EMBASSY KID: A MEMOIR Chapter One: Revolution, January 23, 1958

[This is a condensed version of my book about being raised in the Foreign Service during the Cold War. EMBASSY KID is being evaluated for publication by the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training]

Read the Preface: EMBASSY KID: Preface

Part I: The Dictator Flies Over Our House

They were awakened by the telephone. My father was on his feet and halfway to the living room as my mother glanced at the clock. 3AM. It must be family back home in Minnesota, a very long way from Venezuela. She reached for her robe and hurried to join my father as he spoke into the receiver.

“Bob Amerson here.”

My mother’s eyes widened as she waited. 

“Roger that.” My father hung up. “That was Harry.” Harry Casler, Dad’s boss, was covering the Embassy lines this week. 

Mom exhaled in relief as she plopped down on the sofa. It wasn’t a death in the family. Dad continued. “It’s happening — PJ is finally out.” 

“Oh,” Mom said, her voice tight. 

President Pérez Jiménez — PJ, as they called him at the Embassy — was the ruthless Venezuelan dictator who’d wielded power since before we’d arrived in Caracas.  Clandestine political movements and dissident elements within the military had risen up against the Pérez Jiménez regime, because of corruption, restrictions on civil rights, downright torture. Everybody knew of something that they could blame the Pérez Jiménez regime for. Finally, on January 23, the pressure had forced the dictator out.

Ernest Hamlin Baker, TIME magazine cover 2/28/55
Ernest Hamlin Baker, TIME magazine cover 2/28/55

“Harry said he’s flying into exile, just took off from La Carlota near the palace.” Dad spoke over his shoulder as he went to retrieve his slippers and bathrobe. “So we should hear him overhead in a couple of minutes.” 

“The girls,” my mother said, trying to keep her voice low but insistent. He was going to wake up my baby sister and three-year-old me. 

Dad rejoined her in the living room. “Okay,” he said. “We knew things were about to break loose. The Junta Patriótica strike got all that rioting going on downtown, and they’ve finally succeeded in ousting PJ.”

Dad’s network of contacts within the underground resistance had kept the Embassy abreast of what was a highly combustible situation. 

“But who’s going to stop the rioters now?” Mom said. If Pérez Jiménez was out, so was his security police. 

“That’s what makes this moment so interesting,” Dad said. 

Mom’s nostrils flared. This was not an academic exercise. Her family’s safety came first. “With Janie and Susie down the hall?” 

Dad gave her a quick hug. “The bad guy is out. The good guys are in,” he said. “There might even be a chance for democracy. And what a front-row seat. Just think, this might have happened while we were on home leave last year back in the States.”

“Yes, that would have been…” Mom’s words trailed off.  It would have been so much better to be safely in the Midwest while this crazy country figured itself out. But that wasn’t the deal they’d signed up for with Washington. The deal was adventure, and this was sure it.

“I’ll go see to the girls.” 

Mom walked down the short hallway to the second bedroom and swung open the door. Susie was soundly asleep, curled around her baby blanket. And if the telephone had awakened me, I had dropped back into toddler dreams.

“¿Señora?”

My mother jumped. Josefina’s unshod feet hadn’t given her away as the maid approached from her room behind the kitchen. Like us, Fina, as we called her, was one of the many European migrants that had flooded oil-rich Venezuela seeking work. Maybe because we were all foreigners, maybe because we needed each other, or maybe because Fina simply adored us girls, she’d become part of our little family. 

Me, Fina, Susie

My mother closed the bedroom door and assumed the authoritative role that she’d grown into over the past three years. La señora de la casa, the lady of the house, couldn’t betray her nerves, even though it still felt pretty unreal to this modest Midwesterner to have a maid.

“Josefina,” Mom said quietly. “Pérez Jiménez se va.” 

The long-awaited news of the dictator’s departure alarmed the maid. “¡Ay Dios mio!” 

Cálmese,” my mother said. She put a steadying hand on Fina’s sturdy shoulder. 

Las niñas.” Fina made a move toward the bedroom door.

Mom tightened her grip. The last thing they needed right now was two kids worrying about why they were awake in the middle of the night. 

My mother looked Fina in the eye. “Cálmese,” she repeated, as if she were telling one of us girls to settle down. She could do more with a quiet tone and a look than an excitable mother could do with a yell. 

