Sit down and pop open a cold one, everybody else is. DON’T! put it down on the wooden tabletop, grab that coaster you used to use to travel with, and place it under the bottle. The blue coaster with the eagle on the front.
Americans and other citizens of rich democracies have long taken our travel advantages as rights for granted.
Gradually in the post-cold war era, particularly in the last 20 years, more and more countries chasing tourist dollars have liberalized their respective visa regimes. Vast areas of the Middle East, Europe, and Australasia have opened their doors to Americans on short, non-working visits whereby (pre-pandemic) all one needed to visit was a few dollars and an American passport.
No more standing outside embassies, bank statements, and air tickets in hand with long forms and photos like the old days for us! That’s globalization – we thought.
It is the same for many other countries at the top of the Henley passport power list.
The Henley list is a ranking of the “power” of a passport – in other words, how many countries a citizen can visit without a visa: just show up dressed as you are.
The USA was never first on the list, usually, that’s Japan, Scandinavia, Australia/NZ, but if your nationality is anywhere in the top 20 of the world’s 190 nationalities you can easily visit most places you’d want to go.
Our shockingly spectacular incompetent response to the pandemic has left us, leprous pariahs, when it comes to global travel.
There must be a few chuckles of schadenfreude at our decline in fortunes in Pakistan, North Korea and Lebanon: their passports being at the bottom of the Henley list – countries whose citizens might find it more convenient to invade than visit rich, picky countries like our own.
Media in many countries obsess over the power or uselessness of their passports: how they move up or down in the Henley rankings. The list has been the best marketing idea by a law firm ever and a canny move since Henley & Partners make their money advising second nationality buyers.
Citizens of, say, a Bangladesh or a Sudan must line up outside embassies, sometimes for days clutching a collection of supporting documents to basically prove when they visit Disneyland or Paris or Sydney they won’t stay on, all unwelcome-like, or work illegally.
Even still, with all that hassle and expense, often over half of the foreign visa applicants intending to visit the USA are denied. For denizens of poor countries, the majority of humans, travel is only for the elites. To visit the rich world outsiders must prove they’re wealthy and have solid connections at home like family, property or a business, plus a damn fine reason for visiting. Or it’s “No visa for you!”
It’s worth thinking about in the frame of the global North/South context as we’re all unwelcome now, particularly Americans.
That’ll change, after the pandemic things will go back to normal and we Americans will get our wings back but it is an object lesson for us in the lucky fortune we’ve had, well, until now.
There are a lot of things we take for granted as we gripe about being denied baseball, bars or Broadway plays.
To make a list: We take for granted indoor plumbing and toilets, decent, free education by literate teachers, worst case medical care, police protection, police protections without bribes, the vote*, unlimited entertainment via a fire hose of internet, regular cheap, safe, inspected food*, vaccinations*, at least minimal housing* and sometimes a respectable unemployment allowance and old age pension.
We also take for granted an uninterrupted, unlimited supply of safe drinking water and electricity. Much of the world doesn’t have what we have. This includes personal space – America’s “housing crisis” looks quaint when you consider entire extended families living in one or two rooms in many countries, often in waterless tin shacks.
For about two billion citizens of countries as diverse as Venezuela, Nepal, Malawi, Algeria the above are realities and their passports are worth less than animal fertilizer at airports. Try visiting… well… anywhere as a citizen of Lebanon.
Make no mistake – we are in this temporary pickle because of a confluence of stupid citizens (not wearing masks thanks to a deranged idea of personal “fridumb”) and more so: an incompetent Trump-shaped president.
Countries like (in order of effectiveness) Taiwan, New Zealand, South Korea, Australia, Vietnam, Japan, Canada and Germany squashed their curves and have handled the situation – in the case of Korea – one hundred times (!) better than us by number of deaths.
If the world was a classroom it is the students from the above countries who are sitting at the front of the class, taking notes and passing this terrible epidemiological exam.
Populist right countries like Brazil, Russia, India, Byelorussia and the UK have done badly (“F-”) and – being NUMBER ONE the USA is the fat kid sitting at the back and bottom of the class, tipping back on his chair throwing spitballs and goofing off – a global dropout, an embarrassment. Nearly makes you “sick of winning” as we were promised, right?
It is a nasty way for bad students like us to learn but COVID should teach us the value of listening to scientists rather than narcissistic blowhards, some lessons of public health and how to finance the only civilized way of administering health care: universally.
And as we get our travel rights back and we mop off the beer on our “passport coasters” and go on vacation let’s spare a thought for those in less fortunate countries who never had those privileges before and many never will.
And, by our vote in November, ensure that we’re sitting at the front of the class.
*By our own stupidity (anti-vaxxers) or the Republican Party’s much-heralded “red tape reduction” and “job creators” nonsense these advantages and standard of living indicators may not be around so long.