In defense of the USA: An expat says he hears too many ‘mindless attacks’ on his home country and says expats should appreciate their good fortune

By Richard Rolandson

I asked the editors of CuencaHighLife if I could respond to a recent article criticizing U.S. government policies toward its citizens living abroad. They kindly obliged.Capture guest col

As I thought about it, I realized that what I really wanted to say concerned much more than just one or two more articles about how expats are getting hosed over by the U.S. government. The issue that strikes closer to home for me is the disdain and outright hatred that many expats seem to feel toward their country.

chl patriotI can ignore the more imbecilic complaints, like the one that Barack Obama, George Bush and the European Union are about to launch a one-world government, or that the U.S. is about to impose a lock-down on all its citizens, or that the U.S. sprays its citizens with sedatives, antibiotics, and pesticides from airplanes.

What bothers me more are the less dramatic comments from reasonable seeming gringos for their reasons for leaving the U.S. and moving to Ecuador. Some common ones are: The U.S. is becoming a police state. Taxes are transferring our money to illegal immigrants. The government is allowing poisons into the food supply. Obama care has turned the U.S. into a communist state. The CIA is tracking U.S. expats to the end of the earth. The IRS has turned the U.S. into a fascist dictatorship. I could go on.

When I hear this, I want to ask the complainers: Do you really have any idea of what it was like to live in Stalinist Russia or Nazi Germany? Or China or Venezuela today? Or have you experienced a famine and watched your children die in North Africa?

The U.S. citizens living in Cuenca are here because of the fabulous advantages we received as a birthright. Most of us had good educations and good careers that allowed us the financial wherewithal to leave home and move to another country. All we have to do it look around the world at the poverty, hunger and political conflict to realize our amazing fortune. None of us are refugees. We left by our own free will and most of us can go back to the U.S. by our own free will.

It doesn’t matter what we think about Barack Obama or George Bush. These guys come and go and years of observation has taught me that not much changes when they do. What I am talking about is appreciating what our homeland has given us, and appreciating the vision, dedication and hard work of the people who created it. And yes, also appreciating those who have given their lives for it.

I’m no drum-beating patriot and I have serious beefs with my country. When I was wounded in Vietnam in 1971, I was already questioning my country’s mission there and, after I was sent home, I became an opponent of the war. And I haven’t supported any of my country’s wars since them. However, the fact that my country has made mistakes, some of them pretty bad ones, does not change my mind that I come from a great country that has been forged by remarkable people.

Which brings me, kind of by the back door, to the article posted last week on this website that I objected to. It suggested that the U.S. government, with new overseas financial reporting requirements is treating its expats like criminals. Actually, I didn’t disagree with the main point that these requirements have gone too far and are unfair. What bothered me, just like what bothers me about the mindless complaints some of my fellow expats make about their government, was the conspiratorial hysteria that the U.S. government is out to get us and put poor grandmas in prison for not filing an IRS form. Nonsense!

I suggest that U.S. expats reflect on the good fortune that allows them to live in Cuenca, and that allows them to complain openly about their government.

And like my grandfather used to say, “Don’t complain about the food with your mouth full.”


  • Henry

    The loss of privacy is in an advanced stage in the United States, but it is a global phenomenon driven by technology that will have everybody on the planet surveilled 24/7 sooner than you think. Moving to Ecuador won’t help.

  • Dave

    Richard, Thanks so much for this must needed response, I agree with you and I myself get so tired of people bashing the US. The same people that bash the US are the same ones that made hundreds of thousands of dollars in the US and then come here and live so nicely. I was a electrician in the States and had a nice life, I look at the same profession in Ecuador and I am glad I was not an electrician here making 17 dollars a day with not a chance of retiring in another country.

    • Graham Kelly

      Hey I want to make thousands of dollars and live nicely in EC… you make that sound like a bad thing!

  • Jim Baker

    Good article and refreshing to hear. I did not leave my country because I hate it. I love my country and I am proud of her. In fact, I have not “left” my country. I am just a traveler and an informal ambassador. I only want to experience other cultures and to see more of God’s awesome creations.

  • Dear Richard:

    I agree. The U. S. is a great country! And it is not without its faults. But neither is any other country that has ever existed on the face of the earth. And many, many are much worse. When I consider any other country that I would like to have dual citizenship with, the list is very short, and in any event, I would not want to give up my U. S. citizenship – it is a valuable birthright and heritage that I thank God that I have been blessed with. Wherever we find ourselves in life, I submit that the questions that we should be asking ourselves are “What am I doing to make this place better? What am I doing to make myself better?” It is a recipe, I suggest, for contentment and satisfaction.