Mom steered Fina down the hall and into the living room, where Dad had settled into the soft, pheasant-print sofa, a wedding gift from his parents back on the farm in South Dakota. The contrast between the Midwestern prairie images and the bright colors and fruity smells of Caracas normally coaxed a smile, but tonight the distance felt much farther than 3,000 miles. Sitting and waiting didn’t help.

“How about some coffee?” Mom said.

My father opened his mouth to respond, then looked up to the ceiling, and he raised an index finger. “Harry said we’d hear the plane. And here it comes.”

The two women followed his gaze. A palmetto bug scurried across the ceiling toward the corner over the bookcase. The faint rumble of a propeller airplane sounded in the distance, growing louder as it approached. It built to a roar. As the airplane thundered overhead, the bug dropped to the linoleum, and the glass ashtray on the coffee table trembled. The sound slowly diminished into nothing.  

Dad half-raised a hand. “Adios, el presidente.”

Next Tuesday: Chapter One, Part II: The mob comes roving.

Family Friday: What Makes Me a Third Culture Kid?

There was a letter to the editor in my newspaper this week from a Palm Beach County neighbor who was born in the United States but grew up in Asia as the result of her parents’ missionary work.

Like the children of military members, diplomats, and, in my case, missionaries, I became what is called a TCK, a Third Culture Kid. Our backgrounds are different from that of our parents’ home country and from the country where we grew up.

Angela Grant, The Palm Beach Post, 7/15/21

I’m a TCK, too. I was born in the USA to Midwesterners, but we flew into the Foreign Service when I was just six months old, and my sister (born in Caracas) and I grew up mostly in Europe and Latin America. We were professional Americans overseas, but our international experiences made us an odd fit when we moved to the States. I’ve been trying to bridge the gap my entire adult life.

Cross-cultural expert Tanya Crossman

TCK’s deal with some unique challenges in integrating that experience into what we’ve done with the rest of our lives. It’s the subject of research being conducted by Tanya Crossman, an Australian who lived in China for over a decade.

Tanya is a noted cross-cultural consultant and TCK/Cross Culture Kid advocate, and the author of Misunderstood: The Impact of Growing Up Overseas in the 21st Century. She writes that the term Third Culture Kid was coined by in the 1950’s by Dr. Ruth Hill Useem while studying children of American families living in India.

These children were not Indian, though they lived in India. They were American – though they weren’t experiencing that country. This childhood experience was neither that of an Indian child nor that of an American child. It was somewhere in between – in a Third Culture.

Tanya Crossman, July 2016 blog post

Legal, geographic, and relational culture

Tanya writes that culture can be defined in three ways:

  • Legal: the place in which you have a passport or permanent residency
  • Geographic: the place(s) in which you live.
  • Relational: the experiences woven together from life lived in between cultures.

Legal representative of America overseas

I had an American diplomatic passport, and, as an embassy kid, understood that I represented the USA. Sarah Mansfield Taber, whose overseas childhood as the daughter of a CIA officer is an almost exact match with mine, writes this about having a diplomatic passport:

Only representatives of foreign governments were issued these, my father told us. I could feel an American flag waving inside me.

Sarah Mansfield Taber, Born Under An Assumed Name: The Memoir of a Cold War Spy’s Daughter

But not a geographic American

I was an official American when I lived in Venezuela, Italy, Colombia, and Spain. But my identity morphed when we moved to the States.

Though I looked American, I was not; I was a sort of clandestine foreigner.

Sarah Mansfield Taber, Born Under An Assumed Name: The Memoir of a Cold War Spy’s Daughter

I am from the Third Culture

The connection I feel with Sarah Mansfield Taber is the TCK’s relational cultural identity.

The Third Culture is the childhood home of those who did not experience comprehensive connection to a single place as children.

Tanya Crossman, July 2016 blog post

My memoir, Embassy Kid (being assessed for publication by the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training), looks back at where I am from. I have shared the Preface and will be sharing chapters in the coming weeks.

I cannot imagine being a citizen of any other nation. We are the freest, the most fortunate people on earth. Whether our people arrived on a recent flight or a wooden boat, and whether we choose to wear hijab or a yarmulke or spray paint our hair with the colors of the rainbow, we are all from somewhere else, and we are all here now.

