As a young boy born in the year of the bombing of Pearl Harbour I have been privy, in my growing up in Melbourne Australia, to witness the way in which the United States insinuated its post-war mentality into the Australian psyche. Whether born at home or overseas and whether for good or ill, Australians became Americanised.
Perhaps, I should pause here, lay my cards on the table, and even offer a disclaimer. I confess I haven’t visited the American mainland. Honolulu is as far as I have ventured. There, I was suitably impressed by the hospitality of the people, struck by their obesity, and disillusioned by their ignorance of all things not American. I find them often crass, as well.
As an example, I recall a sightseeing expedition one Summer day on the magnificent Sydney Harbour. The ferry carried a dozen or so American tourists. As we rounded an estuary we encountered a large yacht race approaching us; their vibrant, colourful spinnakers in full sail. The scene was breathtakingly beautiful, but the loud Americans, more interested in the value of the mansions that dotted the cliffs, spoiled the moment.
On the other hand, I have a number of American Facebook friends with more developed sensibilities, some of whom I speak with regularly on Skype or telephone. These individuals are politically attuned to the downward course America is taking. In heartfelt conversation, they express their despair at the decline of what they once thought – rightly or wrongly – to be the greatest nation on earth. What they once regarded as an enlightened society strengthened by freedom of expression they now question as they see these same constitutional protections used by the Right to foment hatred.
Like me, they believe that in an enlightened society the need to legislate one’s right to hate another person is considered intellectually barren.
They mention the land of milk and honey and wonder why their fellow citizens still believe in the great American dream. They ask themselves if it was all just propaganda, a myth to distract the majority from the wrongs perpetrated against the minority.
Again, I had better pause lest you fail to grasp where I am heading. In Australia we have a saying, “Only in America.” It’s a phrase we say when something outrageously good or bad happens, as though such excesses can occur only in America. It might be violent racism, another Columbine, kids being slaughtered – any preventable, tragic loss of life that repeats time and again for which no remedy is forthcoming. All of this is beyond the average Australian’s capacity to understand. In contrast, we also use “Only in America” as a term of endearment when some outstanding achievement occurs: a significant scientific breakthrough, a sporting record, a foot touching the moon’s surface.
How is it, we ask, that the most technologically advanced country in the world is descending into the moral abyss of unscrupulous, partisan political skulduggery and unbridled capitalism?
Capitalism as practiced in the U.S. does not allow for an even flow of economic resources. With this system a small privileged few are rich beyond conscience and almost all others are doomed to be poor at some level.
Australians once applauded Americans for their ability to disagree on policy issues yet reach bipartisan agreement through compromise for the sake of the country at large. What happened?
Ronald Reagan gained power and legitimised the rise of Neo-conservatism and the Christian Right. This trend continued under George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove and their cohort of ideologues. Believing America to be superior in every way to all other countries, they drove the U.S. towards a more aggressive, interventionist foreign policy and tried to reshape the nation domestically in their image, as well. Sadly, the Americanisation of Australia continues apace and our politics are now increasingly informed by the same corrupt and duplicitous mindset.
In 2013, following four years of leadership turmoil in the Labor Party, Australians in their absentmindedness elected Tony Abbott as Prime Minister.
Neo-conservative Republicanism had crossed the oceans and invaded our Australian way of life; a culture that once had fairness at the core of its being. It is now a place where less informed voters unfortunately outnumber the more politically aware.
Conservatives fed them all the bullshit they needed to hear. And the menu generally contained a fair portion of Americanised persuasive untruth. And the lying from Abbott began in earnest:
“Let’s be under no illusions: the carbon tax was socialism masquerading as environmentalism”.
With that statement and many more like it he took Australia into far right conspiracy theory politics.
After two years the public, and indeed his party had had enough of the politics of fear and replaced him with the more moderate and sensible Malcom Turnbull. Ironically though it now has a center left leader leading a far right party.
So emphatically poor of political morality is the U.S. now that there is a distinct possibility that an ill of mind billionaire entertainer in Donald Trump might trump a second grade movie actor to become the next president.
How a man of such ill repute, threatened by two countries to be disallowed entry, could even be nominated beggars belief. It even questions the sanity of those who would contemplate his election.
To think that the Republican Party could ever consider a megalomaniac like Trump as a nominee to run for the Presidency illustrates just how low the GOP have fallen.
Only in America.
From Down Under we see a sick deluded man of no redeeming features, full of racial hatred, bile and misogyny. A deluded pathetic liar unsuitable for the highest office in the land, if not the world. He sees complex problems and impregnates them with populism and implausible black and white solutions.
He is a person of limited intellect and understanding only capable of seeing the world through the prism of his own wealth. The far edges of knowledge seem to have passed him by. Matters requiring deep philosophical consideration seem beyond him.
His opinions on subjects of internal and international importance are so shallow that one would think he spent the entirety of his youth in the wading pool at the local swimming pool, or six years in grade 6 and never academically advanced.
He is a crash through politician with a ubiquitous mouth. Trump remains an incoherent mess who bounces back after each disaster thinking he has been impressive while those around him are laughing their heads off. Entertaining in a uniquely American way he might be to the hillbillies but leadership requires worldly character.
Is America to have, an ignoramus of first world order, as President?
It might be said that my description of Trump has descended into what Americans call hyperbole.
If I have, I make no apologies.
