America the confusing. After a month in the USA I think I am more uncertain than ever how to Make America Great again.
Here are some random thoughts:
Gosh it’s a funny old time right now, isn’t it?
Everything just seems so thoroughly mixed up, unpredictable, somehow the order seems disrupted. My (our?) obsession, yes OBSESSION with what is going on in the USA right now just seems to get fuller and deeper and yet things in this part of the world seem to remain pretty stable, sensible and joyful.
On Instagram this morning, there are thousands of pictures of kids heading off to new schools. Good schools, teaching sensible things in a logical way. The system is not perfect but it is good. Our politics is not perfect but it’s a pass – at least relatively speaking.
And yet, on the other side of the world things appear, to put it nicely, bat-shit crazy. Ignorance and fear have temporarily taken over logic, good sense and education. And there’s an old-fashioned Ringmaster – a guy who a century ago would have had a twirling moustache and a tophat, whipping up the frenzy. Without recourse to history, intelligence, rational thought or compassion, this man does whatever it takes to court attention, to maintain the spotlight upon himself. And he’s bloody good at it. And he knows his audience and he continues to give them exactly what they want. It’s an entirely implausible movie plot but here it is acting out in real life.
Gosh what an incredible thing it is to see.
I’ve just returned from a month in the USA. I was in DC a week before the inauguration, in Los Angeles on THE DAY, I spent too much time on CNN, FOX and social media – it was literally a barrage of noise, opinions, yelling and screaming – the likes of which this western world has probably never seen. There’s simply too many people saying too many things with too little thought. So here I go adding my voice to the chorus.
America is, as we know, such a place of contradiction that it absolutely beggars belief. In a day visiting the Natural History Museum, NASA or one of the Smithsonians, you can feel nothing but inspired by the sheer breadth and depth of human endeavour possible in this great country. The thrilling thinking followed by the breathtaking execution. And then . . .
And then you go back to your hotel room and the shouting begins again.
But then there’s a night out at Hamilton, a night cruising bars in New York or a brilliant Cuban-inspired dinner in Miami and you just literally shake your bloody head. This place! What is with THIS PLACE? How has it come to this?
It’s been said a million times that the US elections and Brexit are a mirror to each other and that’s right. There is no longer left and right – there is just us and them. Depending on which side of the chamber you sit – us the “elites” and them the disenfranchised – or vice versa. And the divide is ruthlessly exploited by both sides. This is not the art of wedge politics, this is the politics of a divided canyon. An hour watching 30 minutes each of CNN and FOX makes you think there are actually two parallel universes. Alternative facts is not just a cute hashtag but a terrifying, Orwellian reality. Impartiality and the art and craft of dispassionate, analytical, fair-minded reporting has gone out the window. And both sides are at fault. I read and heard as much hysterical anti-Trump “journalism” as I did pro-Trump FOX-isms.
And the thing about the US is that there is still so little we Australians understand. Like how my cousin’s wife – a well-read Bostonian with great taste in art and a poet for a mother – could be such a rusted-on, Pro-trump, Fox-watching Republican? How she could say, while she doesn’t agree with all of his actions and words, she thinks he is a FAR superior alternative to Obama or H Clinton. We never understood, in this nation, how deeply unpopular Hillary was and is to this day.
Or how I could fly into Orlando, Florida on the very day a bloke from Alaska shoots dead five people in the Ft Lauderdale airport after picking up his gun at the baggage carousel. And it rates a mention for a day or two and then everyone just gets on with their business. Eyes blinked briefly.
I couldn’t help but compare it with the enormous, fortnight-long outpourings of grief when a lunatic drove over five people on Bourke Street in Melbourne the week later. Seriously, the value placed on innocent lives being lost in Australia is so much higher than in the US; it is truly incredible. You’ve no idea. No, that’s probably not true. You probably have every idea but to see it live in action, well it’s really, really confronting.
I went to the college football final in Tampa – Alabama vs Clemson – it was an event, an atmosphere, a spectacle like none I’ve ever witnessed in a lifetime of sporting events. And the match itself was a true epic. Yet I couldn’t help feeling a little odd. The crowd of 90% whites cheering on two teams from the South featuring 90% blacks. I guess, in essence there’s nothing wrong with that; in fact, it might be somehow liberating and football is an incredible route out of poverty for so many young black guys, especially from the South. Yet. Yet, it still felt somehow weirdly gladiatorial. Let them crash into each other and get concussed, while we cheer and sing and play in the marching bands. Perhaps I’m just over-thinking it. That’d be a first.
And this, I guess is the laboured point I am somehow trying to make. America is the earth’s greatest conundrum. Simply capable of the best and the worst in humanity – even on the very same day. It’s a point I made to our guide in DC as we toured the monuments of Lincoln, Roosevelt, King and Jefferson. Four men of divergent backgrounds and political sides but somehow bound in the rich, incredible history of this nation.
God, I said, exasperated. This country is just so bloody confusing. I can’t make any sense of it at all.. Its so bloody fascinating and frustrating at the same time.
And he, a gay a capella singer from California who majored in political history, simply gave a shrug and replied; “Isn’t that what makes it so great?”.
Maybe he’s right. Maybe this particular period of American history is a turning point. Maybe we needed it to happen to re-set the moral compass of a nation.
Maybe in a decade we will look back and say that this crazy period made good men and women take a stand. That the nation needed a truly radical re-boot.
Maybe, just maybe, after the carnage and hand-wringing and protest and probably violence of these next few months or years, America can start to re-build.. And it can become greater than ever before.
We have to believe it possible.