Angela Grant, letter to The Palm Beach Post

Travel Tuesday: When We Experienced Holland’s “Juneteenth”

Recovering in Amsterdam

When I was hospitalized for three months in Holland in 2019, the highlight of each day was spending the afternoon hours with my husband. It was the only thing that kept him going, he told me much later. Although our daughter had flown to be by his side for the six weeks I was in the ICU, R was alone in an Amsterdam apartment for the subsequent six weeks of my slow recovery from a near-fatal ruptured arterial aneurysm. The time he spent with me in what became our community of nurses and other hospital staff was precious to us both.

When I felt well enough to leave my room for an hour or so, my husband wheeled me down to the hospital’s wide ground-floor thoroughfare, past the cafe and the pharmacy to the small serene chapel around which OLVG hospital had been built. The magic of the nuns who were the original nurses had stayed with the place. We sat in silence for a bit, simply breathing and being grateful for my survival.

Afternoons in Oosterpark

As my recovery proceeded, and at the urging of my nurses, R would roll me across the street to the beautiful expansive greenway of Oosterpark. Simply experiencing the world of normal people living their lives was a healing process, and being in the fresh air for people watching, flower gazing, and fresh air breathing was a tonic.


Dutch Emancipation Day, Keti Koti Festival

On Sunday, July 1, the dark skinned tea lady who brought me my breakfast told me about a celebration that was happening in Oosterpark that day. I had gotten to know that she was from Suriname, a former Dutch colony in South America that had retained its Dutch heritage in independence. It was Emancipation Day, she said.

New signage at the park’s entrance stated that it was the Keti Koti Festival.

Keti Koti, a phrase from Suriname meaning ‘Broken Chains’, is a free celebration of liberty, equality and solidarity.

IAMAmsterdam

The park was a sea of African print. Men in dashikis, women and their daughters wrapped head to hip in scarlet, saffron, and geranium green. Drum bands surging along the broad walkways followed by clapping and whooping revelers. Food vendors hawking sweet-scented meat pies. Observers paying homage to the West African slaves captured by the Dutch to work in their New World properties and to their freedom, their broken chains, as depicted in the park’s emancipation monument.

“Why doesn’t America have an event like this?” I asked my husband. “I mean, I know when the emancipation proclamation was written, sort of, but we don’t have a day that forces us to acknowledge that we had slavery. And that it ended. And until we do, we cannot begin to acknowledge and end the oppression of Black people in our country.”

It took the killing of George Floyd, and the massive public demonstration by Black people across this country indeed in Amsterdam as well as many other places around the world to, remind me last year that there is such a day on the calendar. It is called Juneteenth, a day that commemorates June 19, 1865 the day Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston Texas to enforce the emancipation proclamation, more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln’s act had taken affect.

New York State, my old employer, made Juneteenth a state holiday last year.

This new public holiday will serve as a day to recognize the achievements of the black community, while also providing an important opportunity for self reflection on the systemic injustices that our society still faces today.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo

It took another year of civil rights demonstrations, the ouster of Trump from the White House, and the election of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris for Congress to enact the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act making Juneteenth a national holiday.

A day in which we remember the moral stain, the terrible toll that slavery took on the country and continues to take — what I’ve long called “America’s original sin.” At the same time, I also remember the extraordinary capacity to heal, and to hope, and to emerge from the most painful moments and a bitter, bitter version of ourselves, but to make a better version of ourselves.

President Joe Biden

It turns out that just having a holiday is not enough. My hospital roommate, a white woman whose alcoholism had caused her to tumble off her social pedestal, disdained the idea of attending the festival. “This is not for us,”she sniffed.

Keti Koti gives us not just a chance to celebrate the abolishment of slavery, it also celebrates the Surinames community and all the colour and pomp they bring to the Dutch way of life. Without them and their ancestors, the Netherlands wouldn’t be what she is today.In all we do, let us respect them, honour them and do all we can to make sure that history never repeats itself.

Beejonson, Dutch web content blogger


Family Friday: What My Mother Did During My Father’s Foreign Service Career

Robert and Nancy Amerson, Cape Cod
Robert and Nancy Amerson, Cape Cod

So, Nancy, what did you do while you were overseas?

A question posed to my mother, Nancy Robb Amerson, at a Cape Cod dinner party of accomplished retirees

Here’s what she wrote in 2004 about that encounter.

Nothing

Feeling wicked, I found myself answering, “Nothing.” I don’t usually consider myself capable of irony, but this answer could only have been understood by another Foreign Service wife. To soften my rather abrupt response, I continued with the usual recounting that no Embassy wife could work in a foreign post without the ambassador’s approval, and that the only jobs we could accept were as a teacher or nurse.

