America the puzzled - By Kitty Miv, Editor
Kitty Miv, Editor
22 September, 2011
My boss sent me to the USA this week. I can't quite make out whether she meant it as a reward, a training experience, or just as a journalistic assignment. She did say that I had become too obsessed by Europe, but that is true of American journalists as well at this moment of history. For them it is probably a relief to write about something other than US domestic politics and economics. And I must say that it is refreshing for me to write about American politics for a change; there has come to be a numbing sameness about the euro . . . Greece . . . bonds . . . the Tobin tax and so on and so on.
So what do I observe? America is lost: the old certainties have gone and nothing has come along to replace them. I used to live in the States, so I can compare. Once upon a time it used to be rather magnificent, if occasionally infuriating, that America and Americans believed so strongly - and so exclusively - in themselves. In Kansas City they might not have been quite sure which side the British were on in the last War, and in Washington they might have condemned half of Europe and most of Asia as the Evil Empire, but they believed explicitly in America The Beautiful, The Land Of The Free and The Land Of Opportunity.
Now? At a dinner party my hosts lamented that it was 50 years since there had been any sense of national purpose; it was almost as if the Vietnam War had witnessed the destruction of America as an idea that was worth believing in. They described the Congress as 'dysfunctional'. That is objectively true, who can deny it? and perhaps the bankruptcy of American politics accurately reflects the country's general lack of direction.
And yet America in its essence has not changed to my observation, as a visitor returning after 20 years. There is an encrustation of regulation and bureaucracy, it is true, but it is inconsequential. More important, people are still free to pursue opportunity, to get rich or poor, to live where they want, and to say what they want. Public issues are discussed with the same completeness and honesty as they ever were.
So what has changed? If it were not so patronising, one could say that America is growing up. Just as a self-obsessed teenage 'Master of the Universe' gradually starts to doubt his (her?) invulnerability in the early twenties, and adapt thoughts and behaviour to the adult world, so America, with all its over-weening strength and confidence, is being forced to come to terms with the uncontrollable realities of the modern world.
Yet there is no need for Americans to feel diminished, and I don't really think they do. Puzzled would be a better word. America is still the richest, most evolved, most forward-looking, freest and exciting nation, and Americans' moment of self-doubt is probably no more than that. They will recover!
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