Opinion

America, we care about you!

OPINION. François Grosjean, professeur honoraire de l'Université de Neuchâtel, s'adresse à ses anciens collègues et amis américains, dans leur langue

François Grosjean specialized in psycholinguistics both at Northeastern University and as a research associate at MIT, in the United States, between 1974 and 1987. He then founded the Language and Speech Processing Laboratory at the University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland, where he is currently a Professor Emeritus. In this piece, he conveys to his colleagues and friends in America what he feels after one year of the current presidency.

François Grosjean a enseigné la psycholinguistique à la Northeastern University ainsi qu'au MIT, aux Etats-Unis, entre 1974 et 1987. Il a ensuite fondé le Laboratoire de traitement du langage et de la parole à l'Université de Neuchâtel dont il est aujourd'hui professeur honoraire. Après une année de présidence Trump, il s'adresse à ses anciens collègues et amis américains, dans leur langue.

The United States has many friends throughout the world but maybe none so close as those of us who lived within its borders for many years before moving on.

This was my family's case at the end of the last century. We worked among you, acculturated to your way of living, discovered many new things, and made wonderful friends. Our children grew up with yours, went to your schools, and took part in your everyday activities. They were no different from those of families who had been there longer.

When we departed after twelve years, with regret, we left part of our hearts with you. But, we have kept in touch with colleagues and friends, whom we go back to visit or who come over to us.

Despite the fact that we now live abroad, your news is still our news, your joys are our joys, and your concerns, our concerns.

We have suffered along with you

In the last twelve months, we have suffered along with you as some of your defining traits are being attacked. Let me address just a few.

I have rarely seen a country so open to others. This is shown, if it needs to be, in a recent Pew Research Center survey which found that openness to people from around the world is essential for two-thirds of Americans. It is a defining characteristic of your nation. And yet, we have seen a travel ban enforced on people from a number of countries, and a project proposed to build a physical wall along your southern border.

Minorities are suffering once again, as they did for so long

You also cherish racial and ethnic diversity. Another Pew Research survey shows that a majority of the population (64%) feels that an increasing number of people of different races and ethnicities makes the US a better place to live in. And yet the views and actions of extreme nationalists are starting to be openly defended by the very highest echelons of your Administration. In addition, minorities are suffering once again, as they did for so long (see, for example, how Native Americans were insulted in a ceremony honoring Navajo Code Talkers, not to mention immigrants from Haiti and some nations in Africa).

You nurture your children and do all you can to give them every chance to succeed in life. And yet, the Dreamers program has been repealed and there is no guarantee that the 800 000 young people concerned might not have to leave your country, which is in fact also their country. Many arrived as infants, went to your schools, then moved into jobs, and often do not speak a language other than English.

We are witnessing cracks in the fabric of your nation

You respect those who serve your nation, notably the military. And yet, a ban on transgender military service members has been envisaged, existing war heroes are attacked verbally, and parents of dead soldiers are shown disrespect.

Finally, the land of Thoreau and of the National Parks, where people care about the environment they live in, has withdrawn from the Paris Climate Accord, the only country to do so.

There are many other disturbing events that have taken place in the span of twelve months such as denigrating the press and hence attacking the First Amendment (see the "fake news" insult), putting in danger the health benefits of millions of Americans, having an aggressive foreign policy, putting in danger the Middle East peace, etc.

But above all, as reported in the press and through contacts with friends and colleagues in the United States, we are witnessing cracks in the fabric of your nation. There is starting to be a climate of hate and division, more and more people suffer from depression, and some long-standing friendships are breaking up.

Despite all of this

This said, and despite all of this, we remain convinced that the United States will pull through. This is because of its institutions, notably its system of checks and balances, and because of its people with their many qualities (openness, friendliness, fairness, caring for others, and mutual respect).

As your country recovers, those of us who know you so well, and who wish you well, will be with you all the way, and will do what we can to help you along.

This is because we care about you, America!

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