My answer seemed to satisfy the casual curiosity about how I could have spent 20 years overseas, unoccupied.

Since that night, I have tossed over in my mind just how I could have responded to the women who were years younger than I. In their generation, almost all women have held some paying job and that is, as it has always been for men, the peg that identifies their place in the larger community. So DOING equals BEING PAID.

Homemaker

The women of the early 50s, when we were first married, still were mostly, for want of a better term, homemakers. Some had a taste of earning a salary during a few years of teaching after college, as I did, though few in later years have ever identified themselves as teachers, as I think would be the case now.

Ten moves, four countries, two languages

So, during our 20 odd years overseas, I continued in my homemaker role in an ever expanding way. I was responsible for resettling our family during our 10 moves. For learning to shop in four foreign countries using two new languages. For seeing that our girls were settled in the many different schools.

Hostess, guide, ambassador support

For running large and small parties in our home to fulfill our obligation to promote our country. For being an unofficial guide for visiting official visitors, be they pleasant or unbearable. And for being available to the ambassador’s wife when she required help.

Having a ball

Of course, I was not paid, nor would I have ever even considered such to be a thing. The truth is, I couldn’t believe how fortunate I was to be having all of these new experiences. I was having a ball.

State Department “Pink Paper” changed it all

A new generation of wives joined our ranks, women who were wary about “being taken advantage of for no pay.“ The old idea of a foreign service team of husband and wife just was not in their vocabulary. No need to go into detail here, it changed the community feeling we felt within the embassies. The state department geared up to produce what was called within the ranks The Pink Paper, delineating rules on the roles of wife overseas.

A killer of fun times was what it amounted to.

Robert and Nancy Amerson served in the United States Information Agency from 1955 to 1979, representing our country through public diplomacy in Venezuela, Italy, Colombia, and Spain.

Robert and Nancy Amerson, Jane and Susan, 1962, Rome
Robert and Nancy Amerson, Jane and Susan 1962, Rome

Embassy Kid: Preface

I am completing a memoir about my childhood, which I spent in Latin America, Europe, and Washington DC during my father’s career in the Foreign Service. Here is the preface from Embassy Kid: A Memoir, which I hope to publish within the year.

Jane Kelly Amerson López

Alone in America

I watched the tail lights of the rental car vanish down the elm-lined street on that August afternoon in 1973, taking my parents and my sister back into the Foreign Service landscape without me. I should have been in that backseat, eyes forward, hands folded, as America vanished behind us, the self-contained, four-person unit jetting back into our Real World.  Instead, here I was, stranded alone in America, astonished to find myself broken apart from the family unit with which I’d negotiated 18 years in Latin America, Europe, and the even stranger land of the Washington DC suburbs. 

Most American kids leave home to go to college. My home had just left me. I was an Embassy kid. 

Finding My Way

It would take me the better part of a decade to sort myself out. While my family completed my father’s Foreign Service career abroad, I switched to my middle name and wandered through the United States, accumulating college credits at five institutions, working a series of hourly jobs, and training as a modern dancer, a trajectory that eventually landed me in New York City. There, in the city that felt like all the places in the Real World at once, the nicest man I know called me by my Spanish name and something clicked in my heart. We’ve been married for forty years, during which we’ve created our own real world rich in rewards, the greatest of which is our daughter. We’ve traveled, but America is home.

Third Culture Kid

 It wasn’t always. When I was younger, I struggled to answer the most American of questions: “Where are you from?”  I lived in eight places in six countries on three continents before I was 18, but none of them was home. I was born in Minnesota and my Norwegian ancestry shows in my fair coloring, but I grew up in Latin countries. I was an American kid with the mystique of a diplomatic passport overseas, but I felt like a foreigner in the United States. I sink my roots fast and make friends quickly, but I up-root easily and don’t ever look back. I’m never from here, but I’m also not from there. Neither a true-blue American like my parents, nor a member of any other nation, I’m a Third Culture Kid. 

Archeological Exploration

When I was in second grade in the magical ancient city of Rome, I was sure I’d be an archeologist. Although that idea evaporated when we moved to another part of the world, I realize now that I’ve spent the better part of my adult life sifting like an archeologist through the detritus of my childhood, looking for the evidence of where I was from. 

