11 Jan 2016

Outsider's View of a Despairing America

Excerpts from a longish article penned by a Canadian forThe Guardian. He went across the border to witness a rally by Trump and a rally by Sanders. The point of this is not to contrast Trump and Sanders, but to describe the psychological condition of 'white' America.
"Most of the time being white is an absence of problems. The police don’t bother you so you don’t notice the police not bothering you. You get the job so you don’t notice not getting it. Your children are not confused with criminals. I live in downtown Toronto, in one of the most liberal neighborhoods in one of the most open cities in the world, where multiculturalism is the dominant civic value and the inert virtue of tolerance is the most prominent inheritance of the British empire, so if you squint you can pretend the ancient categories are dissipating into a haze of enlightenment and intermarriage....

As I drove through the outskirts of the ruins of Detroit, across the I-94, one of the ugliest highways in the United States, the old familiar lightness fluttered to my heart. I love America. America is not my mother. Canada is my mother. But America is an unbelievably gorgeous, surprisingly sweet rich lady who lives next door and appears to be falling apart. I cannot help myself from loving it.

For people who love to dwell in contradictions, the US is the greatest country in the world: the land of the free built on slavery, the country of law and order where everyone is entitled to a gun, a place of unimpeded progress where they cling to backwardness out of sheer stubbornness....

On the I-94, you do find yourself asking: what the fuck is wrong with these people? I mean, aside from the rapid decline of the middle class obviously. And the rise of precarious work and the fact that the basic way of life requires so much sedation that nearly a quarter of all Americans are on psychiatric drugs, and somewhere between 26.4 and 36 million Americans abuse opioids every day. Oh yes, and the mass shootings. There was more than one mass shooting a day. And the white terrorists targeting black churches again. And the regularly released videos showing the police assassinating black people. And the police in question never being indicted, let alone being sent to jail.

And you know what Americans were worried about while all this shit was raining down on them? While all this insanity was wounding their beloved country? You know what their number one worry was, according to poll after poll after poll?

Muslims. Muslims, if you can believe it....

There were cars in the parking lot slathered with bumper stickers. “We the people are 100% FED UP!” “So if guns kills people, I guess pencils miss spell words [sic], cars drive drunk and spoons make people fat.” “I’m straight, conservative, Christian, and I own a gun. Is there anything else I can do to piss you off?” A picture of Obama with “Does this ass make my car look big?” The Republican style for 2016 is angry aphoristic humor. Behind comedy, absurd rage: America is the greatest country in the world but America is falling apart, government is the problem which is why government must solve it....

The view of American politics in Fun City is snug despair. It is despair not just at who happens to be in power but at whoever could ever be in power. It is despair not simply that the system is broken but that any system, imaginable in the current iteration of the United States, would turn out to be just as broken. The choice is a choice between impotence and coercion. The response was not revolution but a shrug....

Sanders’s exasperation was the principal fact to be communicated, more than any political content. Trump was about winning again. Sanders was about having lost. The vagueness of American politics is what astonished the outsider. It’s all about feelings and God and bullshit. Sanders actually uttered the following sentence out loud: “What we’re saying is when millions of people come together to restore their government we can do extraordinary things.” Nobody asked what he meant. Nobody asked for numbers....

The ancient dreams are still so vivid here. In the United States, 240-year-old writings can be recited by heart by people who cannot be described as educated. Documents written by men who owned slaves are spoken of as if they could solve the problems of today and tomorrow and any conceivable future no matter how distant...."


  1. When I worked for Catholic Health Initiatives, before we moved back to Henderson, my job as "Performance Improvement Group Leader" was to go to various CHI hospitals that were experiencing financial decline and analyze their departments and activities to see if we could find areas they could improve upon. of course they hated to see me and the team scheduled to show up, but I loved meeting new people.

    The first day on the job, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, at St. Joseph Health System, a three-hospital system, I was simply astonished at how easy it was to see what they were doing wrong.

    It's not that I was particularly insightful or awesome at what I did, it's a cultural phenomenon, like your post points out. I was not a member of the culture, therefore not enculturated, or accustomed to the actions and the culture of the organization.

    It was like walking into a hospital and someone had written in a notepad, pointing out all the deficiencies of their system. The things I saw would never fail to astonish me, things that would lead me to believe they were either trying to bankrupt their hospitals or so incompetent they should have never been in the business they were.

    That's how this reads and I identify so well with this because of refreshing insight it brings.

    Just as it was typical of the hospital leadership to get pissed and to not only ignore the direction we would give them, they would act as though we were there to obfuscate reality somehow.

    That is precisely how the majority of those you describe will accept this.

    Fascinating post Magpie.

    1. There was a period of film in the 70s where protagonists were on a road trip to nowhere, against the backdrop of an America both beautiful and sad. I haven't seen them for years so maybe they are not quite as I remember, but to me this article was like that. There is still something that this guy loves, and wants to be in love with, in America. Not all places going through a rough patch evoke that. It actually says something good about America.
      I hope I'm making sense here.

  2. We have a great number of people who worship the founding fathers and at the same time worship stupidity. I can't imagine the cognitive dissonance that must be required to hold those two beliefs. I don't know when anti-intellectualism started, but it's been with us a long time.

    1. I was once regularly conversing with a considerably-less-than-well-informed and deeply religious lady in Arkansas. Her reaction to Obama's re-election: "Man, not God has failed" and "this is not what our founding fathers would have wanted". Not a lot of wiggle-room to see an upside there...

  3. Those are legitimate criticisms, best summed in the author's "It’s all about feelings and God and bullshit". In the case of guns, we note the
    logical disconnect: we want to return to the good old days of the constitution- when the family gun was a muzzle loader in the cabin corner. There is a segment, so tied to a rather unchristian Christan
    dogma that prefers to pass on their ignorance through home schooling
    rather than expose their children to the 'propaganda' of facts. To
    these, the Scopes Trial was a conspiracy; science is a dark mystery of
    untruths and their own government a tyranny to be feared. Rather than
    attempt to address 'feelings of God and bullshit' a major political party has embraced and exploited them (and it really doesn't take a foreigner to figure it out..we know)

    1. I saw in a blog the textbook pile for a family doing home-schooling once. It included a book bout how people and dinosaurs co-existed. It's not as bad as seeing a child being beaten but it's pretty close.
      And on God and bullshit, I know it doesn't take a foreigner to figure it out, and that you know.
      Most Australians don't know, actually. They've no need to do the homework. We actually have a program called Planet America on public TV once a week that explains American politics to people less interested in it than me.

  4. The last gasp of whites losing their supremacy. It will get worse.

    1. White privilege becomes a snarling brittle gift when that is all that is left to someone, and it all it confers on them is the right to wonder where their pension went.