Thursday, December 10, 2015

Living Abroad Gives You Perspective

One of the best things that I think that my wife and I ever did was move abroad for six years.  No, it wasn't necessary to be gone for six years, but living outside the United States, particularly in a developing country really can open your eyes.

Our family moved from the U.S. to Thailand in 2007.  In the U.S., President Bush was in office, having won a close, but largely uncontroversial election in 2004 against Senator John Kerry.  In 2008, President Obama won the presidency in decisive fashion, and was re-elcted in 2012 in a moderately less decisive fashion.  Each election was followed by a peaceful transition or resumption of power.  The same constitution ruled the land during the entire time.

Our new home in Thailand offered a different government experience.  A year before we arrive, in 2006, the civilian government overthrew the elected government.  In 2014, a year after we left, another military coup displaced the democratically elected government.

While our time in Thailand was sandwiched between two military coups, it was hardly a stable government.  In addition the Prime Ministers overthrown by coups, two other prime ministers were deposed by court rulings.  One was displaced because he hosted a weekly cooking shown on cable television, and another on abuse of power charges.  A third Prime Minister lost power from special elections precipitated by protests, both peaceful and violent.  At different points in Thailand's political infighting, both airports and parliament buildings were occupied and shut down.  Bangkok's major shopping center was shut down due to protests for months.  A general supporting protestors was shot by a sniper while surrounded by the press.

Just because we are more stable than Thailand does not make our system perfect.  It doesn't mean that we cannot find areas to improve.  What it does tell me, however, is that we should put things in perspective.  The political chasms that we see as so great only appear so because of how far we have progressed.  We can do better, but we do a grave injustice to those who have come before us by discounting where we are today.

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