You are here

Thoughts From America 3: National Identity

This is the third post in a series, discussing ideas and thoughts that arose from my recent trip to California. The first two are here and here.

National Identity

Over three years ago, I wrote this entry, which contained a piece by Martin Amis about America, and how she was going insane, and yesterday I wrote about how the American Dream has led to a culture that celebrates mediocrity. However, I don't think that America is a nation that has gone mad, or bad. I think that she is a deeply conflicted nation that no longer knows where she is, and what she is supposed to be doing in the world.

One look at the electoral map makes it perfectly clear that America fights a constant internal battle between two distinct personalities, but recently, she seems to have become even more confused and unsure where the line that separates them lies.

If you'll pardon a quick switch in the gender of the anthropomorphized nation, these Sinfest comics excellently illustrate the problems the nation (Uncle Sam, with his sweetheart Lady Liberty) is having:

Remember When

Uncle Sam Not Depressed

Drunk Uncle Sam

Identity Crisis

This internal conflict is manifesting itself in the strangest of ways. We have Rednecks for Obama, Gays for McCain, and Feminists for Obama, and even white supremacists supporting Obama. The electorate just doesn't seem to know how to identify itself or which side to fall on. The campaigns are behaving even more strangely. Arnold Schwarzenegger broke the political mould by using the brave "he has scrawny arms" attack on Obama. There's been recent news claiming that Obama has been using hypnosis and mind-control to get people to vote for him. Senator Elizabeth Dole brands her opponent as godless (what is "godless money"?).

Watching how the actual candidates handle this is interesting - specifically John McCain. Watching him mock himself on Saturday Night Live really reminds you that he is a decent man - one who has had a very noble career, and has repeatedly taken stands against the Republican Party when he believes in something (immigration reform, free trade, and climate change are all things he has taken unpopular positions on). But this campaign has forced him to do and say things that I think he really dislikes, and sometimes you can actually see a look on his face that just says "what have we become?". I think the most notable instance of this was in Denver, when he was booed by his own supporters, when he took a stand against the racist bile that they were shouting about Obama. He had to quieten them and say "he is a decent family man, a citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that is what this campaign is about". The look on his face when he takes the microphone away from a woman who has just called Obama an "arab" is almost piteous as he corrects her.

While that incident does show that McCain is fundamentally a decent person, it also highlights the schizophrenia of the American people, who find themselves booing John McCain, because he is defending Barack Obama, whom they hate (hate!?) because he is running against... John McCain.

Tonight is the eve of the elections in America (which is, of course, why I am writing this entry). As I've said above, I think John McCain is a great man who would not make a bad president all in all. However, and this will come as no surprise to anybody who has spoken to me recently, I think that Barack Obama is an amazing man, with excellent policies, and a firm moral grounding that will, if all goes well, drive him through to an excellent term in office. For two really excellent comparisons of the two candidates, and the way they diverge from each other, I recommend this newsweek article, and The Economist's endorsement of Barack Obama.

Update: I forgot to add that the world seems to agree with me, according to this page, and the Economists global electoral college.

One unbelievably sad piece of news that has just come in is that Obama's grandmother has passed away, on the eve of what could be the greatest victory of her grandson's life. I present that without comment, but with great regret.

So, as her citizens go to the polls tomorrow, I'm holding thumbs that America will let her rational, sensible, unbigoted personality shine through. They have a lot of hope for themselves, and I've said before that I have a lot of hope for them. I'll leave you with some quotes from a few of them:

A really moving tweet by the delightful nictate (who was just as moved when I thanked her for saying it):

We owe it to the world to vote Obama. It's a gift, an apology and a promise in one gesture.

The always amusing J. Adam Moore tweeted a confirmation of the internal battle America is fighting:

Is it just me, or does this election feel like a pass/fail national IQ test?

And finally, something that has been doing the rounds quite a bit:

"Rosa sat so Martin could walk. Martin walked so Obama could run. Obama is running so our children can fly"

Watch the results and the commentary!