I was originally going to title this “Views from the Outside looking In,” but the more I wrote, the more I realised I needed a heading that expressed my ever-increasing exasperation with the US of A. I’m not sure what’s wrong, but I’ve been watching the country descend from the being Bully on the Block, to the slightly embarrassing, slightly mad great Aunt, who owns far too many cats. So I’ve finally decided to sit down and post this rambling rant.
I think nothing exemplifies this slightly schizophrenic nature of the country more than the fact that Fox News has been simultaneously polled as being the most AND the least trusted news outlet in the US. Then again, it’s viewers have also been defined as being among the least informed, which might explain why most of its supporters are Republicans.
I’d like to think many of the problems can be assigned to politics, but sadly, I can’t. There’s a deeper under-current running through parts of the country that are – quite frankly – disturbing to an outsider. I know much of the rhetoric can be defended using First Amendment right to free speech – hell, when the Supreme Court rules in favour of twisted little bigots like Fred Phelps, you know Americans take that right very seriously.
But here’s the thing. With rights come responsibilities. By all means, say whatever you like, but you should be able to be held accountable and responsible for what you say. That’s why I can’t understand how people like Glenn Beck, Anne Coulter and organisations like Fox News are allowed to spout any crap they like – even lie – and get away with it. Even worse, their crap is swallowed as gospel truth by their followers. (The very fact that they have followers is telling in its own right.) Yet, I find it slightly disconcerting that there is no mechanism in place for people to say “Excuse me, you said X about Y, where are your sources?” and if it’s shown they’ve pulled it out of their ass, they should be made to apologise publicly and fined. Sadly, to do this, you’d probably have to launch a civil case, and get a lawyer on your side. No wonder the US has half the world’s lawyers.
Then again, with this sort of responsibility, we’d be deprived of the frequent dose of crazy dished out by the creationists and the birthers. Which leads me to my next point – politics. I think it’s fairly safe to say that America in general, and the right wing thereof in particular, was not ready for a black President. This is quite apparent from the ugly backlash that targets everything from his place of birth, to taking a stand against things the President or First Lady support. The latter goes to ridiculous extremes, where you have people like Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann coming out AGAINST breast-feeding programs, because Michelle Obama was in favour of it. I think most people, even those on the left would happily admit that the Barack Obama of the campaign trail is not the Barack Obama of today. Then again, what President is? It’s a side-effect of a political system where policy decisions are based not on party principles, but on who contributed the most to your election campaign.
In 2008 – even taking in account people’s horror at the thought of Sarah Palin being a heartbeat away from the Oval Office – the best thing Barack had going for him was the fact that he was Not Bush. Fortunately (or not, as it might turn out) he’s also Not Gingrich, Not Paul, Not Perry and Not Romney. I’m not sure why, but it seems as if every now and again, one or other of the parties in the US goes into meltdown – we saw it with the Democrats in the 80s, when the best they had to offer were Dukakis and Mondale – and nobody decent seems to be willing to come to the fore. I have a feeling that those who possess at least half a brain, know that 2012 is a lost cause for the GOP and are holding back for 2016. Well, I seriously hope so, because if the current bunch of contenders are the cream (thick, rich and full of clots) of the Republican party, then America is in more trouble than I ever imagined. There is already no political discourse in the US; a situation which will only worsen after the election this year. The only hope if for one of the parties to sweep everything – White House, Senate and House. Then America can get back to work again, instead of bickering amongst itself, like a drunk Irish family at Christmas.
I mean we have a serial adulterer (who’s in favour of traditional marriage); a crazy bitch, who believed God told her to run, but quit anyway at the first hurdle; a man whose hated of gays would make Phelps raise his eyebrows; a man who wants to go back to the economics of the 19th century; a blood-thirsty maniac, whose solution to his State’s crippling drought was to hold a 3 day prayer rally (this was in April 2011 – July 2011 was the hottest month EVER in Texas history. I woncer if God is trying to tell Perry something?)… and the front-runner, who believes God lives on the planet Kolob and that magic underwear can protect him.These are people who – in the real world – wouldn’t be elected to a small town council, and yet thanks to the quirks of American politics… and the fact that they’re stinking rich… one of them could become The Most Powerful Man in the World.
