Monday, 17 October 2016

AFTER THE GOLDRUSH: TEN DAYS IN AMERICA





They’ve all gone to look for America
Simon and Garfunkel, America


America is waiting.

David Byrne and Brian Eno, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts





Virginia reminded me of Munich. Not architecturally, of course – although there is a fine Bavarian-style inn on the banks of the Shenandoah River – and there are no men sporting lederhosen or apprentice Valkyries in dirndl. It was a more personal reminiscence. And not, in its consequence, a particularly happy one.

In May of 2015 myself and two long-standing colleagues well versed in the fine art of enjoying ourselves in liquor and fine conversation made the trip to Munich from Paris by train. Train travel in Europe is, at the time of writing, still a pleasure, and one is spared the deliberately imposed inconvenience of air travel security brought to us by our Mohammedan friends, in league with governmental enablers.

Munich was a pleasure to behold. One of our party was something of a dab hand with German history, and I forewent the guided tour for an early morning stroll with him explaining the history of the city, the bombings and the beginnings. And the endings. We walked past Hitler’s local, and I remarked that I was surprised to see that it hadn’t been renamed The Sturm und Drang. Hitler came up a lot in our bierkeller conversations – during which we referred to Hitler as ‘yer man’ to avoid complications with the surrounding tables - not because we are neo-Nazis, but because we were in Munich and are three intelligent men interested in how Europe came to the pretty pass in which it finds itself. So much for history. Let us turn to the present.

A year later I saw photographs of Munich. The light, spacious and clean station next to our hotel was a carpet of detritus and improvised bedding. The streets ran with hooded, scowling Arabs. I read that this year’s Oktoberfest attendance was down by half. This is now, like Paris, a city under occupation. Munich was occupied before, of course, but at that time the Germans had put up a fight. This is not so today. It is as though, in some terrible Freudian equation of repression and guilt, the Germans – or at least their leaders – had decided to reverse Hitler’s dream of lebensraum  - room to live – and reduce their living space, ceding to an invading force none in Europe dare name, lest their livelihood be forfeit. And so to America.

As we made our way up country from Virginia to Carolina, I was struck by the beauty of the countryside. Of course, it has been disfigured by American consumerism (See the excellent book The Geography of Nowhere by xxxx xxxx), but the trees were on the cusp of changing colour, and pumpkins strewed every porch of the beautiful clapperboard houses and their occasional witchy turrets. As a car passenger, I found it as bewitching as travelling by train over the Rocky Mountains. The towns were clean, light, and non-intrusive in terms of the many tourist shops that thrive there. There was surprisingly little of trademark American vulgarity either in the townscape or the people. Of course, seeing Virginia and claiming to know America is akin to seeing Tunbridge Wells and claiming to know England, but the scene provided me with much food for thought, food served in the larger portions you would expect in the USA.

In three weeks America goes to the polls in what is arguably its most important presidential election. I absolutely vowed to avoid politics as if it were the very devil during my stay, and it was rare vow that I kept. But I did observe.

The first eye-opener was the unrelenting, egregious media bias in favour of Clinton, dialectically achieved by a non-stop barrage of invective against Trump. Being an Englishman, I am of course used to BBC bias, which is subtle, pompous and rather polite, although becoming increasingly shrill when dusky women such as Yasmin Alibhai-Brown or Diane Abbott appear, which they frequently do. I note, in passing, that Abbott is Shadow Home Secretary. Christ on a pogo-stick.

American televisual media bias in on another plane, another planet, entirely. Where the BBC have a succession of scolds, nags and martinets denouncing, say, Nigel Farage, American rolling news and opinion has a parade of screaming schoolgirls clutching their pearls and virtue-signalling as though it were an Olympic sport and they were hoping to make 2020. Hillary Clinton was barely mentioned, unless to include her in the chorus of denunciation unleashed by Donald Trump’s use of the word ‘pussy’. To paraphrase the famous saying, there is nothing so ridiculous as the American press in one of their periodic fits of morality. The Clinton emails, Benghazi, rapey Bill and enabler Hill, the state of the economy under the Democrats, Saudi Arabia, Soros and Black Lives Matter: all relegated to the bench as the spotlight played on two Trumpian phonemes.

Something my partner said to one of her family I am forced to blushingly admit; I know more about American politics than most Americans. The people I met were intelligent and reasonably well-off, and they knew nothing. Their opinions easily reduced to a type of college football cheerleading: Yaaaay! Booooo! One of the oft-repeated quips was the idea of Trump with his finger on the nuclear button. This implies that Clinton is more trustworthy and less likely to unleash Armageddon. Golly. I would rather have a WWF wrestler who had spent some time in Rampton or Broadmoor in charge of the delivery systems of Ragnarok than Clinton.

The other great, lumbering woolly mammoth in the room was, of course, immigration. Now, the codification concerning immigration in the West is as engraved on people’s minds as the Lord’s Prayer or the Constitution; Large-scale immigration, particularly of Muslims, is so self-evidently a Good Thing that to oppose it is a symptom of the gravest psychosis, namely fascism. Trump has breached this protocol in two main ways. He has proposed a wall on the USA’s Mexican border, much like the one Mexico itself has on its border with Guatemala, and he has suggested a moratorium on Muslim immigration until such time as order can be restored. He knows that many people know that a country that can put a man on the moon and then, forty-some years later and with all the concomitant advances in technology, can’t protect its own borders is pulling a fast one. Clinton has already pledged a million more Syrian loveable rogues if or when she wins. She says it if as if that act of treason were some great good in and of itself, like a sunny day or a cure for cancer.

I am very aware of small vignettes in my life, symbolic experiences which seem to hold in themselves deep significance. In the pleasant town of Harrisonburg, VA, I was struck by many things. The almost uncanny cleanliness of the streets and absence of garbage strewn about, as per the UK, and all without a street cleaner in sight. In London, you can’t move for street cleaners chatting happily on their mobile telephones while pushing a desultory broom around, and the streets still look like shit.

More than anything, I enjoyed the amiable air that drifted among the people. People smiled at one another, even at strangers like me. It was a bit different to, say, Southall in London. When people say, ‘Good day, y’all’ there is an air of sincerity about it, and the service industry actually gives service industriously, unlike the sullen and nose-ringed barkeeps of London, who say but don’t mean ‘enjoy’ when they give you your chemical pint. And then, just as I was revelling in this ocean of white goodwill, we turned a corner. There were four adults and two children. The man was in his thirties and immediately scowled at me when I looked at the family. The three women were around his age, doubtless his wife and her two sisters. They were swaddled in heavy clothing entirely inappropriate for the unseasonably warm October weather. They all had the unmistakably toothy look of Somalians. I was informed later that day, by a friendly engineer, that there were plenty more scheduled to arrive as soon as was convenient and they had a space in their diaries.

Now, obviously this a racist observation, but racism, eventually, cannot be avoided, like death and taxes. Another gentleman informed me that, if things took a, shall we say, European turn in terms of migrant unrest, there were a lot of good old boys in the hills who would turn off the TV, leash the hounds, and lock and load. This is Civil War country – I visited Antietam battlefield and was sold a book in a second-hand store which was highly recommended by the knowledgeable owner – and I couldn’t help thinking, as I watched a Confederate flag flutter from a porch stave, that the USA as a whole may well be civil war country before too many moons have come and gone.







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