Sunday, May 03, 2009
I have never been so sorry to leave America. I want to stay. I realised this a couple of days ago when Brian Williams wrapped the NBC news. The grand, pompous music played over a helicopter shot of the State of Liberty. There was then a brutal cut from this rhapsody to some brilliantined sleazeball plugging an upcoming Hollywood gossip show. Historically, foreigners writing about America have concentrated on the sleazeball - for Evelyn Waugh in The Loved One, for example, the sleazeball was Los Angeles funeral rites. What is most instantly exotic about this country is its crude, greedy, sentimental populism. But to see only that is to miss the point of the NBC news sign-off. Far more profoundly exotic, to the British at least, is the combination of this populism with the nation's destiny-laden sense of self. Contrast the way - to pick one apparently trivial example among millions - the hacks at presidential press conference stand when the Prez enters with Gordon Brown's horrible, nationally-shaming video. Contrast further the way Obama - or, indeed, any president - must use a certain high solemnity and grandiloquence when addressing national issues. This is a nation that believes in itself. Britain mislaid that belief surprisingly quickly after 1945. The sub-text of Republican attacks on Obama - including those that claim he is a closet socialist - is that he is betraying this sense of self. Absurd as this may sound coming from a party that betrayed its own sense of self so conclusively, I have some sympathy. There is a future danger that America may lose its distinct identity and become just another nation that believes nothing, though I don't think Obama embodies this danger. Relative decline may turn out to be the real culprit. It will be a sad day when - if - it happens.
Anyway, that's a roundabout way of saying God Bless America. And so I return to buggered-up Blighty.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 11:52 am