aYou might legitimately ask why I am whining on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on about Donald Trump, when he is president of a country that is not even in the same continent as mine.
One perfectly cromulent answer would be that America’s economic and military power means that whatever it does has implications for every country; and that is true. But for me the issue is much deeper than that.
The real issue is that I genuinely, deeply love America, and I hate to see it abused.
As a Brit, I am jealous of America’s long tradition of beautiful and significant formal documents. In the 800 years since we in the UK produced the Magna Carta, America has given the world the Mayflower Compact (“just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices”) the Declaration of Independence (“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal”), the Constitution (“We the People … to form a more perfect Union”), the Bill of Rights (“Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech”), the Gettysburg Address (“a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal”), and no doubt others others that I have forgotten.
I don’t claim any profound understanding of these documents. I’m not a constitutional scholar. Most of what I know, I got from Bill Bryson books and Wikipedia. But what I do know is that I find them profoundly moving and inspiring. I love the idealism of asking “what if we could make a brand new country, and do it right?” Even when the documents make appalling errors — such as the omission of women from the Mayflower Compact — they seem to be pointing to, and working their way towards, a better future and a more perfect understanding. (To be honest, even as I re-read the Gettysburg Address in preparation for writing this now, I felt tears welling up at the last sentence.)
I envy the United States its proper constitution — written down on paper where people can read it, rather than spread around thousands of separate court decisions like the UK’s constitution, if you want to call it that. I love that the USA is a designed democracy. I love all the checks and balances that exist to prevent people doing the kind of thing Theresa May is doing in the UK. (Which is why it pains me to see Trump riding roughshod over separation of powers, and why it is so satisfying to see judges refusing to back down when threatened.)
I love it that some of the heroes of the United States are politicians and activists. I’m not saying we don’t have people in the same category in Britain, but realistically we have no-one as iconic as Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King (or for that matter a Prime Minster who inspires such respect and affection as Barack Obama). It says a lot that the definitive British hero is Churchill, who is renowned for winning a war; whereas Lincoln, who also won a war, is remembered more for how he tried to avert it by emphasising the unity of the country, and for his desire that the country be reunited afterwards.
These are the things I think about when I see Trump banning Muslim green-card holders from returning to the country where they live, or pointlessly lying about the weather during his inauguration, or simply not understanding what a president is or does, and refusing to consult people who do understand. Every dumb or mean thing Trump does is an insult to the Declaration of Independence, to the Gettysburg Address, to “I have a dream”. I wouldn’t be so unhappy about the Trumpisms if I didn’t love the history he’s trampling so much.
And then of course there are the more trivial aspects of America that I love: the steaks that are somehow so much better than we get in Britain; the American-style IPAs that sacrifice all subtlety on the altar of More Hops; Californian-style sushi that would make Jiro weep but makes me goofy with delight.
Not to mention that so much of what I love of modern culture is American: the musicals of Stephen Sondheim, the Star Wars films (IV–VII and Rogue One), the first ten seasons of The Simpsons, the books of Dave Barry, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the list goes on. Oh, and my best friend is American. So are most of the sauropods that I love.
I’m not blind. I know that America has often been flawed — often horribly, horribly wrong. I am not looking back to some imagined golden age of America. I recognise the awful truths of American history. Yes, slavery; yes, Vietnam; yes, Nixon; yes, John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald and John Hinckley. Yes dreadfully bungled response to 9/11; yes, idiotic and destructive gun culture. I recognise all of that.
And yet all of those appalling mis-steps were against the backdrop of a country designed from the ground up to be all about the idea that all people 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 is a country to celebrate. Let’s hope it makes it through the Trump regime with less damage that it inflicted on itself with the Civil War, with Vietnam or with the War On Terror.