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Thursday, 1 November 2012

The (dis)united states of America.

Josephus watched a sad video clip yesterday, showing Mitt Romney basically say in words of one syllable that billionaires need federal tax relief, but hurricane victims don't need federal disaster relief. ( link here )

It would seem, viewed through news media reports, that firstly, New York's contingency plans were excellent, New jersey's perhaps not quite so, and that FEMA is coordinating emergency work to restore power throughout the North Eastern states very successfully. A victim on the BBC news coverage this morning stated that “Utility trucks from states all over country are working to get power back.” That is what the “Federal” government really is for, as I understand it, the States of the US are independent entities. Full marks to President Obama for calling “major disaster” and getting FEMA into the picture at the earliest possible time.

Then we got back to the inevitable politics. Donkeys -versus- Elephants.

Why is the US so polarised? Is it a hang-on from the McCarthy era? Has it always been so and we are only now finding out? Britain and Europe, even the former eastern block satellites have become far less politically polarised since the mid twentieth century, admittedly, there are and have been religious differences that were, perhaps less noticeable before population mobility became commonplace, but in general, people are not “poles apart”, they simply differ in views, which is healthy.

Why do I think America is polarised? Well, the nasty part of me thinks that the only reason that a black man was elected four years ago was that the option was a woman! Barak Obama is a highly educated, some would say brilliant man, as a statesman, he, perhaps, relies too much on his own intellect and not upon his advisers, no-one could accuse Geo. W. Bush of that! However, there are precedents in that view, I would cite Thatcher and Churchill as two British leaders who valued their own opinion over that of their cabinet. As a president he has had a rough term, international crises from Wall Street to Guantanamo Bay starting off and ending with a fairly severe disaster scenario hitting the heavily populated North-Eastern states.

I recall a debate held at my College where a delegation from the US visited and fire chiefs, both female as it happened, from LA and NY gave closing presentations. When the Chairman summed up, he being from, If I recall correctly, Colorado, he closed by saying how interesting the presentations had been, but that there were 3,000+ miles of the US between LA & NY, and that those who lived there called it America. That made me think. Britain has similar issues in that around 8 million of its people live in London, that means that roughly 58 million do not, but that does not stop London foisting its problems, issues and so on onto the population at large. Perhaps the US should concern itself with those parts that are not LA / SF or NY, but then it appears to be those “middle America” States that call the last vote in the elections, strange that.

So, how is the disunited states disunited? As an observer from afar, it seems to me that polarisation can be found in many areas, Republican -versus- Democrat seems to be flavour of the months and the Tea Party the most polar end; but what of more subtle distinctions, rich -v- poor, white -v- black, North -v- South, East -v- West, everyone -v- Hispanics and I guess Texas -v- everyone. I am informed that the US is currently one of the least socially mobile “Western democracies”, so perhaps I should add “this side of the tracks” -v- “that side of the tracks”; which is which determines which is the “wrong” side of the tracks. This is at odds with the British experience where the rise of the middle class has all but done away with the “class system” that previously limited opportunity for so many. To be middle of the road in the US suggests that you could well become road-kill very quickly.

Then we can start on the ethical and religious divisions, abortion -v- right to life, guns, or no guns, Christian -v- Islam, but even worse... Christian -v- Christian! No room for middle ground here, no “third way”.

I've posted this before, but it is worth posting again, why America fails to convince the rest of the world that it is really important; this joke was written by Emo Phillips more than 20 years ago and has been voted the funniest religious joke of all time:

Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, "Don't do it!" He said, "Nobody loves me." I said, "God loves you. Do you believe in God?"

He said, "Yes." I said, "Are you a Christian or a Jew?" He said, "A Christian." I said, "Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?" He said, "Protestant." I said, "Me, too! What franchise?" He said, "Baptist." I said, "Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?" He said, "Northern Baptist." I said, "Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?"

He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist." I said, "Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?" He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region." I said, "Me, too!"

Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?" He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912." I said, "Die, heretic!" And I pushed him over.

What a pity that it actually illustrates an almost insatiable desire to justify one's own personal freedoms to the extent that the “United” part of the US is demonstrated to be anything but.


  1. As ever, an interesting perspective and a thought provoking one. I would however, as someone who lived abroad, then lived in the UK and now has moved to Europe, point out that the British still have a clear 'class' system in place, though one does perhaps have to move outside the UK after living there to see it. That there is 'mobility' between 'working' and 'middle' class is not in doubt, but there is a very distinct line between the Middle Class members from the 'Public School' echelons and the rest. There are numerous other barriers as well which keep 'outsiders' away from the upper reaches of most professions and certainly from the inner circles of Westminster and Whitehall. Britain's divisions may not be as obvious, but they are still very much there. As I said it can really only be seen from outside.

  2. I guess the 1% will always have that edge, however, compared to 25 or 50 years ago Britain is much more meritocratic, one no longer expects any army officer to speak with a mouthful of plums! However, your comments re; Whitehall are well made.

    1. I would suspect the reason for more 'plebs' in the commissioned ranks is down to commerce being no longer something 'gentlemen' don't sully their hands with - and the need to refill the coffers of the upper tier families, something the European nobility have a head start on.

  3. Being born and raised in the USA... I wish I had the answer. Your post is at least one option. Honestly. I feel like it is more on the lines of the 19 to 30 year olds are all about "ME". What can "I" get and that is how they voted. And will continue to vote. I have talked to people in that range about the fall of jobs, the worsen of health care... they have even had it happen to them or family members but they still believe Obama will come through. He is young, handsome and speaks well. He has ads on Pandora, Facebook and all the areas young people hang out. His wife is there too... on Disney channel and more. He gets the internet age and utilizes it. And it works. They just don't see what has gone wrong. Worse part. I don't think Romney is any better... but I would, Personally, would rather try a new bad thing than keep the old that I know is really screwed up.