Accidental Diplomats

Graffiti reading "Smash Nazism" on a concrete wall.
Graffiti, Athens, with permission from the author, James A. Rives

Politics at the Kafeneíon. The table started with three voices and grew to fourteen, a loose confederation of Greek, French, Australian, German, and American. We discussed the world’s backslide into panicky jingoism rather than tackling the lunatic mythology of late-stage capitalism. As an American, I felt an acute strain of the familiar sensation of being mortified by my country, the urge to apologize to everybody in advance. Some said this rise in nationalism was a blip, a minor rip in the fabric of democracy which could be easily mended. I stayed quiet and envied their optimism.

I spent a good deal of the 80s and 90s wandering the globe. A left coast American, I was continually asked about Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II. I heard less of this during the Clinton years though I do remember a nice Austrian woman asking me if we did not have dry cleaning in the US.

It’s that time abroad answering for Republican politics — a topic I was utterly unqualified to comment upon — that made this piece resonate for me. It wasn’t my job. And yet.

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