I’m not sure how I feel. Sad. A bit numb. But above all baffled by this strange, young, wonderful, fucked-up country. It’s a tedious truism that America is a country of extremes, but it’s absolutely the case. It’s the country of the Amish, but also the Castro; it’s the home of Gotham, but also of Smallville. Recent US foreign policy has recklessly plunged another country into civil war, but there’s a civil war of sorts going on here too. A civil, civil war, if you like, but it’s every bit as divisive and poisonous as one fought with guns and explosives. Ultimately it’s a war for the hearts and minds of middle America, the vast hinterlands — both social and geographical.
This might be the richest and most powerful country in the world, but it’s also desperately insecure about its identity and its position in the world. Those insecurities fed its side of the Cold War. Since the fizzle-out of the Cold War, which was ‘won’ primarily by default as the Soviets collapsed in exhaustion rather than surrender, US insecurity has flailed about the world like a water-hose without a guiding hand, spraying everything in reach. It finally found its enemy, and therefore its reason to be insecure, in Islamic fundamentalism. When that reason turned out to be so much more than the black-hats of a James Cameron film, the wheels came off. Every ounce of US insecurity turned out to have been justified.
Insecurity was then manipulated to create fear, by people whose methods Orwell would have understood completely: The PATRIOT Act; a McCarthy-ite demonisation of entire countries by the thinnest suspicion, amplified into certainty with the complicity of a lazy and morally corrupt media; perpetual war. A retreat into the false certainty of simplistic ideology followed, the enemies of which were everywhere: abortion; gay marriage; the terror of gun control.
Fear is the only answer that makes sense to the question everyone is asking, in their own way: how can a majority of Americans vote for this man? How can it be possible? Fear. And damn every single one of the bastards who sunk to this cowardly level. Cheney and Rove and all of the blackest éminences noirs. Damn them all. And damn their idiot puppet too, the morally bankrupt, intellectually vacuous man who shores up his own fundamental weaknesses with false ideological certainty, who puffs himself up so much bigger because there’s so little inside. Let his karma be infected with all the damage he’s done, and coloured by all the blood on his hands. The tens of thousands of Iraqis and Americans killed for no reason. Decades of anti-American feeling plugged directly into the brains of those who never needed much encouragement. The suffering of Ken Bigley, and David Kelly, and Margaret Hassan, and all the rest. The British troops who’d calmed Basra sent into the Valley of Death for their troubles. When the pathetic piece of shit smirks at his inauguration, remember the cost, both past and future, and notice how little it penetrates his tiny mind.
I’ve never voted for anyone who actually won. This time, I genuinely believed that I’d hitched my vote-less wagon to a cause that was not only right, but would prevail. I could see it in the photographs of Kerry rallies. I read it in the bewildering diversity of voices standing up to say, ‘no more’, from Eminem to Lila Lipscomb. Retrospectives of the past four years were written as obituaries, ready to clear away the diseased old to make way for a new start. I told people to trust me. But there’s no doubt. No matter that Ohio might have swung elsewhere with a few tens of thousands of votes, America made a choice this time, and it chose to be afraid.
This wasn’t John Kerry’s fault. He offered hope, but not enough people wanted it. He stood tall against a shameless barrage of lies and character assassination, against the ‘so-called’ of the so-called liberal media. He grew as the campaign proceeded, and would have grown further into the job. Never mind. That’s not going to happen now.
I miss British politics. In ways both good and bad, it’s a game. Play hard, play fair, do your best and then shake hands afterwards. US politics isn’t a game, it’s a war, and I’m not convinced that the left has the heart to get its hands dirty. And the thing is, I’m glad that it doesn’t. That way lies madness. It would become what it despises.
The sky hasn’t fallen. The world keeps on turning. It’s all we’ve got. Talk to people you like. Read writers you trust. Remember that you’re not alone.