As I write this, I am setting sail from Hong Kong, on the South China Sea, north toward the Taiwan Strait, although who can say for sure? A couple of weeks ago, our mighty government misplaced several ships, including the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, vessels that President Trump said were heading toward the Korean Peninsula in a show of force. Turns out this virtual “armada” was only in Trump’s fantasies, while in real time the ships were thousands of miles south, heading to friendly maneuvers with Australia.
Given these facts, why should I trust a small-time commercial cruise line that promises to carry us from Hong Kong to Shanghai and then to Japan? And provide us with hors d’oeuvres along the way?
Once upon a time, we Americans sallied forth for enlightenment and adventure, tramping and cruising and flying around the world in relative safety. Millions of us have been happy ambassadors of democracy and freedom, notwithstanding the occasional Ugly American. We just like to travel.
A year ago, when we first planned this trip, it seemed as if we were heading to the absolute safest part of the world. The governments are stable in China, Taiwan and Japan; the hygiene is excellent; the food is safe to eat; the economies are good; and the people find us likable enough. Also, the dollar has been strong.
Then the Donald got elected, and he placed his dainty finger on the delicate scales that balance international relations and help keep thousands of missiles in their silos. Suddenly, sabers are rattling. Kim.3 is threatening nuclear annihilation of the West, and the Donald is talking out loud about armadas. Our president muttered last week that the dollar is “too strong,” not realizing that when the president of the United States says stuff like that, folks get nervous. They figure he’s about to put a finger on the scale again.
We will be sailing through the Sea of Japan, just a stone’s throw (make that a nuclear warhead’s) from North Korea. Kim Jong-un launches missiles like we toss baseballs. I mean, we’ll be sailing in waters that the North Koreans, the Japanese, the Taiwanese and the Chinese regularly patrol. They fight over every pimple-sized island. What could go wrong? Just today, as we approach the island of Okinawa, I heard Rachel Maddow broadcast that the Japanese government had warned its citizenry that if North Korea attacked, they would have only a 10-minute warning. And here we are, at ground zero.
Really, it isn’t that I believe we will get caught in the crossfire; it just feels like the wrong time to have left home. I felt something similar after 9/11, when we had to travel (just to California) and it felt as if we were abandoning the mother ship.
During these last months, the news has set our hair on fire. The crazy pronouncements and inconsistencies coming from all the president’s men (and maybe one woman) have generated anxiety. The presidential tweets (an oxymoron?) flow out in a daily rant: Out with immigrants! In with Wall Street players! Down with environmental regulations! Up with nationalistic slogans and xenophobia!
And if Trump summons the discipline to utter one well-thought-out idea, the press gets ecstatic. I read this morning that on Holocaust Remembrance Day he actually uttered something that wasn’t tone-deaf and insensitive. The press was enraptured. The man has set the bar so low that he needs only to remain civil to get rave reviews.
Leaving the U.S., I felt separation anxiety. How could I leave now? I feel a need to know what’s going on, what directives are being issued and which new travel bans might prevent me from returning home. When might I be called upon to scrawl a new sign, join a march or protest another wrong-headed executive order.
In the best of all scenarios, we leave our troubles behind and travel for a week or two with a free mind and a carefree heart. Then there are other scenarios, which aren’t so perfect. Loved ones at home are sick or business is rocky. Still, we plan trips, we pack our bags and we go. But who anticipated the Trump factor?
We did not give in to terrorism abroad; we surely aren’t going to let Trump’s erratic behavior and manic tweets keep us grounded. I want to stay but I have to go. I won’t let my own president make me afraid to travel. But he has changed the travel dynamic. And the things we carry are heavier than ever before.
Copyright © 2017 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.