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Sunday, October 02, 2011

Why America Can't Fail.

I grew up in a family where "America" was always a good word. It meant the place where I had hundreds of Irish-American cousins, it was where good films were made, and where having a British or Irish accent made you instantly popular no matter how big a fool you were back in Britannia or Hibernia.

My hero has always been Bobby Kennedy, possibly the last true Statesman the US political world has had, a man who would quote Aeschylus in his campaign speeches and tell rich Harvard students that THEY were going to pay for a new American society...


I grew up with Reagan and Thatcher and bad guys in Moscow with unpronounceable names and grey faces.

I still love Americans more than almost any other people I've ever met; they're gregarious, generous, and they're witty. I like their positivity and their sincerity - you never have to worry with an American if he likes you or not because Americans typically wear their heart on their sleeve and lack our famous British reserve.

So it is that the rupture at the heart of American politics today aggravates me intensely. America is a more divided society than it has ever been.

When I was in Washington DC some years back, what was most obvious to me in the people I met was just how segregated American life is along lines of race and creed and now also along lines of sexual identity. I can't, as a Roman Catholic, understand the extremism of American Evangelicals because such banal moral fundamentalism (which denies the true complexity of human existence) is simply non-existent in the religion I grew up in. I don't mean to suggest the leaders of the Church aren't prone to being bigots themselves, but any form of expressed hatred toward another group or creed carries a very serious penalty - excommunication. Non-Catholics often don't understand the seriousness of excommunication but in a nutshell it's this simple: if you espouse ideas which incite hatred or violence to any group you will be removed from union with the Church Christ founded; you're done for.

In American society, this form of removal from the fold was often governed by a similar sense of social duty one might call "basic good manners"; Americans used to have a very strong sense that it was one thing to have an opinion, but quite another to shove it down everyone's throat and make them feel worthless for disagreeing with you.

I read the comments on several American news sites and I find the hatefulness of the debate totally foreign to the European way of doing things and I find that disturbing; this new breed of violent mudslinging is uncivilised and it makes Americans look like they've lost their minds.

The Huffington Post article on gays in the military is typical of the divisions. As a European, I find it remarkable that this is even news worthy still; gay people get married in Europe, they have equal status in every single area of public life, and any example of persecution in the police force or armed forces is immediately crushed and will lead to prosecution under British criminal law. Quite frankly, if a gay man or woman will pick up a gun to protect my country I couldn't care less what he or she does with their genitals or whether they like Barbara Streisand and Pink.

As ever, I think the cause of these social forms of division are the creation of fundamentalist "Christians" who take a teaching on natural law (if they even get that far) and extend it to mean they have a divine right to destroy lives. But the truth about these people is often overlooked; that they have an innate psychological need for violence which has nothing to do with the religion they hijack to spout their bigotry. Fundamentalist "evangelicalism" in US politics is not particularly evangelical and it's not often particularly Christian either. It denies the core tenets of Christian dignity and proposes a form of millenarianist Biblical extremism which my religion calls a heresy. Furthermore, the faulty Church I belong to has gone out of its way to remind its 1.4 Billion adherents that if they form part of any such violent or divisive speech or actions they stand in risk of committing mortal sin - sin which kills the soul.

But religion is religion is religion, this is about something far deeper than clans and creeds; it touches on what makes for a healthy society where people are free to live without fear of hatred, and it is in that regard that I think a new form of violence is being encouraged in the Capitol by lobby groups who know no other tactic than to divide.

Europe isn't perfect. We have our social problems. Yet we also have a society where violent crime and racial violence is not a typical element to our separate national statistics. We also have, in each member state of the EU, a very clear sense of adherence to basic human compassion. My fear, therefore, is actually that Americans seem to be losing their heart, and that is a true pity.

We live in a world cut in half by horrendously corrupt and foolish US foreign policy which has created not only a global downturn but also a global terror campaign, it is a world that needs the European obsession with human rights and the American obsession with hard work. It is not a world that can be handed over to the Chinese or the mafia-controlled Kremlin. It is a world that needs American politics to grow up and return to the centre ground instead of slip further into this name calling and stereotyping that is currently gripping the Washington debate on everything from Islam to the Arabian politics to gays in the military to illegal immigration. American politicians need to stop being held to ransom and start acting like statesmen again, lest they walk away from as noble a foundation history as they have in the great names of Jefferson, Washington, Adams and through to Lincoln.

America must rediscover itself and return to the words of John F Kennedy when he spoke of the freedom of the world, the brotherhood of man, the search for a shared prosperity.

America has a duty to itself and I hope that great nation will soon find its soul again.

4 comments:

  1. Dear Dave,

    You connected with me through the Huffington Post. Let's keep up the connection. You broaden my perspective.

    The only time I visited Europe, including Great Britain and London in particular was in 1968 before my senior year in high school. I hitch hiked around that summer.

    What you are saying in your post above is that compared to your experience in the EU, the United States is slipping badly in many ways to the point that smart money is going elsewhere.

    Well, that's a kick in the pants. I'll see what I can do to stir things up over here.

    Best wishes,
    Daniel Hough Jones

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  2. Dear Daniel,

    It's a real pleasure talking to you. We'll definitely keep in contact - "Hands Across The Water", my friend.

    It's gotten to the point where the UK-US relationship is at its most serious point in a generation, the two nations that fought the last World War are now being driven apart by bad politics on both sides. That is a terrible thing for the free world which Britain and America have lead for 60 years.

    If it is dangerous for Britain to be associated with the US then that is a very worrying sign in US politics.

    Best regards,

    David.

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  3. Great points, and an interesting perspective. I think the name-calling has started to permeate the left as much as the right, but I think for different reasons. To me, it seems the right is mostly reacting to a changing landscape - skin colors are getting less white, christianity is losing merit with many young people, many young people are looking towards Europe for some direction on healthcare, taxation, education, etc. It seems to me like the last gasps of a very threatened conservative movement - the lies, the misinformation campaigns, and flat-out denial of facts and a general disregard for any ideas brought about centuries ago by the enlightenment. The left however, is simply getting tired of nice guy tactics, and with reason and facts having no effect on the debate. Authentic compromises are impossible due to threats from the right to completely sink the ship, and inevitably end up containing very little of what the left wants. The left has resorted to attempting to shame the right into some kind of realization (I also find my self guilty of this at times), but I'm afraid this will not work. Humiliation usually pushes people toward more extremism. In the end, Americans seem enslaved to media narratives.... when the narrative changes, they will change. Until more Americans choose to investigate more media and information sources with an open mind, they will continue to float ideologically within the mainstream media-landscape.

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  4. Steve I couldn't agree more.

    Alongside what you say, I tend to often sit back and see a more meta-process at work in American politics, something akin to what Franklin said about no man being able to fight the tide of his age.

    By which I mean that there's a chance that America might need to enter into this age of vicious dialectic in order to find itself again. Sometimes that's how the best of a nation is discovered: in the crucible.

    Above all I agree with your assertion that Americans really do need to start diversifying their sources of information. I hope that's why I started this blog- to challenge some of the assertions floating about.

    Best,

    Dave.

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