I wove childhood memories and family anecdotes into stories about my parents, Robert and Nancy Amerson, my sister, Susie, and me. I dove into the journals, letters, and interviews my parents left behind containing their personal observations about a quarter-century with the United States Information Agency. My father’s book about Venezuela, How Democracy Triumphed Over Dictatorship, and the oral histories of other Foreign Service officers who served alongside my father during the Cold War, have allowed me to breathe life into historical events and to recover personal experiences that would otherwise have been lost to time. Finding a way to share these stories has been a thrill, a comfort, and an honor. And reflecting on the impression of these experiences on the Embassy kid that I was and the adult I have become has been a rewarding journey. 

An Homage to My Parents

This book is an homage to my parents, two patriots in the firmament of Embassy people, men and women who, then and now, serve as America’s emissaries abroad, raising their children in foreign lands far from family and friends in order that the world get to know us.

These are the stories of an ordinary American family living through extraordinary times in the service of their country. 

This is where I am from. I am an Embassy kid.

Politics Monday: How My Local Newspaper Builds Civic Responsibility

My days are bookended by two delicious hours of information intake. The early riser in our household, I quietly ingest The Palm Beach Post on my iPad over breakfast on our lanai, and my husband and I soak in the PBS NewsHour after dinner. (We’re not all highbrow: we watch Wheel of Fortune during dinner.)

My breakfast spot

The newspaper and the NewsHour often inform what I write about in this blog. Today, the subject is newspapers themselves.

In her recent PBS NewsHour interview with outgoing Washington Post executive editor Marty Baron, anchor Judy Woodruff commented on the loss of local newspapers:

… over the last 15 years, I was reading, 1,800 newspapers, local weeklies and dailies, have shut down.

Judy Woodruff

The St. Petersburg Times — on the opposite coast of Florida — became one of those lost local newspapers when it was merged into the Tampa Bay Times a decade ago. Yesterday, as reporter Claire McNeill wrote, the printing plant that continued to run the paper saw its last issue hit the streets, marking yet another loss.

When the St. Petersburg Times’ plant was built in the late 1950s, the paper ran a 36-page special section. ‘Like the great pyramid of Egypt,’ a reporter wrote, the new plant was a grand symbol, ‘a functioning monument’ for readers alive and unborn.Hiring ads ran near-daily: ‘Get in on the ground floor of the newspaper of tomorrow.’

Claire McNeill The Tampa Bay Times

Our local newspaper tells us what’s happening in our community, our village, our town, our county. If all politics is local, the newspaper empowers us to engage on issues that matter. Let me give you a concrete example: tomorrow’s local elections.

My husband and are not eligible to vote. Our community lies outside the boundaries of local government in the western reaches of unincorporated Palm Beach County. Our elected officials — the commissioners, the sheriff — were part of the November elections. I will admit that I glossed over the Palm Beach Post’s many articles on the issues and the candidates in tomorrow’s municipal elections, but yesterday, the paper got my full attention.

Reporter Chris Persaud wrote about the spill-over impact on local elections of the record number of Floridians who voted in the 2020 elections. Eligible voters who requested a mail-in ballot for the November elections automatically received a ballot for tomorrow’s municipal elections. For some, it was a welcome reminder.

Normally I don’t even vote in presidential elections. I ain’t got no faith in politics, period. But because of the recent craziness in politics, I just decided to take a swing at it.

Tommie Butler, a 64-year-old Black Democrat from West Palm Beach, quoted in a Palm Beach Post article by Chris Persaud

For others, it was an annoyance.

I thought we were done voting.

Lisa Steinmetz, West Palm Beach, quoted in a Palm Beach Post article by Chris Persaud

Democracy is ongoing, as is our civic duty to participate. We are never done voting. And these are exactly the types of actions that the GOP is seeking to put an end to after what was the highest turnout in the nation’s voting history. So, if there were no newspaper and no surprise ballot in the mailbox, who would turn out for local elections?

Who is going to provide the public the kind of information they need and deserve to know in order to be engaged citizens?

Marty Baron, outgoing executive editor, The Washington Post, speaking on the PBS NewsHour

Politics Monday: Why We Broke Up With Andrew Cuomo

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, once the star of the pandemic and a strong contender for the White House, is now embroiled in two scandals — a underreporting of nursing home deaths and two allegations of sexual harassment — that have him in political jeopardy. Not only that: SNL added insult to injury by replacing Trump with Cuomo on the cold open a couple of weeks back. Serious kudos to Pete Davidson.

Like in any breakup, it wasn’t him: it was us. Until, it WAS him.

