On the eve of Armageddon


Two days before the US presidential election letting loose the Halloween demons seemed like good folk medicine. It offered escapism in the midst of a political battle that some liberals, in all seriousness, are calling Armageddon. Do they really believe the world’s unrivalled superpower is approaching internal meltdown?

Then, ‘Boo!’ The ghostly visage of Osama Bin Laden re-appears. It’s little matter to most that the day after Halloween is All Saints day. After the excesses of cavorting in darkness (for most Americans that means too much chocolate) comes a forgotten celebration of some great reconcilers of history.

I experienced Halloween in New York City from a Hotel on 48th and Lexington Ave. Getting there on the N Train from Astoria Queens, Mr Spock, Morticia Addams and processions of leering, howling faces on masked children went by me like apparitions in the Sunday afternoon commuter crowds. But there was one face, unmasked, that did haunt me.

On the subway ride, I happened on a couple I met earlier at a conference. Suburbanites from Georgia, he gung ho about the opportunity to live in New York city, she silent, anxiety warping her face. She had earlier told me how alien she found the city. Now she appeared to suffer a panic attack. It was the other way for my wife on the road from Brewarrina to Bourke a few years ago. Twenty years an urbanite in the US, she was deeply disturbed by the alien emptiness of the Australian bush. For 24 hours she courageously dealt with feelings I could never appreciate. We are creatures who prefer the familiar and in distress easily demonise the strange.

This helps me make sense of the election that is upon us. A map of the US with states coloured according to their likely election results www.nytimes.com/pages/politics/campaign/index.html?8dpc gives Democrats the States with the major urban centres of the North East and the West Coast. The Republicans get almost every state in between. Some states so balance the urban and non-urban voters, they’re swing states making the cliff-hanger predicted by all the polls.

Consider New York City. It has least doubt about the direction for the future of the US and the world. Because of the city vote, John Kerry will come away with the state of New York by double-digit margins. The city that has suffered most from terrorism, and wears a huge bullseye for future episodes, seems least afraid in the terms that George W. Bush and friends have defined it. But, how strange for New Yorkers to witness people in ‘tiny town’ Idaho expressing fear for their personal safety on television news. Even stranger to hear them speak of their fear of John Kerry.

The most significant divide it seems to me falls between those who live in the cities and those who don’t. City people in the US live pluralism. They breathe complexity, diversity and intensive use of space. It is like another planet to the simpler lives of rural/suburban America. Suburbs are defined differently here. In the US they are farther flung dormitory regions where people suffer freeways to flee pluralism, cramped living spaces, for homogenous, even gated communities with more space, more independence, less accountability. Australian suburbs like Strathfield, Preston or Kelvin Grove are urban as it’s defined over here.

This All Saints Day in New York City the air was unusually clear. In midtown it struck me how alike it was to 11 September 2001. Down 6th Avenue I saw the remaining World Trade Center buildings chiselled against a blue sky even from five kilometres away. In the other direction I marvelled at the autumn tree tops of Central Park aflame with the morning sun. The streets were just as crowded. It was eerie. Newspaper headlines were tabloid screamers: ‘Osama Bin Loser’ from the New York Post. ‘High Anxiety’ from the Daily News.

The fear-mongering era of Joseph McCarthy, is alive again. Country is afraid of city, evangelicals of liberals, working class of educated and it’s festering into mutual contempt. Even the New York Times admits it played the patriot game and is sorry now. Reason and faith are made opposites. As if they don’t belong in the same person. Or the same nation. Under Bush much is set to war. I groan considering the price on those who will work for reconciliation.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.