A Different Culture 13

The ever formidable Brian Barder had posted a fascinated observation on the growing weirdness of US political culture. Here is an excerpt:

It’s sad because it’s another example of the steadily widening gulf between the political culture in the US and that in the rest of the west, exemplified by the Iraq war (leaving aside, if possible, the UK’s culpable complicity in it), the so-called “war on terror” and its implications for civil liberties, extraordinary rendition and Guantanamo Bay, the role of religion, attitudes to capital punishment and the treatment of prisoners, demonstrative patriotism, and now the role of the US sub-prime market in bringing about the impending recession which will engulf the rest of us as well as the United States. Alas, it’s no longer the case that the rest of the civilised world looks to the US as its moral and political leader. And I fear that the causes of this ever-widening gulf go much deeper than just the consequences of the catastrophic presidency of G W Bush: whoever succeeds him will not be able to build a durable bridge across it. Many of us small-L liberals used to feel that we had more in common with our American cousins than with our historical enemies just across the English Channel, the French and the Germans, and even our slightly more distant historical friends, the Scandinavians and the Dutch. I don’t think that’s true any more.


The whole is well worth reading. Barack Obama leaves me stone cold too. I think we underestimate how different and dangerous the US now is. Last year I delivered a talk on Central Asia at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. As I sat preparing my lecture, I had the television on low in my hotel room because I don’t like complete silence. Gradually I found myself listening intently to an evangelical preacher, telling his TV congregation that they should not worry about casualties in Iraq because the Bible showed us that there had to be a great and bloody conflict in the Middle East before the Second Coming of Christ. So the more people who died in these wars, the closer we are to Jesus.

Now that message would be acceptable to very few people in the UK – just Tony Blair and his immediate friends, really. I related this astonishing thing I had heard to some American lecturers over lunch. They told me that at least a third of their students would believe this stuff. And this was Ann Arbor, not the Deep South. It is essential that we all wake up now to the fact that the US is a deeply disturbed and psychotic society, and by far the biggest danger to world peace.

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13 thoughts on “A Different Culture

  • Mike

    Barder: I don't think that's true any more.

    Damn, I sure hope it's not. The sooner we put a stake through the heart of the 'special relationship' and start realising that the UK is a European country, the better off we're all going to be.

  • George Dutton

    I fear it's worse then you think Craig…

    "Tom Delay and the End of the World Cult"

    "And among them are some of the most powerful men in America. John Ashcroft, the attorney general, is a true believer, so are several prominent senators and the House majority leader, Tom DeLay. Mr DeLay (who is also the co-author of the marvellously named DeLay-Doolittle Amendment, postponing campaign finance reforms) travelled to Israel last year to tell the Knesset that "there is no middle ground, no moderate position worth taking"…

    "Ultra-right Christians begin campaign to end the world"…

  • tjerk

    "Alas, it's no longer the case that the rest of the civilised world looks to the US as its moral and political leader."

    Its an often written catchy phrase and some countries did do this, maybe it was the rest of the civilized world, but there may have been some other countries that possibly were also civilized that did not look up to the United States as the saviour's next cousin. Its a bit of a myth really…

  • writeon

    Having travelled wider in continental europe and lived there I can attest that Britain has substantially more in common with the rest of europe than with the United States. However, we do share a common language, which gives the impression that we share much more than just a language.

  • amk

    I've always felt closer to the continentals than to the US. However, I've moved away from the idea that there are fundamental differences in outlook between the European and American publics, except on the (admittedly large) issue of religion. There are more differences in political culture, but in both the EU and (more so) the US these are distanced from the general public.

    I'm hoping for an Edwards Presidency. He is (as far as can be determined) serious about ending the influence of lobbyists and special interests and the media near-monopoly (two of the largest underlying problems in the US) as well as ending the Iraq war and tackling climate change.

    Clinton and Obama are both clearly heavily influenced by special interests, and will attempt to take the path of least resistance rather than take leadership on critical issues. Obama is a great orator, but possibly not a lot else. Clinton… I've no idea why anyone would vote for Clinton.