We needed him then

Compared to the lackluster spin of the White House’s communications about the coronavirus, Cuomo’s forthright, real-word, daily briefings were a sorely needed breath of fresh air. Lots of us tuned in to sit at his knee as he explained the new awful reality to us, and to tell us how, if we did certain things, we’d get through it. As a NYS retiree, I was downright giddy that the rest of the country was fawning over my boy Andrew. This is leadership, I wrote, and the pundits agreed.

Coupled with flashes of humor, tales about his family and his nightly visits on CNN with brother Chris, the governor’s daily reports won him a level of trust that placed him second only to Anthony S. Fauci.

Jeff Greenberg of Politico writing in The Washington Post

We all chose to overlook his bulldozer personality and zero-sum approach to power, as Shane Goldmacher wrote in a 2018 piece in The New York Times. Andrew Cuomo was who we needed.

We grew tired of him

But we grew restless and impatient with sitting and listening. We tired of the same answers. We began to think about moving on.

Then, barely six months into the pandemic, Cuomo published a book about his strategy, American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic, taking a victory lap way too early. No one likes a braggart, least of all political enemies.

We’ve had too many “mission accomplished” moments.

Rebecca Katz, a New York City-based Democratic strategist who ran a primary challenge against Cuomo in 2018, in a reference to former President George W. Bush’s boast days after the conquest of Iraq.

We found someone new

In November, we voted in a new national boyfriend. Joe Biden was the real deal, a soother-in-chief who also told it like it was. On January 20, Joe moved in. We are relieved to be alive, being led by a mensch, and looking ahead once again.

but the rest is all on him

The number of nursing home deaths turned out to be double what the governor stated, and, rather than admit the error, Cuomo spun for weeks. When he finally admitted the truth, it poured oil on the fire of his political foes, and suddenly the man who was given super pandemic powers is under Federal investigation.

Political aggressiveness swells the male ego. As of this writing, there are two sexual harassment allegations against Cuomo by former gubernatorial aides. And he’s still trying to control the narrative.

The nursing homes story really exposed quite a bit about questions about his leadership style and the success of his leadership during COVID.

Christina Greer, a political science professor at Fordham

If you’re not careful, the same crisis that can raise your stock can just as easily bring you down.

Nicholas Riccardi and Martina Villeneuve, The New York Times

American Leadership is Back

When we are not engaged, when we don’t lead, then… either some other country tries to take our place … or no one does, and then you get chaos. Either way, that does not serve the American people. Humility and confidence should be the flipside of America‘s leadership coin.

Antony Blinken, nominated by President Biden as Secretary of State, in remarks prepared for his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Reported by Robert Burns, Lolita C. Baldor and Matthew Lee for the Associated Press.

Today, Joseph R. Biden, Jr., was inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States as his predecessor enclosed himself in the Baroque pomp of his Florida club, a scant half-hour and an entire universe away from where I live. I am listening to the television as President Biden walks into the White House to the military marching song “Hail to the Chief.” All hail.

Twenty-eight years ago today, my infant daughter and I watched Bill Clinton’s inauguration, the emotion of promise flooding my chest. I remember the soaring optimism I felt the morning after Barack Obama won the presidential election in 2008. Today, a Democrat is back in the Oval Office, and Democrats lead both houses of Congress. Promising optimism doesn’t suit this moment as much as gratitude.

As Timothy Snyder wrote so eloquently in The New York Times Magazine on January 17, 2021, our democracy was pushed to the very brink of failure by a president who wanted to be emperor. He made lies into common currency, befuddling anxious Americans into giving up on truth in favor of social media and turning from the rule of law to of the regime of myth.

But the dictator failed. The people spoke, The courts denied. The states ascertained. The Congress affirmed, and then impeached. Democracy has prevailed. The afternoon’s strongest beams glint off the white monuments in Washington DC in shining contrast to the mausoleum edifice of Mar-A-Lago, where deepening shadows surround a loser who thought he was king.

America has leadership back in the White House, and the world has a country once again engaged in global affairs.

My whole soul is in this, uniting America. We’ll press forward with speed and urgency, for we have much to do in this winter of peril and significant possibilities. Much to repair, much to restore, much to heal, much to build, and much to gain.

President Joe Biden’s Inaugural Address

American Democracy, Warts and All

USIA showcased democracy

My father, Robert C. Amerson, spent his Foreign Service career in the United States Information Agency, the Cold War organization that communicated US policy abroad and carried out international information and cultural programs. Among the American traditions showcased by Dad’s office every four years were Election Day in November, the announcement of the winner and the concession of the loser, and the inauguration in January of the newly elected president of the United States.

