Yesterday I spent an hour at the US Embassy here in Singapore. I am requesting their help replacing a lost social security card. Where mine went in the decades that have passed since I last saw it I do not know. But I need a replacement for some tax documents. While I was in the embassy, I overheard a man forfeiting his US Citizenship. I was fascinated.
The embassy here is a strange looking fortress on a hill. Its intimidating design reminds the viewer of medieval castles. Among Singapore’s shiny adolescent buildings it is completely out of place. The building’s exterior properly advertises the security throughout. Doors that seem to carry man-crushing mass swing slowly open for visitors. Multi-inch, bulletproof glass separates the staff from visitors. That glass was responsible for me overhearing the conversation I am about to relate.
To allow visitors to talk with staff, the embassy building contains personal address systems mounted outside each stall. The volume of these PAs is set to “oldie” so any hard-of-hearing octogenarians will surely wince from the ear pain. This means everyone in the embassy is hearing half the conversation of every visitor.
While I waited in the lobby I was hearing the civil servant’s questions and statements. They went more or less like this:
“Are you sure you want to forfeit your citizenship?”
“Are you aware of the implications of losing your citizenship?”
“Have you properly thought through this action?”
“This process will take six months. We need to send the application back to Washington and have them review it.”
“Are you sure you want to go through with this?”
I hate to pry into someone’s personal life. But I have whimsically considered returning my passport and surviving only on my Irish citizenship. I most seriously pondered this in early April after sending a huge amount of my Singapore income back to Uncle Sam. But in the end I like being an American and want the option of stepping back into the states to resume my former life. Listening to half a conversation, I wondered what was motivating the gentleman to give up his citizenship.
So, I asked him.
While he was cautious at first, he eventually opened up. As he opened up more, he hinted at how bothered he was that other people could hear this conversation. Maybe this was a decision he would rather the world not know.
This guy–whose name I never learned–also holds an Australian passport. He was born in Australia and was naturalized American after marrying a US citizen. He lived in many places in the states but spent most of his life in San Diego. If you know anything about the politics of that region, you may guess what next came out of his mouth.
This guy was and surely remains irate at the US government. He quickly suggested that Obama was worse than Hitler. He followed with an assurance that the US government would fall from its fiscal irresponsibility. His hate for our decisions to enter multiple wars was clear. But, his political color shined when he said that those mistakes were Washingtonian ignorance and conceit while the current problems were Obama’s fault.
At one point I was called up to submit one of the documents for my SSN card replacement request. I engaged the attendant–her comments to me blaring across the waiting room–for no more than a minute. When I turned around, the soon-to-be ex-American was gone. Not that I would have stayed in touch with him if given the opportunity.
De-citizenship is an interesting proposition for a man with two passports. The US of the last two decades has been incapable of avoiding colossal fuck-ups. Bush’s two wars set the beginning of the end. The financial deregulations from Reagan through Clinton nearly destroyed us in 2008. And the budget decisions the Obama democrats made in 2010 may have created debt that America will never climb its way out of. There would be something liberating in washing ones hands of this mess and moving on.
But, as I said above, I like being an American. For good or bad, America still has a lot of awesome things to be proud of:
A lot to type for now. But I’m glad to took the time to express these thoughts.