There is a game you can play.
Almost all Americans have this strange idea that they want to ask you whether you are “doing OK”….. “having a good day”.
Try answering “well not really”. This really throws them off base, well actually, most pretend they haven’t heard your answer. Bizarre, why ask a question you don’t want to know the answer to?
In the world of work it can be just as apparent. If you ask any American businessman how business is, you will always get the answer “great”. Even if he is about to go down the toilet.
It’s cultural, this is a society very much based on politeness and positivity. Most of middle America doesn’t understand those great English staples, cynicism and sarcasm. And self doubt is a really problem for most Americans, they want to hear that the USA is the best country in the world, something most British people find to be very vulgar. Americans want to feel they are in personal control.
For instance, last month huge winds struck the East coast, and the coastline around New York was devastated. Over 100,000 people are still without electricity, many hundreds, maybe thousands are without homes. The communities pull together as one would hope anywhere in the world, this is not just poor people, this is a fairly affluent part of the USA. A European would look at this situation and say “what is the Government going to do about it?”
Which is one of the ways it all goes wrong in America, because most affluent middle class Americans hate Government. They want “small government”. For instance, Mitt Romney campaigned on stopping spending on alternative energy investments, on dismantling Government investment in such bizarre ideas as flood prevention. 30% of the population don’t believe global warming played a part in this natural catastrophe.
Yes, this week I am having a rant, sorry but the US election really got to me.
Firstly I must apologise to all American citizens, I am truly not sure I should be allowed to comment on your election. I can’t vote in it, I have only been here 7 weeks so I am hardly qualified to comment on it. But now it is over, perhaps some perspective can help, after all, the US just re-elected the most powerful man in the world.
As our Jake said, thank god the TV adverts are all over. Mind you, the Xmas adverts then started, so I suspect he has changed his mind.
Political advertising has to be the most unbalanced thing you will ever see on TV. They pour vitriol on each other in a manner that no nice polite European society would ever accept. The issues get twisted and subverted in a very unreal manner, and the candidates just end up as caricatures in some kind of medieval pantomime. Think Punch & Judy meets children’s playground.
Any subtlety of message, or any in depth discussion of facts is very difficult. There is very low newspaper readership in America, and some TV channels are blatantly biased, but at least there are channels like CNN who do offer good independent coverage. But every debate of an issue on the main channels ends with the two sides being represented in a very confrontational argument, and at the end…..where is the man from the BBC summing it all up for me?
The US system is a classic two party system, with absolutely no chance of anyone coming in to disrupt their cabal. And the parties appear to be getting more and more polarised. Obama got re-elected because his campaign used old fashioned methods, to get his key supporters out to vote. This time round his key constituency was women, the young, non-whites, and the “working class” (plus some wishy washy liberals). Many business people I have met voted for him last time, perhaps a vote for hope and change. But lots of these people deserted him this time, worried about increasing taxes, a perceived failure in the economy, and “left wing liberalism”.
On the other side the Republicans have an impossible job of trying to represent the broadest political church the world has ever seen, incorporating billionaires, the far right, and the evangelical Christians, as well as trying to reach out to normal middle class America.
Did I mention the billionaires? This election cost $2.5bn, what could this fortune have been better spent on?
This is the problem with the American electoral system. The enormous machine that is the two parties creates a huge swell that glosses over the real issues. It turns into smears, and big slogans, but at the end of it, no-one really believes the elected president will be held to account.
Because, in contrast to most democracies, the US machine appears to be about the two parties, but in reality the candidates need their party during the election, and once elected they are to some degree removed. Now Obama is in the White House, the “most powerful man in the world”, but he has the Congress and the House to work with, one held by each party, and to get anything done the byword is compromise, or in their words, “bipartisanship”.
To the vast and diverse US population it means huge amounts of haggling and indecision while nothing is achieved.
Generally US Presidents look to their second term to create a legacy, as an outsider I would say Obama has been a different kind of president, he made his mark in the first term with Medicare. I spend hours even now with Americans who find universal healthcare an anathema, it is too difficult for people focussed inwardly to totally embrace what most of Europe see as essential. Big Government is seen as the province of the weak, whereas most of Europe would see Government as necessary and inevitable, particularly when Sandy shows us how nature is really in control.
Unlike most of Europe, the American economy is growing, their unemployment rate is lower (at least on paper), and things are definitely moving forward, but most Americans don’t see it as doing well enough.
I really like America. It is a country that gets things done in a practical manner, most voting is electronic, so the result was declared before 10pm our time. But the real challenge is what happens now. Can Obama build the economy, manage an inevitable increase in middle class taxation, and really deliver for all of America? Seems impossible to me.
It’s a big country, with lots of different people, this is what makes it so interesting.
Rant over…….normal service resumes next week.