1996 seemed to be a pretty good year to be an American abroad. The U.S. was at the height of its global prestige. The State Department had several years earlier ended its policy of automatically revoking U.S. citizenship from Americans who naturalised elsewhere. And there was little motivation to give up the blue passport anyway: ordinary diaspora wage-earners with non-U.S. retirement accounts and mutual funds ignored all the international financial reporting forms created under the Nixon administration’s Bank Secrecy Act or the Reagan administration’s Tax Reform Act — and the IRS had no complaint because it knew that none of this paperwork could possibly generate more revenue than it would cost to process in the first place.
Yet this benign neglect of Americans abroad was by no means an expression of support. Homelanders were hostile to the idea of an American diaspora: in a national survey, nearly three-quarters of people in the U.S. thought that “living in America for most of your life” was an important part of being “truly American”. This widespread societal consensus on the territorial nature of Americanness was even supported, and supported quite strongly, by a surprising group: native-born Americans who had lived abroad for five years or longer, among whom 85% agreed with this proposition. And over the next decade, this view would only strengthen.