    David Naccari

  • Graham Kelly

    Well written article! However, sure, people (and leaders of countries) make mistakes. My old English teacher taught me that making mistakes is how we learn, especially when young or inexperienced. But if I continue to make the SAME mistakes, perhaps there is an underlying deeper problem with me. With that in mind, WHEN will the US leaders start actually LEARNING from the mistakes they continually make? (I’m not US bashing here; it appears most leadership from most countries do the same thing)

    I’m impressed with US folks. Indeed, I love the Constitution. But the US politics (and continual mistakes) taught me to keep well AWAY from the so called leaders thoughts and actions. My rule of thumb now is, whatever the country leaders say, expect the complete opposite to happen. And as weird as that sounds, it proves itself just about every time.

    We plan to move to Ecuador soon, from Australia. Looking forward to meeting all the expats and the locals!

  • If your patriotism has it that you must defend your country’s misdeeds proven or unproven, it does beg the question ” What exactly is this super patriot doing outside of his homeland amongst the treasonous rabble?”
    You are not exactly trotting out a litany of facts to back up your beliefs. I might point out, on the subject of the IRS and treating expats as criminals..yes, the IRS, pretty much does it to everyone without due process, but it is fact that the US is about the only country in the world outside of North Korea, that attempts to double tax it’s citizens. We fought a revolution against a belligerent, aggressive, and oppressive gov’t over very similar topics. I would also note on the subject of food, that corporate America is doing it’s best to outlaw everything outside of its aegis through ‘trade treaties’ as well as buying off the political process within the US. Ben Franklin once remarked at the end of the Constitutional Convention that ‘ our union while not perfect will endure until the people themselves are ungovernable, corrupted, and in need of despotic government.’ Personally, I think that day has come…

  • Your points are well taken, but logic seldom trumps emotions. America is swamped with electromagnetic waves (which may affect the nervous system) carrying conflicting information in all media 24 hours a day. Most of it heavy in subliminal psychological operations, for marketing, behavioral adjustment, and ideological conditioning. Then you have places like Fox News that outright fabricate a fantasy land that keeps there viewers in a perpetual dream state. The result of this information overload is an inability to process he data required to arrive at logical conclusions, thus emotions take over. The two weeks we spent in Ecuador were great. I was only back in the states for 2 hours (fighting airport traffic) when my perpetually clenched jaws returned. I haven’t been able to relax them since.

  • Richard

    Criticism is in some peoples nature. There are many people that have a habit of critisizing everything they leave behind. Some burn their bridges about a former employer, some of a former marriage and many talk dirt about the places they use to live. Why do they do this? It is hard to say why people have to trash everything except that they are probably very negative people in their entire lives. Everything that they talk negatively about must have been good at one time or had many good features, but it seems like human nature likes to lean towards the negative. Even when some people leave Ecuador all they can talk about is all the negatives.
    When people get divorced that rarely talk about any nice things. Wasn’t there many years of memorable moments? Wasn’t there some good parts of the original marriage that was the best? Rarely will anything be brought up about an ex that speaks highly of one another.
    The same goes for politics. People will elect someone and be totally in love with them until everything they were looking for does not go their way, then that person is on their most hated list.
    Some people have an inherent nature of being a fare weather friend. Many of these same people are always pessimistic and have a few screws loose. I think some are the same ones that would have a tantrum as kids in the toy or candy store when mommy did not buy them what they wanted. These same people never grew up and still act the same about life.

  • Michael

    Have visited Cuenca multiple times and considered living their. Reading over a couple of years and people I have met have given me a big concern. Are most expats from the U.S. Old people with empty pockets and bitterness in their hearts. I was glad to see your article. It was not a typical positive fantasy article either but balanced. Just wondering are you part of a tiny minority?

  • budha

    Great reply and to the point–the moaners need to try to earn a living in a third world country– its so easy in the U.S.A–Another thing, you hear about Gringos complaining about things being slow/ nobody speaks English etc. hey you want all that??? then go back to where you come from– You have that freedom here- exercise it–I assume all of you are retired– so whats your hurry– “maniana” will be good enough– unless you are in a hurry to get to the happy hunting grounds– then just step off the curb without looking–

  • John G

    If this man does not like the conversation others are having, he can just withdraw from it. Simple. He says many people complain of “imbecilic” problems, well, then, he can ignore their comments. Living in a democracy menas you can say anything you want to within law.

