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In Which America Goes Crazy

So this is me doing what I am sworn not to do. That is, write briefly about the contemporary events that everyone else is writing about and for no money. It’s almost like tweeting – but not quite.

On January 6th 2021 a bunch of hooligans as we would call them became the first people since British soldiers in 1814 to institute a hostile occupation of the Capitol in Washington DC. They succeeded in postponing the confirmation of Joe Biden as president by a few hours. This was at the suggestion, let us say, of the outgoing president, Donald Trump. The contradictions and paradoxes contained in this story were such as to put your jaw on the floor. Nearly all of them made some claim to be patriots, but their actions did more damage to the prestige and “soft power” of the United States in one day than any of its enemies had ever managed in a decade. They gave grist to the mills of anti-Americans in a hundred countries and, more importantly, undermined any attempt by the USA to take the moral high ground in dealings with China and Russia. Most claimed to loath and fear something called “socialism”, but they also hated successful big business and their anger came out of their exclusion from contemporary capitalism in its global and information technology forms. They were the very people, in short, who could do with a bit of socialism. Although they opposed “Big Tech.” they lived by the internet and its various opportunities for self-expression and networking. The woman who was shot dead in attempting to enter the inner sanctums of the building where politicians were cowering, Ashli Babbitt, turned out to have a personal best of seventy seven “tweets” in a day – which is seventy seven more than me in a lifetime. And a further paradox is generated when the inevitable question is asked about who gained from the events: obviously it wasn’t the instigator, whose elite support began to ebb away like water through a broken dam – it was the Democrats and the anti-Trump Republicans. The “underpolicing” of the Capitol began immediately to generate rumours of conspiracy.

We lay in bed looking at the ‘phones and the newspapers and talked about how America had changed since we lived there 40-odd years ago – though the foreshadows of what has happened were there to be remarked even then. It is more bitter, more angry, more divided. I’ve been going fairly regularly and have watched it happen. Jerry Brown, our state governor back in the day, used to talk presciently about the need for Americans to “lower their expectations”. I referred to the consequences of the bloated system of higher education which creates 3rd class citizens with no qualifications and 2nd class citizens who went to inferior institutions. Ann saw the legacy of slavery: the gap between how the world is for you and how you think it should be reaches a maximum score with white American males. But the broader picture is globalisation and technological change giving the lovers of capitalism no role in real capitalism. Those are forces so broad and deep that hardly anyone can conceive of doing anything about them.

I’m not anti-American. Apart from living there I’ve got many happy memories of holidays in the USA and every reason to be grateful to the country financially. In some respects I feel I know the country better than many of its natives because I have visited forty five states whereas the average for citizens is only twelve. But I am as bemused and irritated as pretty well all non-Americans by the constant assertion that the United States, contrary to all appearances and all evidence is “the greatest nation on earth” or that “the American way of life” is better than other ways of life. As a conservative I find American “conservatism ” especially confused. The constitution, though prescribing procedures which are friendly to a kind of conservatism, is essentially a radical document, a product of an “Enlightenment” that only a few of us reject. The USA is supposed to be progressive, dynamic, inclusive . . . otherwise there’s no point.

To me as to many educated Americans the invaders of the capital looked like some sort of Deliverance nightmare, zombies from some swamp in the darkness of the interior. I don’t like them; I don’t like their preposterous beliefs and contradictions. I don’t like the walking, talking rectum they acknowledge as their leader. BUT – and it’s a very big but – I don’t like their enemies either. I think “Big Tech” has done immense harm. I think free trade in its twenty-first century has done immense harm; many people are spiritually impoverished by it and its chief beneficiaries are the expansionist tyrants of China. Our current rulers, the “salariat”, the “liberal elite” are surely among the worst elites of recent centuries. They ain’t even liberal – don’t even believe in free speech. They pose as egalitarians, making a fetish of symbolic expressions of racial and gender equality while ignoring the vast and growing social and economic equalities which pose problems on a larger scale. So, zombies from the swamp, I know where you’re coming from – I just don’t know where there is for you to go.

Lincoln Allison January 2021

(I just couldn’t help it!)