The other strange thing is that in a country which explicitly separates Church and State, these people are all carrying on about how religious they are, and how they’re trying to curry favour with the religious right. (Well, except for Ron Paul, who was booed in South Carolina for daring to suggest that America should “do unto others as it would have others do unto it”… you know, the same thing that filthy liberal Jesus said.) It sounds to me like they’re going to be bringing their religion back to Washington… something that they should know is a no-no.
Religion is another area where the US is going strange. Ironically, if I were to talk to people in the Bible Belt about how say Iran, or Saudi Arabia, are imposing the tenets of Islam on their populace, they’d be up in arms. And yet these people see no problem with imposing the tenets of Christianity on the populace at large… in a country that specifically separates Church and State. The other problem is it’s not a quiet “yes, thank you Vicar, lovely sermon, see you next Sunday” English type religion. No this is a religion that runs up to you, grabs you by the collar and screams at you. Whilst emptying your wallet at the same time.
It’s also a religion that is frighteningly anti-science, anti-education, anti-human rights and anti-common sense. The fact that Kentucky is cutting $50 million from its education budget, in order to fund the $54 million in tax concessions and roads for Ken Ham’s ludicrous Ark project, is evidence enough of this. Bill Bailey has a joke where he wonders if the Taliban we the most brilliant minds of the 14th century… before long, we might be asking the same of the evangelical movement.
Nothing exemplifies this more than the recent brouhaha over Tim Tebow – the 2nd rate quarterback for a 2nd rate team, that just happened to have a winning streak. The fact that Tim is an out-and-out god-botherer elevated him to saint-like status – he was more famous for praying than for playing football. And yet, he can’t be the only religious footballer in the US? Probably just the most “out there.” I’d like to counter that with an example of my own – a gentleman called Bakkies Botha. Bakkies plays lock for the Springboks, and as with many Afrikaners is deeply religious. So much so that he prays before every game… or as friends and foes put it “he prays before he slays.” You see, Bakkies has a fearsome reputation both as a rugby player and as the enforcer in the loose mauls. But that’s the whole point – Bakkies is famous, and liked and loved and held up as a role model, because he’s an amazing rugby player, not because he prays. In America at the moment, a 2nd rate player is being held up as a role model. As the late Bill Hicks (ah, were he alive today… the material he’d have to work with!) put it, “When did mediocrity become something to aspire to?”
My final point is one I’ve touched on both here and in other posts on the blog. There’s a very ugly undercurrent running through some sections of American society. This is harder to pinpoint, because it crops up in too many varied situations. Examples I’ve used in the past are Americans cheering after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, calling it revenge for Pearl Harbour; likewise, after Japan’s women’s team won the World Cup, Americans were once again online, cheapening a fantastic moment for a country still reeling from the disaster, with comments along the lines of “You might have won the cup, but we nuked the shit out of Hiroshima.”
Now I know you might say that these people don’t represent your people, etc, etc, but let’s face it – if you own the largest house on the block and I walk into your bathroom and see a skidmarked pair of undies lying on the floor… which is going to make the bigger impression? And it doesn’t stop there.
There’s the case of little Jessica Alquist who – quite rightly – made her school take down a banner with obvious religious overtones. Remember, the US separates Church and State. Well, the backlash from this has been frightening to read… I can’t imagine what it must be like for a frightened teen. It ranges from one of her state’s (Rhode Island… which just goes to show it isn’t the South that’s all fucked up) Representatives, Peter Palumbo – who just happens to be a Democrat, before you carry on about “fuckin’ Republicans” – calling her an “evil, little thing” – a comment he later amended to “she’s being coerced by evil people”, to a flower shop in her home town refusing to deliver flowers to her. However, once again, the ugly underside of America has bubbled to the surface, with threats of violence and rape being issued against her. I’m glad sites like the one linked posts people names with their comments, because I am a big believer in payback.
But once again, I worry about a society where people can get away with saying “Let’s all jump the girl who did the banner” without facing any responsibility for their right to free speech. Remember, this is a girl who did the RIGHT THING – her school was breaking the law. And yet she receives threats of violence and has to transfer schools.
Something is not right here. We’ve gone way past rotten and sadly, I don’t think we’ve seen the end of America’s polarization and descent into madness just yet.
However, I’m pleased to be able to close off on a positive note. It seems there are good people in the US. A trust fund has been set up for Jessica’s college fund and has a good few thousand in it already. And they say atheists aren’t charitable. And I’m not one for free advertising, but if you want to buy an “Evil Little Thing” T-shirt to support the fund…