Coming back to the United States after a sojourn abroad, one is put in the position of a Rip Van Winkle who wakes up not to find everything changed but to find everything exactly the same. The experience is a saddening one, and it raises serious questions about America's ability to cope with changing world realities.
For the last two years I, along with many other Americans abroad, have had this experience. Last year at this time I had just returned from more than a year as an exchange student in West Germany and was trying to adjust to the fact that conditions in the US had not changed quite as much as I had. This year my stay abroad was a shorter one spent traveling around Greece, but the experience was much the same. One comes home feeling that things should have changed and is disappointed to find that they have not.
When I arrived at John F. Kennedy airport this time, the first thing I did was pick up a newspaper to find out what I had missed in my month away. I found, of course, that I hadn't missed anything, and that I could pick up with national news exactly where I had left off.
President Reagan was still saying more or less the same things about everything that he had been saying the month before, the economy was still in rotten shape, the rhetoric of the Democrats was still barely distinguishable from that of the Republicans, and our negotiators at the Geneva talks on strategic arms reductions were still getting us nowhere. While in the rest of the world governments (among them that in West Germany) were falling and rising, here the only halfway lively discussion centered on whether or not President Reagan was too moderate for his far-right-wing constituents.
An American friend of mine had, like me, spent a year in Germany and been duly impressed by the intense political ferment there and the debate between young and old, conservative and socialist, on the basic outlines of the country's and the world's future. She too had been filled with a sense of urgency and activity - a sense that there is not much time left to solve some of the world's basic problems, and that we not only must do something now, we can do something now.