Diplomats represent democracy

Foreign Service officers in US Embassies around the globe have, for four years, faced the challenge of representing a country led by a self-centered, America-first media personality. Instead of drawing on alliances built up over years of diplomacy, President Trump has openly admired the trappings of power exhibited by democracy-squelching strongmen. His failure to address the coronavirus pandemic and his conspiracy theory laden presidential campaign contributed to a negative narrative of an America on the decline. His failure to concede his loss when Joe Biden was declared the winner of the presidential election and his continuing assertion that the election was stolen despite the courts’ finding no evidence of fraud, only added fuel to the fire.

Democracy warts and all

And then came January 6. The world watched aghast as a mob overran the US Capitol during Congress’s affirmation of Joe Biden as President Elect. The images of Americans pillaging the temple of democracy shocked our allies, and our enemies expressed satisfaction at the dying of our democracy. It seemed as if the American story was descending into irreparable chaos.

During his Senate confirmation hearings to be President Kennedy’s USIA director, famed broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow was asked if he intended to tell the bad about America along with the good. He replied, “If the bad is significant, it is going to be reported anyway. We must report it honestly, otherwise it will be distorted.” President John F. Kennedy echoed these words in a speech at the Voice of America, the United States’ international radio broadcaster: “You are obliged to tell our story in a truthful way, to tell it, as Oliver Cromwell said about his portrait, ‘Paint us with all our blemishes and warts.” 

Our warts were on full display on January 6.

Democracy withstood assault

However, Congress reconvened that same day amidst the terrorist debris and affirmed Joe Biden as President Elect, completing an election that truly tested America. Despite the pandemic and orchestrated decisiveness, more Americans than ever before voted in a process that has withstood legal scrutiny. The people have spoken. The courts have ruled. The states have certified. The Congress has affirmed. On January 20, President Joe Biden will take office. 


In America, it is the institution of democracy itself that wields the power when things go wrong. The world is watching as we get back on track. 

A Success Lost in the Chaos: The World Reacts

I recently wrote about volunteering on Democrat phone banks calling Spanish-speaking voters, first in advance of the presidential election and, then, in advance of the runoff election of two US Senate seats in Georgia. It was energizing to connect with enthusiastic volunteers and decent Americans committed to our country’s betterment. It gave me faith that, despite the dismal rhetoric being spouted by the Republicans and their candidate, America remained the country my parents represented abroad.

Well, there is power in people. Through #llamandocontigo, an effort of 2020 Victory, I helped elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on November 3, a result whose affirmation by the Congress finally came yesterday amid the tear gas fumes left behind by Trump’s seditious followers.

AP Photo, Julio Cortez

UDH Pasadena, Mijente, and Stacey Abrams’ Fair Fight And, on January 5, we helped elect the Reverend Raphael Warnock — the first Black elected senator from Georgia — and Jon Ossoff — the state’s first Jewish senator and, at 33, the youngest member of the Senate. These two wins return the Senate to the Democrats, thus giving Biden congressional support in the challenging four years that begin January 20.

President Biden now has the political support to help him address a killer virus running rampant and an economy torn asunder by the pandemic, but America remains a dangerously polarized country. Laid low by the past four years’ “America first” actions, our image abroad is no longer that of the world’s leading democracy. World leaders’ reactions to the storming of the US Capitol yesterday reveal the shock of our allies …

Insurgent words turn into violent acts – on the steps of the Reichstag, and now in the Capitol . The disdain for democratic institutions is devastating

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas 

Shocking scenes in Washington, D.C. The outcome of this democratic election must be respected.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg

… and the smugness of our enemies. The Chinese government points at the five deaths in yesterday’s violence and none in last year’s Hong Kong violence. The words in the reaction of Venezuela — where my family began its Foreign Service journey amidst a revolution — could have been cut and pasted from a US Embassy missive to repressive governments:

Venezuela expresses its concern over the acts of violence that are taking place in the city of Washington, USA; condemns political polarization and aspires that the American people can blaze a new path toward stability and social justice.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza

My heart and faith are echoed in the words of the government of Spain, where I spent my final years as an Embassy kid.

I have trust in the strength of US democracy. The new presidency of Joe Biden will overcome this tense stage, uniting the American people.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez