Wednesday, 14 June 2017

A City Shining on a Hill?

There has been much to admire about the United States

- a revolution based on the principle of "no taxation without representation"
- a Constitution which enforces a strict separation of powers
- a Constitution, as amended, which includes rights that Citizens can enforce
- the assertion in their 'Declaration of Independence' that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed"
- fantastic technical innovation - including sending men to the moon; playing a leading role in the development of and use of computers and information technology
- its' "can do" attitudes
- some excellent academic institutions and think tanks.

I have loved visiting the United States, especially Washington DC and NoVa (Northern Virginia). I'm an American Football fan; and an addict of American politics.

John Winthrop, in a speech made as the Pilgrim Fathers approached their new land, is credited with applying this phrase taken from the Bible to the role that 'America' could play in the world. Presidents, including John F Kennedy - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uaXt7GE0aUo  and Ronald Reagan have made stirring speeches on this subject.

Yet, I write this post in great sadness. In recent years there has been coming out of certain quarters in the USA a poison which we in the UK and Europe need to protect ourselves from. It was prompted by the news that a gunman had opened fire in an area I deeply love, the Del Ray area of Alexandria, Virginia - injuring (as far as we know as I write this) a number of people, including the Majority Whip of the House of Representatives. It is reported that between 50 and 100 shots were fired from a set-automatic rifle (The Hill : Rep Mo Brooks [quoted in a BBC Report]).

The effort to weaken gun control has been part of the poison - each time I stay in Virginia, I hear of new changes to the law of that State which make it easier for anyone to get hold of some deadly lethal weapons - I've sat in gallery of the House of Representatives as very limited measures to improve safety were opposed and thrown out. THE NRA has been on the offensive - and despite the number and frequency of mass shootings, have gained the support of some Members of Congress, and of State legislatures - not only to reject sensible restrictions, but to push away restrictions that had existed.

We've seen the rise of a rabid populism - and fake news, culminating in the election of a man wholly unfitted to be the President of the United States. Last night I was appalled at the poor performance of the Attorney Officer of the United States - as he displayed a worrying inability to remember certain things as he testified before a Senate Committee.

We've seen a determined push to make it more difficult for certain parts of the American electorate to register to vote - for purely party political objectives.

We've seen the World Economy (as well as the American economy) taken to the brink by some Congressmen who threatened to let the USA default on its debts. We've seen the USA pull out of the Paris Climate Accord - and restart activities which threaten to further degrade the state of our planet.

There is a common theme. The push towards these developments has come from a particular part of the American political spectrum. A movement calling itself "conservative" has been behind a determined effort to push very radical ideas. Fifty-three years ago Barry Goldwater was their standard bearer - and he was given a beating at the Presidential Election. But the movement kept on planning, and spending, and removing Republican moderates. The election of Donald Trump was the, perhaps inevitable, result of their activities. Moderation was hunted down - some very black (political) arts were used to achieve the takeover of the Republican Party - and the country. Some of its fellow travellers were even overtaken by the monster they fed (Eric Cantor, John Boehner). - as Kennedy said in his inauguration speech - "those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside."

The damage to the American system is vividly described in the books of Norman Ornstein and Thomas E Mann ("The Broken Branch" 2006, "It's Even Worse Than It Looks") and many others.

But why does it threaten the UK and Europe? The same crazy ideology is being pushed over here. So called "conservative" ideas have gained a foothold in the British Conservative Party. While the Conservative Party has given public support to the continuation of the National Health Service for over sixty years - there are some now suggesting that the market based approach of US health insurance would be better (!?!?!?). Brexit has its strong supporters - and funders - amongst the American 'conservatives'. We've seen the advocacy of similar barriers to voter registration,

We need to look closely at the tactics they have used to push their ideas to such prominence and power in the USA. We also need to prepare our counter-offensive. Many in the US failed to take them seriously - we must not make the same mistake.