“I just wish more Americans had passports”

The title words were spoken by food aficionado and host Anthony Bourdain on a recent episode of his hit CNN show “Parts Unknown.” The episode was set in Vietnam, where Bourdain met and had dinner with then-President Barack Obama, in the final months of his Presidency.


The segment with President Obama starts with his motorcade rolling up to Bourdain in the pouring rain, in a humid, hot, Hanoi. As the Secret Service surrounds the car and begins their typical search for anything out of the ordinary, the crowd begins to swell. As President Obama emerges from the bulletproof limo they all begin to cheer and snap photos with their cell phones, tablets, or whatever they could. While watching this episode recently on a hot, humid day in Iowa at my local gym, I began to think about what exactly I was seeing. A sitting President, visiting a foreign country that had once been at extreme odds with the United States, with crowds cheering and celebrating in the pouring rain. It struck me that this is something we may not see for a long time, given our current political course. Our current President ran on the platform to “Make America Great Again,” which in and of itself isn’t necessarily a bad statement, but it does leave the trailing thought that America isn’t currently great, which it is. Now I know domestic affairs versus foreign affairs are two wholly different topics, but both serve to create a balance that not only makes Americans safe, happy, and taken care of, but also makes the world see the United States in a good light.

As I watched this at the gym, I just couldn’t picture President Trump getting the same reception, even if he were willing to visit Hanoi to have lunch at a hole in the wall place in the pouring rain, and that makes me a bit sad. I believe when people vote for anything they do so from the perspective they have in life. If all you’ve known is your city, or your state, you’re going to vote based on those ideals. You’re going to agree with the person that covers your issues, typically related to your city or state, the most. Inherently, there’s nothing wrong with this. After all, in order to survive, one must look out for his or her self and family first. However, in doing this, without any kind of outside perspective on the greater country, or world, you put yourself in a bubble, and open the doors to blocking those different from you from being able to look out for their own self, or family the way you are.

So let’s think about that quote, about everyone having a passport. I have to admit, that I have only ever been outside of the United States three times, twice to Mexico (Cancun, Tijuana) and once to Canada (Vancouver), but even those trips were just enough to get me thinking outside of our borders a bit, and make me question my own ideals and thoughts. Just based on those small trips alone, especially Vancouver, I wonder what the country, and what our political climate, would be like if everyone had left the USA at least once prior to voting. Would we be more open to immigrants and refugees? Would we consider what the rest of the world was doing, right alongside our wants to fix what needed to be fix inside our borders? Would we have ever even entertained the idea of building a wall? Would our healthcare system be more supportive to those in need? Maybe, maybe not, but I think there’d be much more of a global sense to our nation than there is currently. When people go to the polls now and circle that “R” (or even that “D”), they do so because of what has influenced them to that point in their lives, and if they only influence they have is their town, city, or state, then that tends to be all they care about. We need to care about our towns, cities, and states, but also caring about the world makes you question who and what you are voting for.

So what’s the point of this thought dump here today? To say all Republicans are small-minded townsfolk who know nothing about the world? To say all Democrats only care about the world, and not about their own country? No, neither. It’s to simply reflect on seeing a former President interacting with people of the world in a friendly, excited manner, and think about what it would be like if we all got out a bit and saw the world, saw different viewpoints other than our next door neighbors, saw what America looks like to others. Maybe, just maybe, if we all had that ability, if we all had a passport, we’d not only prove that America is already great by fixing issues locally, but we’d be respected and admired by the world community because we’d all be voting with a frame of reference much bigger than the 500, 1000, 5000 square feet that we live and work in every day.

Bourdain followed the title quote with a sentence that sums up my thoughts perfectly. “The extent to which you can see how other people live seems useful at worst, and incredibly pleasurable and interesting at best.” Useful at worst, this is my overall point in this random mess of thoughts, if it’s at all useful, isn’t it a good idea to do it? I believe wholeheartedly so, and I sincerely hope more people begin to believe in these ideas as well.

As President Obama says in part of his reply, “It confirms the basic truth that people everywhere are pretty much the same,” once you see other people of the world with the same types of issues and concerns you have (or worse), but being able to deal with it in a way that isn’t restrictive, or condescending, or even combative, it makes you realize that the world is a place that has issues the same as we do, and that part of being a global culture isn’t forgoing making your own country “great again,” it’s working together with the world to make your already great country even better by utilizing ideas and methods that you may not have gained had you simply stuck to what you’d know, if you’d never left your home town. The world is a big and scary place, but it’s not all that different. Just because a country may look, or smell different, or have people that look different, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have similar issues and potentially resolutions to issues that we’ve never thought of. So, if you can, get a passport, take a trip. Heck, start by traveling to another state, then try a country, any country, just to see what it feels like to not be in your own element. By seeing how other people of the world resolve their problems and by seeing that they aren’t scary or terrible, you’ll begin to take a look at your own ideals, and maybe even learn a thing or two about yourself.

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