Breaking Up With America

I used to love America. America, our best friend by dint of geography and no little history. 80% of our trade; foreigners to our continent can hardly tell us apart. And how could I not love America, the Exceptional Nation that created itself to defend human rights, not to protect and enrich the King who owned it, like all other nations. Sure, America has faults, but we all do.

But the Trump election ripped away my self-imposed blindfold. It's like a break-up. There's that moment of shock, perhaps when you see or know of a betrayal, and it's just suddenly Over, in your heart. And everything instantly changes. Now you see the relationship differently, from the outside, looking back ... and you abruptly become aware that you've been giving them a pass, ignoring things you should not have ignored, trying to Make It Work ... and you were wrong. It couldn't work.

I'd seen America as much like Canada, close enough to us that one could, if only as a spectator, take a side in their elections. I cheered on Clinton and Obama, happy for their victories, identified with them. I just can't anymore.

Canadians and Americans just have very different cultures now. The separation was identified statistically by Environics pollster Michael Adams at the turn of the century. See his book, "Fire and Ice", which graphs sharp differences on questions like acceptance of violence. It has gotten dramatically worse since 9/11. Not entirely because of 9/11, but that sure didn't help.

The real problem was identified by Canadian professor Robert Altemeyer in his work on authoritarian mentalities: Americans are, as a whole culture, as a people, far more authoritarian than Canadians or most other developed nations: they willingly submit to authority figures. It's a deep cultural divide: these folks are not like us, the same way that Russians aren't when they voluntarily vote for strongmen in hopes of safety and stability.

Adams found the "perfect wedge question" in "Must father of the family be master in his own house?" - the percentage who say "yes" in the most-authoritarian parts of Canada (the Prairies) was far lower than the least-authoritarian parts of America (New England). The two countries had zero overlap on the question. We are just ... different. I'd been kidding myself. I kidded myself right through the American public's reaction to torture: some were very upset, but statistically, their reaction was a shrug. Now I'm embarrassed it was Trump rather than Torture that woke me.

After foolishly caring during the election, about emails and and media coverage, FBI directors, and billionaire super-funders, now I'm drained. It turned out none of that mattered, not even the money. All that only changed results by a few percent. This choice was so clear it should never have been about a couple of percentage points: it should have been crystal-clear, it should have been 80/20, it should have been a wipeout like the ballot box has never seen. I'm mad at their whole culture that it could even consider putting the outcome in reach of minor influences.

I'm angry about Kentucky, which we kept hearing about as a model case for the health care act working. Kentucky voted 63% for Trump. Oklahoma, site of a white terrorist bombing but no "Islamic terrorism" at all, was worse: 68%. I'm really angry at Young America. Not today's Young America, who voted heavily against Trump.

I mean MY Young America, the Woodstock Generation: born about 1945-1960, they are now 55 to 70 and the very core of Trump support, the Tea Party demographic. It was taken as a natural progression when former hippies settled down to kids, got mortgages and minivans; but how could part of the Flower Power generation that marched for Black Power still be clinging to White Power fifty years later? White Power is truly deeply embedded in their society - so deeply they can't see it and deny it vociferously. It's everybody else that sees it, now more than ever. (Yes, Canada and Europe have racism, of course; but we have less, and yet admit to it more.)

I feel angry that I'd misled myself into thinking of it as "just the Old Confederacy," that this was the "Southern Strategy," that it was geographically contained. Yes, the former Confederate states were the ones over 60%, but Northern states like Idaho, Iowa, Indiana, Ohio, North Dakota, Montana, and Nebraska all voted over 50% for Trump.

You can't dismiss the Trump vote as being a vote for Party, as in our system. Their system has President in a separate box, so you can be a loyal GOP voter for Congress and just leave the "President" box blank. They certainly had an out: many GOP politicians and thinkers had signed statements imploring them to withdraw support. Sixty million Americans with that quite separate choice about one individual didn't sit it out or vote third-party. They affirmatively voted for an obvious con-man, pathological liar, and bully with no knowledge of the job. And having seen all that, seen him, they voted for him. Over 50%. In the North. They made it clear that Trump's feelings resonate throughout America.

I wrote the above in the few days after Trump was elected - and put it away to think, because I was now seeing America differently, the whole country. Now every time something outrageous happens, I notice how differently Americans process it. Their authoritarianism means that every assertion by an authority figure, no matter how ludicrous, is treated as worthy of debate. So are obvious truths, when uttered by those with no authority.

The election certainly provided proof that America is "polarized", that is, that there are a high proportion of people that will not vote for the other side for any reason. If Trump's abysmal personal qualities and lack of knowledge could not pry away almost any Republicans to vote Democrat (or at least not vote), then nothing could.

But still, the other pole is able to live with the "Real Americans" and their racism and militarism. Never mind living with monuments to Confederate generals: they mostly lived with the lies that led to the Iraq War. The anti-war march in Madrid was bigger than the ones in DC or New York. Like torture, those lies were never really run down and outed and shamed: most of America still believes them. The big polarization seems to be between the party that advocates racism and war, and the party that makes a show of reluctance about putting up with same.

I don't think it's their odd only-two-parties system, either. I'm seeing all of it as falling out from their culture, from the core of the country. If their liberals were anything like ours, then Obama would have investigated and prosecuted torture, the way we investigated the Canadian Airborne Regiment and then disbanded it. What was perhaps our proudest, most elite military unit came under close investigation because they tortured one kid, who died. As with crimes against natives and black people, Americans believe that if you never admit to it, then no crime even happened. Canadian Maher Arar remains on a terrorist watch list to this day, so they don't have to admit they broke their constitutional "guarantee" of due process to commit an unspeakable crime against an innocent man. He remained on that watch list through eight Obama years.

So I have to break up. I've got to quit looking at American politics as like ours. It's more like Egypt's, or any other country that is going to remain awful, no matter who wins. Why bother cheering for anybody? Why bother finding out their names?

Sorry, America; I thought we could have a relationship, but I was wrong. And, frankly, it's not me. It's definitely you.

Postscript, 2021

I was kidding myself, of course. America's too big, and too near, for Canadians to just ignore. I cancelled my NYT subscription about a year or so after this cry, but the Washington Post was so cheap ($25/year) that I kept it until last month.

But both are cancelled at last, and I'm getting over caring about America, slowly. It did take another Democratic administration, complete with congressional majorities, to convince me that even their 'liberals' don't have much overlap with us, not even with our conservatives, who champion health care access and gun control.

I dunno if America is on the brink of some turnaround, or far more likely to just continue spiralling down into authoritarianism. But, definitely, the only way to stay sane is to ignore it as best one can, and focus on news from saner, less authoritarian countries with a lower GINI number.

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Text is COPYRIGHT, Roy Brander, 2017. All graphics are available Internet grabs that link to their source, and will be taken down upon request, to "roy.brander" at Google's mail system.