For an American Abroad, It's Been a Very Taxing Year
Recently, I traveled from London, where I am living, to New York, where I used to live. I did this to file my 2017 U.S. taxes. After completing the returns with my accountant, I made a point of visiting an old friend, a journalist, though his current success can perhaps be gauged by the fact that he is one of a diminishing number of culturally and professionally revered American men not accused of sexual misconduct. We were sitting across the table from one another and he removed his reading glasses to identify my mood.
“You look sad,” was his conclusion.
He wanted to know if this was because I’d just paid my taxes or because I was depressed by what appears to be the moral collapse of his gender. Both, I told him. The previous year a member of Congress with a leading role on an ethics committee managed a particularly cynical piece of political maneuvering by settling charges of his own sexual misconduct with some part of my tax dollars.
“Still, are you thinking of moving back to the States?” asked my friend.
I suggested that the current country that is America was bizarre enough to be psychologically crippling. In case it escaped his notice, we were in a bar at 11:30 in the morning on a weekday, and I was clutching an empty wine glass. “So, no, I don’t see myself returning quite yet, if for no other reason than to avoid becoming an alcoholic,” I informed him.
It’s been 10 years since I left my professional and personal life behind in New York and moved to Beijing to write a book for the Chinese about the West. From Beijing I moved to London, where I’ve written other books. I am in London still, researching my next, returning to the U.S. on an annual basis to pay my federal taxes.
“The English are calm,” I told my friend. “They tell you not to worry almost as frequently as they apologize, and these days I’m grateful for whatever reassurances come my way.”
The same week I saw my friend, there was another mass shooting in America, this time at a Florida high school. There have been over 300 mass shootings in the U.S. since I paid last year’s federal taxes. Left in their bloody wake has been the non-negotiable right to purchase war weapons whose sole purpose is to kill as many people in the shortest time possible—often in schools, sometimes in churches. With a career that has, quite literally, moved me from one spot on the globe to another, I can say with certainty that gun violence in America is the result of choices uniquely American.
Not long after I returned to the U.K., something wholly unexpected happened in the U.S.: the March for Our Lives. It was politically remarkable. It was encouragingly moral. It was a reminder of something that has eluded me since the last taxpaying year: hope.