  • Patrick Trussell

    Good article .I too am “politically-correct ” and do not know what is going on around me ! OK , back to the television !

  • Teresa

    I won’t dilute your insights by paraphrasing them in order to agree. Thank you!

  • Bruce Stewart

    Right on Richard! You make good points and I agree with you. Thank you for your service by the way. I doubt that some of those who take issue with us have served as we have. I left Vilcabamba for Cuenca to get away from the ex-pats who spend the day complaining or wallowing in conspiricy rhetoric. I enjoy both the U.S. and Ecuador so feel very fortunate that America gave me opportunity and freedom. Bruce Stewart

  • Richard, thank you for your article. I think you are straight on. I too have been greatly disappointed in my country, and oppose it on many fronts. And while I have yet to become an ex-patriot, I am planning on living abroad in the near future. But to compare the US to Nazi Germany or a police state shows that many Americans are: 1) woefully unappreciative of what they do have and 2) grossly misinformed about the actual dire and despotic conditions under which many others live and have lived, and trivializes their suffering.

    One thing I can state about the US: some cultures are known for their understatement; American culture is becoming known for its hyperbole and, sorry to say, increasingly for its whining. These over-the-top critiques say more about the mentality of the whiners than the actual conditions in the US.

  • I don´t think it is necessary to defend the U.S. from the tin-foil hat wearing, conspiracy-propagating, U.S. hating crowd. They are as irrelevant in Ecuador as they are in the U.S.

  • Mark Zuckerburglar

    I agree with Mr. Rolandson that we American expats should appreciate our good fortune and the opportunities afforded us by living in the United States. There can be no doubt that we have much for which to be thankful. However, I found it difficult to put my finger on exactly what Mr. Rolandson found offensive in remarks he hears from other expats. Is it any criticism whatsoever of U.S. policy/actions voiced by fellow expats, or only comments and viewpoints that he deems “imbecilic”?

    Mr. Rolandson is right to decry anyone who believes that US government officials are “out to get us and put poor grandmas in prison for not filing an IRS form.” However, I have never heard anyone–with a straight face–express concerns about FATCA or FBAR with such hyperbole. I *have* heard and seen in print many knowledgeable people in finance and tax professions vociferously criticize these laws as being counterproductive, misguided, and improperly directed at “little people” while specifically exempting the super-wealthy at whom the law was supposed to be aimed. Is such criticism “imbecilic,” unpatriotic, hateful or just a disdainful, mindless complaint? Or is logical, rational, well-documented criticism of government policy beneficial in shaping the laws of a free society?

    Mr. Rolandson also employs the logical strawman and fallacy of reductio ad Hitlerum in asking, “Do you really have any idea of what it was like to live in Stalinist Russia or Nazi Germany?” In doing so, he fails to acknowledge the failure of a complicit and accepting populace that allowed such monstrous leaders to seize their enabling power incrementally with ever-more invasive and authoritarian laws. How many articles like Mr. Rolandson’s were written in Russia and Germany decrying “disdain” and “mindless complaints” by “imbecilic” citizens who were alarmed by what they saw coming? And how many millions of those who expressed such alarm and disdain fled their homeland to become expats before their governments went completely off the rails?

    Many of the expats Mr. Rolandson chastises chose to leave the United States because of concerns they had about the direction their country was going. If you ask them why, they’ll tell you. If you deem their reasons “imbecilic” or “mindless,” just shake your head and walk away. But please don’t ask them to keep their mouths shut. Virtually every productive and beneficial revolution of thought, belief and politics began with a tiny minority of “mindless imbeciles” expressing their disdain (and sometimes even hate) for the status quo ante.

  • Leslie

    My huband’s work took him all over the world and he particulary liked South America. I liked Spain, so we compromised and moved to Cuenca, Ecuador. We live in a totally Ecuadorian neigborhood, so we don’t come across too many Americans. When we do meet fellow gringos and we discuss reasons for leaving the US, it usually involves loss of privacy, increasingly higher taxes, loss of opportunity for our children and grandchildren, and a continually militarized police force. Why does the rural county we came from, in Maryland, need armoured vehcles and grenade launchers? Since we don’t frequent places popular with the gringo community we don’t hear Americans “trashing” the US. What we do hear when we meet fellow Americans is that they are disillusioned by what is happening in our homeland and concerned about the direction the federal government is taking us. It isn’t un-American to criticize your country. Many of us grew up in the US during the 50s and 60s and Cuenca reminds us of what we had and lost.

  • When the leaders of the USA openly tell us that we must have a continuous war against the muslims, is that a mistake or is that a plan? I love the USA, the people and the land, but they have fallen into a quagmire of fear and hate towards others that I cannot support. Was the fear mongering and war mongering by our leaders a mistake or a plan? Most of the people that I talk to in the USA now would just as soon nuke the middle east and make the problem go away. Really, I hear that a lot! But of course, that is fear talking. Un substantiated fear fed to us by our fearless leaders in Washington. It no longer matters which party our leaders come from. The ballot box is broken.

  • Wolf

    There is nothing wrong with the country. The blame is on the Whitehouse, and in a certain way on the people of the USA, because they voted for their leaders …… If they had anything to say about it anyway. You don’t have to be American to see what is going on there. Just ask anybody educated on this planet.

  • Juanita Ruth One

    There is an old story about a small-town barber who was often asked by potential new residents, “What kind of people live in this town?” He always replied, “What kind of people lived where you came from?”
    A few would answer with positive, glowing descriptions, but most would have a flood of complaints. The barber would always wrap things up by saying, “Well, you’ll probably find the same thing here.” (i.e. If you look for the good, you will find good. If you look for the bad, you’ll find bad!”)

  • Fingers

    While I don’t think that having a mouth full of food should make one complacent as to what is contained in that food, and while I don’t believe that criticizing your government somehow makes you unpatriotic or unappreciative of the privileges Americans enjoy, I also wonder, like you, why the merits of the perceived threats to expats mentioned in a recent article were not discussed in the comments and why the premise of that article was so readily followed by a vitriolic laundry list of government plots and conspiracy theories.

  • Stan Jones

    I am a patriotic American who loves my country, but despises my government for what it is doing to my country. I am a retired military officer and veteran of the Viet Nam war. I have lived and worked in Europe (England and France) and in Iran (under the dictatorship of the Shah). I have traveled the world. I have run for governor of the state of Montana three times and for U.S. Senate twice. I have taught in three universities (UCLA, U of Washington, and Montana State University). I am a Certified Professional Contract Manager. I am a student (some say a scholar) of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution for the United States (including the Bil of Rights). I give you my background so you will know where the following “mindless remarks” come from.

    I am eternally greatful for having the good fortune to be born, raised, and educated in the USA. In deed it was the greatest nation on the face of the earth during the spring and summer of my life. However, during the past 20 – 25 years, the people in our government have betrayed their own citizens. You only need to do a very little research and use your God given reason to know the truth of this statement. The theory behind the words of the Constitution meant for the Federal Government to have severely limited powers — mostly for the DEFENSE of the nation. The federal government was NEVER to have direct contact or power over the people. That was reserved for the States only. What do we have today? Federal interference and domination over every aspect of our lives!

    You are most likely a product of public education in the US. (Incidently, there is no Constitutional authority for the federal government to be involved in education. Where did we get the Department of Education?). If you were educated in the public school system, you are the product of government controlled indoctrination. Again, a very little research and reason will support the truth of this statement. If so you, like the vast majority of Americans, tend to believe that “the government can do very little wrong.” You probably believe (as President Clinton said many times) that “the country and the government are the same thing.” That is pure indoctrination.

    I am trying to limit this comment to general concepts but I am drawn to comment specifically on Obamacare. This one unconstitutional program will destroy America economically. Again, a little research (and a little math) along with a little reason will establish the truth of this statement. You may argue that the Supreme Court has declared Obamacare to be constitutional. Here we are presented with another evolving problem with our government. The Supreme Court is no longer a body of blind justice, but is now a political arm defending most government actions. The court said Obamacare is constitutional because it is a form of tax. What the court failed to say was what type of tax — direct or indirect! Obviously if each person is required to buy insurance it is a DIRECT tax. If a direct tax, the constitution requires it to be allocated to the states according to population (i.e. it cannot be assessed directly to each individual). That makes it unconstitutional. Again, use some analysis and some reason to find the truth.

    In short, there are many, MANY reasons to be critical of our government. It is full of people who have taken an oath to uphold the constitution, yet ignore that oath every day in the practice of their jobs. Their work, daily, reduces the freedoms of the people they espouse to represent. We no longer have government of the people, by the people and for the people. We no longer have free people and free markets — the elements that made most of us old retired expatriates able to live well in Ecuador. We have escaped from a nation compomized by a greedy overreaching government focused on placing ever-increasing control over the people living within (and outside of) its boundaries. I am greatly saddened be this condition. I love America but despise my government. There are choices I can make to live a more free and rewarding winter of my life.

  • Let us be honest. There was a time when the USA was a positive influence in the world, but that time has past. The American heart changed.

    Like most old nations, its governance has become dysfunctional. It certainly is not a democracy, any more than today’s old parliamentary systems are. The USA is now known for the colossal size of its military forces, its constant wars and its huge prison population. It pollutes and takes unconscionably more of the world’s resources than any other country and that gives it no pause whatsoever. Its lifestyle is opulently supported each day by borrowing from poorer nations. Its ruthless “big brother” reach keeps growing through invasive technology and laws like FATCA. It fosters a sense of entitlement in its citizens that makes no sense while it ignores the plight of most of them. Its excessive greed regularly inflicts great pain upon the planet by way of bank failures, financial crises and lopsided invasions.

    Surely there must be a better argument to all this than “other countries would be just as bad.”

  • alex

    People are leaving the US for a variety of reasons, in my opinion, one of them is to get away from individuals such Richard. After working hard for decades for a much deserved pension that goes nowhere in the US, he wants us to grovel in appreciation. Decent humanity is sickened by wars, subversions, overthrows, drone strikes, assassinations, that the US carries out globally. What an enlightened person you are Richard that you turned away from the Vietnam War. Was it the millionth person we slaughtered that finally changed your opinion? The three millionth? You mentioned previous regimes in history that you never lived through either, so what’s the point of that nonsense? This past Memorial Day, I had to stand and pay homage to “America the Beatiful” at two separate picnics and bbqs; is this a sign of a free country or mind control and propaganda? BTW, how much time have you spent in China and Venezuela? Be honest Richard, you just spout the drivel that comes out of Washington, Wall Street, and Madison Ave., that makes expatriots feel good that we left a nation of people like you.

  • Charles Caywood

    Well, many of us are well along in years and we do remember our country of the past and what we see now is something we do not like. We are fearful for the future of our children, grandchildren and our country as a whole. Many of us have worked and lived outside the USA and understand the merits of our country which enabled us to have what we have today – no doubt about that. Many of us are veterans and I will tell you one D… thing for certain – I have earned the right to express my feelings about the direction our country is going. DO NOT CRITIZE ME FOR MY THOUGHTS – I AND OTHERS LIKE ME FOUGHT FOR OUR RIGHTS!

  • Jane

    Richard, thanks for the article. AGREE. Jane & John Johnson

  • Judy

    The author is missing the point. Yes, the U.S. has been fine for some people and has provided them enough money to live somewhere else in the world. However, right now companies in the U.S. are cutting down on paying pensions and some have stopped benefits altogether. The inequality of wealth in the U.S. is astounding. Only those on the top edge of the economy have positive things to say about the U.S. right now. In addition big business buys the elections now and we have a Congress that is running fast-forward on cutting off money for health and education. Big business is mad at the groups of people who elected President Obama and is making those groups pay — women, youth, minorities, and the poor. The only positive things that can be said about the U.S. right now have to said using PAST TENSE.

  • Harvey

    Quite frankly it’s twisted conspiratorial right-wing propaganda like that of Mr. Jones that helped me decide to move out of Estados Unidos. To claim that public education has brainwashed anyone is beyond the very height of ridiculousness he himself poorly illustrates. If he did not attend public schools then he was either home-schooled badly or his parents had the good fortune of placing him in a pricey private school. which resulted in his sense of entitlement and a misplaced sense of his own intelligence…in either event, he is clearly the pot calling the kettle black and his post says more about his own upbringing than anyone elses.

  • Darrell Dullnig

    Oh, Harvey! Your broadside at Stan Jones is the funniest thing I have read recently. I can just see the surprised look on his face. BTW, although he was not directly addressing you, I think he may have hit the nail on the head re the effects of public education in the USA.

  • Anthony

    I believe you miss the point. Yes, the USA has afforded me an opportunity to make a good living but this is in the past. The country is great. It is the self serving politicians and bureaucrats who are destroying the country. If you think expats are wrong in bashing the USA, you have misread what they mean. It is the people who run the country that people are upset with not the country. If you think that some of the US bashing expats are wrong you have sir been drinking the “koolaid” Thank you

  • Bruce Wahlin

    Thanks Richard for such a well articulated article. It completely mirrors my feelings. I am so weary of having a conversation with someone who openly expresses their reason for moving to Ecuador as hate – a president, all politicians, immigrants, the ruling class and on and on. My reason for coming to Ecuador every year for 3 – 6 months (soon for the whole year) is because I love the weather and the people. PERIOD.