    Interestingly, Edwards may be the best placed to beat any Republican.

    Here's an interesting, reasonably up to date comparison, based on actual records rather than rhetoric:

    My favourite smear of the campaign so far is an allegation that Clinton had a lesbian affair with a Sunni Muslim staffer. I'm not quite sure how a lesbian could also be a Wahhabi jihadi, but hey.

  • Mike

    Frankly, having an affair with a lesbian staffer would be one of the very few marks in the 'plus' column I could give Hillary.

  • Patti

    I am about to fill in my ballot for the democratic nominee for US president. I have been watching the debates and am still undecided.

    I have read the posts regarding the evangelical influence here, and I have to say that it has been a frightening thing to see. I do however see that influence lessening. I think using religious bias as a political tool has been sadly effective in the past, and will continue to be so to some degree.I find it very disturbing as well as other decisions that have made by the current administration.

    I do however think that the tide will be turning in a more positive direction regarding policy. I believe there has been a swing away from the hawkish right and that the general desire is for change.I think that as a country we have lost our way. I think that working with other western countries is absolutely necessary and that bridges need to be mended.

  • Strategist

    "I am about to fill in my ballot for the democratic nominee for US president. I have been watching the debates and am still undecided."

    Go on, fuck it, vote for Edwards! Give him a few delegates at Denver!

  • s9

    I've been trying to bring this cultural gulf to the attention of my friends outside the North America zone since the George H.W. Bush presidency. It's been clearly on display since the we saw how Operation Desert Storm was sold to the public.

    It really burned me up in 2002, when George W. Bush was trying build the so-called Coalition Of The Willing, and the British government utterly capitulated. There was a very dicey moment, after the February public demonstrations turned millions of people out to protest in public against a war that hadn't begun yet, when Britain could have stood up to the United States and refused to join the coalition. If they had done that, then I doubt any of the other members would have joined either. It would have been a repudiation, and it might have even been enough to keep the U.S. population from going along with the Bush administration's deceitful rush to war. They could have thrown the bums out in 2004, but no.

    Sadly, the British government gave the U.S. the moral support it needed. I wonder if the British people will ever hold their government accountable for that.

  • amk

    s9, unfortunately the official opposition in the UK, the Conservative "Tory" Party, was just as pro-war as the government. There was a significant swing towards the third-party Liberal Democrats and to the Scottish and Welsh nationalists, all anti-war, at the last national elections. Blair's last-minute gambit was to warn that a vote for the LibDems could let the Tories win – which, unfortunately, is often true with the electoral system we have. An extraordinary admission that there is a substantial flaw with our electoral system from the PM, who once promised a referendum on electoral reform.

    Blair was forced out by his party largely because of the Iraq war, although the final straw was his reaction to the summer 2006 Israel-Hizbullah conflict. Not that Brown is in any way an improvement.

    At some point I'll have to calculate in hwo many constituencies the LibDems went from not being in the top two to being in the top two – which would make a vote for them no longer a "wasted vote".

  • Mallory

    I don't know that this comment really fits with everyone else's, but since I'm now reading Dirty Diplomacy, and I live in Ann Arbor, and I am Christian…here are my two cents:

    That anyone would justify this abominable "war" with Biblical scripture is appalling. George Bush makes a mockery of the faith he claims to hold, and I see nothing Christ-like in his actions.

  • Viejo Vizcacha

    I think Brian's view is too romantic.

    When Brian attributes value to a "war on terror", is looking at politics almost in abstract, isolated of the forces acting on it. The old way, I say.

    Bush is a speed, all right. But will pass. Worst things lurk ahead; There is not any "war-on-terror" whatsoever;

    This is a war between Jewishs and Muslims.

    We, World, have been dragged in, because we are stupid, stupid, stupid.

    In other words, religion taking over politics, that is the immense danger for humanity.

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