family. I miss my friends. I miss Mexican food. I miss the Midwest.

You don’t miss freedom?

I don’t think America is as free as Germany is. Freedom is the ability to make choices, to get your needs met. Look at the situation in America – the unemployment, the unaffordable college tuition, the unresponsive government. How can you be free if you can’t choose? There is freedom of speech in theory, but it doesn’t mean much if people don’t use it. The country has been shanghaied by moneyed interests. Where are “We the people”? Where is the outrage? I don’t want to live in a country where most people are passive and just muddle through. ...

You can read the full interview at Open Salon.
Image credits: Open Salon logo: © 2012 Salon. Flag image: Jasper Johns, "Moratorium" (1969) © Jasper Johns.

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