The American Culture Wars.

I fear for the United States of America. Their politics is becoming increasingly polarised, and neither tribe is anywhere close to the right answer.
Let’s look at the Democrats first. They are broadly anti free-trade, pro-union and increasingly collectivist. This is broadly the economic and social dead end that most of Europe is running down. The party sounds a lot like the Labour party on tax issues. They are absolutely convinced all the problems could be solved by extending taxes on ‘the Rich’, who are to blame for substantially all the economic problems of the country. They have the same punk Keynesian headbangers as over here, and the activists are just as prone to the same PC idiocies. They are, however misguided, sane when compared to the Republican party.

The Republican party is currently choosing someone to lose against Obama. The one guy plausible enough to stand a chance was deemed “unamerican” for speaking mandarin Chinese. There is a savage proletarian mentality which goes beyond anti-intellectualism and strays into an open hatred of learning. Ignorance is ‘American’. Being fat is ‘American’. Wasting fuel in enormous trucks is ‘American’. The very science which has made America pre-eminent is utterly rejected. There isn’t a sensible rejection of climate change, for example. It’s a rejection of something that might make those big, gas-guzzling trucks uneconomic, which comes from the same place as the rejection of the “theory” of Evilution. The fact that anyone could consider Rick Santorum, or Sarah Palin a potential POTUS is ridiculous.

A serious contender for the Republican nomination suggested that letting gays serve openly in the military (something that has caused no problems in the far more heavily committed British or Israeli armies) is part of a “war on christianity”. He said this apparently after thinking, aloud and in public. The fact that the obviously flawed Mitt Romney is basically the shit that stinks the least indicates that this party is really only interested in talking to itself. The Rot set in with Bush Jr. but the God nuts have the GOP by the short ‘n Curlies.

Neither party elites are willing to sell globalisation to their supporters, for example. The fact that the Americans are the principal beneficiary of this process is neither here nor there. Americans think the Chinese are Taking ‘their’ jobs, that their culture is under threat (from what depends on which tribe you’re in); that there is a terminal decline (though once again, the cause of that decline depends upon which tribe you’re in).

But it’s not Immigrants, the 1%, Chinese, the UN, goddamn eviloutionists or whatever who are destroying America. It’s the US political culture. The bureaucracy is rampant. Companies are fleeing the US. Capital markets round the world are closing to US capital, because of the sheer arrogance of the US tax authorities which make it just too much trouble to have an American as a client. And going to America, with the TSA who verge between dangerously paranoid and actually insane, is becoming unpleasant if not down-right dangerous. The DEA has destabilised an entire continent, South America; and the War on Terror is in danger of doing the same to Central Asia. The USA has been betraying its history and ethos with rendition, torture and support for less-than savoury regimes. America has been resting on its laurels for some time, and will lose allies fast when it’s no longer the biggest boy on the block if it continues in this vein.

The fact is both political tribes are wrong, in different ways on more or less everything. This is extremely worrying. The Democrats think the Bush-era tax-cuts are to blame for everything. Republicans want to blame everything on discretionary spending. The Republicans won’t touch the bloated American Military, the Democrats won’t touch Entitlements. Both sides are getting what they want and the result is an almost Brownian deficit, as both sides are talking to themselves. Neither side is interested in the rest of the world.

This is a car-crash waiting to happen.

There are free-trade, balanced budget Democrats. There are socially liberal, fiscally sound Republicans. There are people interested in the world in both parties. They are not setting the tone of debate. The recent brinksmanship over the Budget ceiling may have caused the parties to re-examine their shibboleths or face a US default on its debt, but it was a dispute between headbangers. The only hope is this dialogue filters through to the parties’ activists and they re-examine their ideas, because at the moment, The USA looks a lot like a richer version of Britain in the 1970s. Ungovernable, as the tribes are just not willing to talk to each other, and I see no Thatcher on the Horizon. The Americans I know, which includes a range from London ExPats to West-coast software engineers and deep-red-state soldiers, are being failed by their political culture. Yes, a political failure worse than Europe’s. At least Sarkozy and Merkel are trying to address the issues, and someone sane might replace them.

The hope is the sheer variety of the USA, and it’s endless capacity for re-invention, might see the Republicans reject theocracy, and Democrats reject punk Keynesian “economics”. Both parties need to rein in the Bureaucracy, embrace free trade, basic social liberalism, and balanced budgets, because the world’s demand for T-Bills will not last forever, as one day soon a billion Chinese or Indians will be as rich and more powerful than 300m Americans.

3 replies
  1. cuffleyburgers
    cuffleyburgers says:

    Up to a point – although I disagree about Sarkozy and Merkel – they are only interested in trying to get re-elected; finding a proper intelligent humane solution to the problems of this continent will only happen by sheer luck.

    A plague on all their houses

  2. Recusant
    Recusant says:

    Up to a lesser point: anyone who seriously claims that the Republicans would like to impose a theocracy has been listening to too much Fry and Theroux and should get their heads out of the Guardian.

  3. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Keeping things simple is winning politics. In an increasingly complex world the winners will be those who play to those things that people understand. By doing so there's an awful lot one can slip past people.


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