For a Canadian
to write about the United States, from mostly across the border,
is not as easy as might first appear. We are too close, and it
is too big.
It must be
hard for an American, too -- although he has the advantage of
knowing himself a part, and therefore observing inwardly. But
to try to reconcile, into a single view, a country that contains
Houston, New Orleans, San Francisco, Nashville, Washington, Los
Angeles, and New York City, before we even go for a walk in the
country, is beyond the usual boundaries of human comprehension.
We simplify by noting they have only one President.
a journalist I much respect, wrote perhaps the most disturbing
piece for the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday. He is a man who has spent
more than half his adult life as a foreign correspondent; and
as an editor of the International Herald Tribune in Paris, he
has been uniquely placed at the psychic junction between Europe
and America. Amazingly, he went on about Abu Ghraib, as if it
were the pivot of some American loss of innocence. He recalled
nostalgically how Europeans and others once joined Americans abroad
at Thanksgiving, and revelled in everything USA, out of a genuine
admiration and even aspiration to partake in a banquet laid with
much more than turkey.
for instance. I know what that can mean when I remember a Chinese
girl I once courted, who tried to explain the word to me. She
said, “Freedom is walking down Main Street in a Midwestern
American town, wearing jeans and eating an ice cream cone, and
nobody thinks you are a prostitute.” This is not quite what
Mr Ignatius was saying, but I do think it is what the world has
He, for his
part, does not hold the Bush administration responsible for everything
that’s gone wrong. But he thinks they have made America’s
image much worse, abroad, and he is seriously ticked-off by Dick
Cheney’s “jeremiads against terrorism”. He says,
“We must stop behaving as if we are in a permanent state
of war.” He concludes, “We need to put America's riches
back on the table and share them with the world, humbly and gratefully.”
It is seldom I’ve seen so wise a journalist write such rubbish.
For as he
should recall, from living in Europe, the pace of change has been
faster over there. Likewise, east through Asia. The U.S. has been
responding to transformations of character in many foreign countries,
to disintegrating cultures, and to real threats, of which Islamist
fanaticism has been primary. And the present curious Stateside
atmosphere of nervous breakdown, about which I wrote last Saturday
in this space, is an American response to both the external transformations,
and what I’d call the spread of the “European disease”
through America itself.
This is another
simplification, of course, but I think closer to the mark. For
in the red-state American heartland (perhaps that should be pluralized),
they are still eating turkey, and walking with ice cream cones,
and incidentally going to church on Sundays. This is American
exceptionalism, to be sure, but what is most exceptional about
it is its continuity. The exception to the exceptionalism is the
new, European, attitude of despair that is gripping the half-educated
urban masses -- and the America they think is being lost, is an
America that thankfully never existed.
We need calm;
we need recovery. (We, in Canada, even more than they, to the
south.) And by recovery I mean, in the main, return to respective
cultural roots. My most general sense remains, that it’s
the world that is going to hell, and America that is the last
tenuous bastion of sanity. The spirit of anti-Americanism that
is abroad, is part of the disease. It is not a cure for anything.