I had been planning for many years to retire to Spain — a country of Paleolithic cave paintings, Roman ruins and Baroque churches.
The 2016 election of Donald Trump, however, accelerated my retirement plans. The sheer embarrassment of living in a country that chose this bombastic, narcissistic, buffoon as its leader was enough for me to start jumping through the many hoops put in the way of non-E.U. citizens obtaining a residency visa.
To be sure, my “love-it-or-leave-it” form of resistance to Trump has as much to do with the quality of life living in Spain affords — and is affordable — as it does to “alternate facts” and the undermining of rational discourse in the U.S. As a recently retired teacher of modest means, I nonetheless can afford to live quite comfortably in a vibrant, culturally rich urban center.
Of course, everything is not perfect in Spain. As an advanced capitalistic economy, it faces the same problems of economic inequality and poverty that we see in the U.S. However, like the rest of Europe, Spain has adopted a socialistic model in prioritizing governmental spending, and it provides social services and a social safety net most Americans would envy if they could overcome their myopic exceptionalism to look at how other advanced societies are organized.
Rather than cite statics about quality health care in Spain (which the World Health Organization ranks as 7th best in the world, with the U.S. at 37th) or affordable university education, I would just note that in my adopted Spanish town of Oviedo — acclaimed as one of the cleanest cities in Europe — a bevy of street-sweeping machines come by thrice a day, keeping the streets sparkling.
So how is Oviedo — a city much less wealthy than most U.S. communities — able to afford such extravagant, almost obsessive, street cleaning? At least part of the answer lies in the American “industrial-military complex” Eisenhower warned us about in 1961.
The United States has plenty of money, but its lobbyist-run government spends a disproportionate amount of that wealth on the largest military force ever amassed on the planet. The figures are well known but rarely discussed in American political debates. The 2016 U.S. military budget of $611.2 billion dwarfed what the rest of the world spent on its defense, being more than the military spending of China ($215.7 billion), Russia ($69.2 billion), Saudi Arabia ($63.7 billion), India ($55.9 billion), France ($55.7 billion), the United Kingdom ($48.3 billion), Japan ($46.1 billion) and Germany ($41.1 billion) combined. The U.S., with 4.4 percent of the earth’s population, accounts for 36 percent of the world’s total defense spending. Spain, in contrast, spent $14.9 billion on its military in 2016 — 1.2 percent of its GDP, or $320 per capita.
But the fact that the U.S. expends 2 percent more of its GDP, or some $1,500 per person, than Spain is not the full story of why I have fled my native country. The U.S. has become increasingly militaristic in recent decades, with some 800 military bases in 70 foreign countries — in contrast to the 30 countries that have bases from the combined foreign deployments of Russia, France and the U.K.
The role of the U.S. as the world’s policeman is, of course, nothing new, having been espoused as early as 1904 by Teddy Roosevelt. What is new is that the U.S. has become the sole global super-power. With a government largely controlled by the military-industrial complex, continual war has become the new norm. Business is the national interest of the United States; and the one of the main business of the U.S. is making and selling weapons of destruction.
It seems to me the U.S. is increasingly acting like the evil empire of Star Wars. Militarism pervades gun-loving American culture. And now, the U.S. commander-in-chief, with a compliant Republican Party, has pushed through dramatic, deficit-busting, increases in military spending (up $80 billion this year and $85 billion next year, in contrast to raises of $63 billion and $68 billion in discretionary domestic spending).
I know that the vast majority of people in the United States — just like the vast majority of all people on the planet — are decent folk who try their best to live good lives in accordance with their moral values. My conundrum is what to do when you come to believe that your country is being governed by a structure that is fundamentally misguided. One reaction would be put your head down and try to ignore it. Another, more noble approach — one taken by many of my friends — would be to stand up and try to effect a change.
And then there is the path of resistance that I have elected to take. Like a reverse-pilgrim, I have gone eastward across the Atlantic Ocean to flee a hostile government and its increasingly polarized, angry citizen body.
And although the streets of my new city may not be paved in gold, they certainly are very clean.