Wow. Only in America.
Its not as though there aren’t alternatives. America could elect its first women, Hillary Clinton, as President. She has knowledge, an abundance of experience and the quintessential quality of resiliency in the face of failure. She is no quitter.
On the other hand a man like Bernie Sanders has a way of grasping the intestines of an argument and presenting a plausible answer that is simple to understand, and at the same time enthuses and leads people into an all embracing narrative that inspires.
If character is a combination of traits that etch the outlines of life, governing moral choices and personal and professional conduct. Donald Trump is devoid of it. He is nothing more than a walking talking headline for all that’s unscrupulous about American politics.
Character is also an elusive thing, easily cloaked or submerged by the theatrics of a presidential campaign. His transparency is there for all to see. We sit before our televisions and watch his antics and ponder at the gullibility of the American people and say . . .
“Only in America”.
Mind you, we would say that about the quality of the Republican candidates, the power of Rupert Murdoch, the evilness of Fox news, of repugnant gun laws and the NRA who seem to have power over who is elected, the Republican hatred of Obamacare and the disdain for science and the utter contempt religion and televangelists have for logic.
So much so that I have come to the conclusion that one of the truly bad effects religion (any religion) has on people is that it teaches that it is a virtue to be satisfied with not understanding.
We become bewildered and confused when Americans describe themselves as the great democracy, yet few bother to vote and in an election can only do so on a work day. We are apt to laugh. We think that’s an absurdity. A contradiction of democratic principles. Is it really Government of the people, by the people, for the people as Lincoln proclaimed? “Only in America“, we whisper.
When talking about character I cannot but mention President Obama. Was there ever a president so constrained by his own Congress?
Republicans and the right-wing media with all their propaganda have sought to create a fictional President who is the opposite of the one known outside the States. Twenty five per cent of the population still believe he is a Muslim and a large percentage, including Trump, still believe he was born outside the States even though the facts prove otherwise.
Such is the power of the right-wing media (Fox News) and an accumulation of feral shock jocks. The GOP (the Republicans – the ‘Grand Old Party’) is even accused of deliberately not passing bills in order to make the economy worse. In fact, 54 Conservative Tea Party members actually signed a pledge to oppose everything the President submitted to the Congress. 33 Bills were put forward to outlaw Obamacare.
There are those who say that President Obama was, Indeed, a good man and a fine executive, but found himself under the “constraints” mentioned but was unsuccessful because he was not aggressive enough in standing up to the Republican Congress. Lyndon Johnson would have pushed similar policies on the domestic front but would have realised greater success because he was a “bastard” and master of the political deal. I cannot vouch for the veracity of that but in fairness it is worth mentioning.
However, we in Australia wonder what this remarkable man might have achieved had he not had so much obstruction.
When in his State of the Union address he ventures this observation.
“Look, if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have a go at it, you’ll be pretty lonely, because you’ll be debating our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it.”
We look on with incredulity and listen to the sound of silence from the right and say . . .
“Only in America”.
Around the world we are at a point in time in our history where ‘change’ demands it be listened to. Where the events of recent times scream for it. It only requires a voice to demand it on behalf of the people. American conservatives will soon have to realise that for the good of the country their politics will have to change. That they cannot resist change in the foolish assumption that they can make permanent that which makes them feel secure. They must realise that change is in fact part of the very fabric of our existence.
But what is it that occupies the minds of men and women of the conservative right that they need be so malevolent in their thinking? That the power of wit, truth and persuasion with reasoned thinking and argument no longer suffices. That sledgehammer thinking will win every argument. What is it in the backgrounds of these people that causes their narcissism, their inability to accommodate difference or equality?
Is it that hatred is simply passed on from one generation to another? Is it born of ignorance?
There are in my view three psychological types: those who know; those who know when they are shown; and those who have no interest in knowing because of their inheritance of hate. They are the feral Philistines.
On Facebook last year during a discussion on gun control (a subject in which I find even the most moderate people lose all sense of objectivity) a person who I shall not name suggested that I had no right to comment on the subject because I wasn’t American. When I questioned him as to whether free speech was only gifted to Americans, he rather angrily shouted, in print, words of obscenity at me. I retorted that I felt that our support, fighting side by side in every major conflict, with America gave me every right. And I did.
We were of poor Irish background and my education didn’t extend much beyond primary school. My world view, and sense of social justice fermented in my youth and came to fruition over time and was influenced by the injustice I both saw, read about, and experienced.
Although we embraced the mother country it was American culture and politics that was to shape my future.
By the time I turned 21 I was firmly in the camp of social democracy. American music was my passion. American film my entertainment. Books such as To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck opened my eyes to the injustices of the world.
JFK was my hero as was Bobby later. This quote still resonates with me:
“The gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages … It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom or our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile” (Robert Kennedy, 1968).
The United States has given us many things. Some things I have at times detested like its blatant racism and interventionist foreign policy but at the same time admired its preparedness to act as international policeman. We have both grown from immigration and are the two most multicultural countries in the world. There is a shared commonality.
Please continue to give of yourself America but under no circumstances give us Donald Trump. He represents everything that is wrong with your politics and we don’t wish to inherit any more of it. Enough is enough.
And recently came the news that Sarah Palin has endorsed Donald Trump. My eyes moisten. Days later she blames Barack Obama for her son’s arrest on domestic violence charges. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
Only in America.