Behold, I shew you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump…
Is there a Special Relationship? Will it survive the week ahead?
I declare an interest here. My mother’s older brother emigrated from Skye to the USA, possibly not long after Donald Trump’s mother did the same from Lewis. Consequently I have three American first cousins, two in New York and one in North Carolina. The last time I was in New York I drove up New York State and into Canada at Niagara on the Lake, Thousand Island country, then round Lake Ontario, and back into the US via Buffalo. The journey north was 007’s journey in a Studillac by Albany and Saratoga in Diamonds are Forever; the journey south was 007’s journey in a Thunderbird to rescue the French-Canadian Vivienne Michel in The Spy Who Loved Me. (I inhabit cloud cuckoo land.) The Adirondacks are very beautiful.
There was a cultural difference at the US/Canada border that I found exactly analogous to the difference at the Spain/Portugal border. I’d flown into Faro in the Algarve and hired a car. “Where you going?” said the girl at the car rental. “Costa de la Luz.” It’s in Spain. She pulled a face and said, “Why you wanna go there?” At the Canadian/US border at Buffalo it might have been the same girl pulling the same face. “You wanna go back down there?” I suppose it’s the natural defensive attitude you assume when you have a Big Neighbour.
Incidentally, up at Lake Ontario we stayed outside Toronto at the home of a family friend who happened to be a Pastor of somewhat evangelical leanings. We arrived on a Saturday and it was arranged we attend his church service the following morning. It so happened I got sick and spent Sunday morning vomiting up this hideous black bilious material (sorry, too much information). I could tell from the look of horror on my host’s face that he was convinced he was entertaining an emissary of the devil. It was like Omen Damien 3. This is by the way.
I’ve spent time in North Carolina, Texas, Arkansas, LA, and San Diego. I’ve always found American people extraordinarily welcoming and friendly. But I’m also aware when I’m there that I’m in a foreign country. I felt more at home in Canada, just as I always feel so much more at home in New Zealand than in Australia. Was it Churchill who described Britain and the US as two nations separated by a common language? Winston had more reason than most to feel an affinity for the US. His mother Jennie Jerome was American. It’s even said that Winston was one thirty-second Iroquois. There is that famous quip of his when he addressed the joint meeting of the US Congress when he said that if his father had been American and his mother British, “I might have got here on my own.” Yet he knew well enough that the “Special Relationship” is more special to the UK than it is to the US. He spent a considerable part of his war effort wooing FDR first in his guise as “former naval person” in a series of phone calls, then face to face at Placentia Bay. In the Lend-Lease agreement that secured US assistance he stacked up a huge war debt. It was only Pearl Harbour that really guaranteed US alliance. For all his affection for the US, Churchill’s admiration was not starry-eyed. He said the US could always be relied upon to do the right thing once she had tried and exhausted all the other possibilities.
After 9/11, Tony Blair addressed George W Bush with words to the effect of “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” Dubya listened to this with an expression of complete bewilderment. Who can blame him? Why do we pay such preeminent attention, with, let’s face it, fawning subservience, to our cousins (figuratively this time) on the other side of the Pond? Even the demographics alone should give us a sense of proportion. The US population, at 322.5 million, represents approximately 4.3% of the population of the world. Even the US land mass, at 3.8 million square miles, is only 6.6% of the landmass of the globe.
We call her the world’s only “super-power”. Yet it has become apparent, especially during the last few weeks, that America’s domestic problems are huge. The society is riven – as it is in so many other parts of the world – by inequality, poverty, violence, and hatred. Moreover, the political mechanisms for addressing some of these issues do not appear to be there. Who can say that the race for the White House has been edifying? Who is manifesting leadership, moral courage, wisdom, and insight? I don’t know what will happen on Tuesday but the US electorate has a history of voting, not for an Al Gore or a John Kerry – they are a bit suspicious of intellectuals – but for the man they would rather spend time with in a bar. Whatever else you say about the Donald, he is a consummate performer. He exercises a power over his audience that is hypnotic. Most important of all, he is comfortable in his own skin. He is having the time of his life. Even when the secret service hustle him off the stage because they think somebody’s going to take a pot shot at him, he’s quite calm. “Folks, nobody said it was going to be easy…”
By contrast, did you hear Mrs Clinton addressing the crowd during a torrential downpour in Florida? She sounded as if she was on the rack. She sounded like a wild animal, cornered, about to fight for her survival.
Whichever way it goes, it’s hard to envisage, after all this vituperation and bitterness, a calm and orderly transfer of power. One can only imagine it’s going to carry on being dirty. There’s just too much hatred. The political chasm between the parties is too deep. America has lost the election.