Americans are funny people. Bill Cosby, for example. But there is also a sinister side to their amusing nature. Adam Sandler, for example.
But the complexities of the USA go beyond simple comedy. The United States of America is what is called a "great experiment", one that has been running for more than 200 years, an attempt to see whether well intentioned men and to some extent women can create a successful and prosperous society based upon democracy, freedom and the rule of law.
So that’s pretty funny too. But no matter what opinions we may have of the States, one thing that cannot be denied is that the country has an enormous impact on us all, and so we should all be concerned that this mighty behemoth seems to be losing its way.
Where did it all go wrong? How did we get here? What happened to the America I once knew, the America that stood at the apex of human history, ever-ready to promulgate justice, defend the weak, and keep out Mexicans?
America used to be the country you went to for help. If you had a problem – lack of sitcoms, insufficient quarter pounders, aggressive Germans – all you had to do was call up the Americans. "Hi Americans!" you’d say. "Please help me!" And in due course, the Americans, once they’d been paid or had developed a compelling self-interest regarding the issue, would gallantly come to your aid. In many ways America, the country, was similar to its greatest creation, Batman, and all we residents of the global Gotham were grateful for it.
Yet now, it seems that it is America itself that needs help. The whole country has turned out to be very like that favourite uncle who as a child you looked up to and idolised, but who once you grew up turned out to be an alcoholic paedophile. Not that I am necessarily equating America with an alcoholic paedophile, but if I was, I think people would be quite struck by the similarity. Not that I am.
What brings such a mighty empire so low? A quick scan of history demonstrates that most empires are ended by a lethal mixture of volcanoes and sodomy, but while these are certainly still concerns, the decline of the US is down to something far more complicated and boring: the economy.
Now America used to have a wonderful economy, based on solid, tangible commodities like corn and cars and Negroes. It was a beacon to the world, and lazy, weaselly little countries like France and Tonga could only look on in envy as their own economies struggled and atrophied in line with their own deficient national characters.
But that was then, and this is sometime later. The tragic slump of the US economy probably began with the ascent of Bill Clinton, who at the 1992 election famously declared "The economy is stupid" and swept to power on the back of an electorate that was all too ready to abandon the fiscal responsibility and disciplined arms trading of the Reagan era for the feel-good, anything-goes debauchery of the Clinton years, when everyone was encouraged to insert whatever object they liked into any passing stranger and economics became, contrary to tradition, all about money. Reagan’s sober trickle became Clinton’s uncontrolled spurt, and none of us recognised what the consequences would be.
The trouble was that the economy stopped being based upon making things, or digging things up, or growing things, or stealing things, and started to be based on things like "financial products", which are a lot like normal products except they don’t, technically, exist.
And so it proceeded, with an economy based on people borrowing money from other people who had borrowed it from other people, until eventually it was discovered that nobody actually had any money, and America’s economy turned out to actually only be a theoretical construct designed for use as a thought experiment in college economics classes. Economists everywhere were horrified to find that people had actually been trying to use it. In fact, America hadn’t had an economy since the early 1700s, when it was mainly based on beaver-fur and witch-stakes. Significantly, a return to these industries is a major plank of Senator John McCain’s election campaign.
To be fair, of course, the entire world is suffering economic problems, and it is by no means confined to the States. We non-Americans do have a tendency to blame all the world’s ills on America, based on little more than the fact that they’re all America’s fault.
So what do we see now as we look across the Pacific with our high-powered metaphorical telescopes?
We see a proud nation in despair and disarray. We see a proud people faced with an unpalatable choice. What America desperately needs is strong leadership, but they must vote either for Barack Obama, a man with little experience and a suspiciously "articulate" way of speaking; or for McCain, a man with vast experience but who is, with the best will in the world, clinically dead. Go for McCain, and you’re running a real risk of handing the presidency at some point to Sarah Palin, whose only discernible talent is the ability to induce violent stomach cramps in anyone who sees her wink. On the other hand, Obama is, it has become clear, a terrorist. Which doesn’t necessarily make him the worse choice, but it does give one pause.
It’s a disturbing development. Presidential elections used to be contests between giants, struggles between statesmen. Moral and political titans like Bob Dole and Adlai Stevenson. And yet today the battle for the highest office on earth is reduced to petty squabbling about irrelevancies like pigs and moose and Iraq. Meanwhile incumbent President George Bush is currently roaming the streets of Washington in his underwear, throwing blank cheques at everyone he meets. It’s a tragic development.
But what can we do about it? Should we just leave America to its fate, content to carry on our own carefree uranium-intensive existence? Is that the Australian way, to treat our beloved ally like a common asylum seeker? Surely not.
Are we going to stand idly by while America, our friend and protector, is usurped as global superpower by some jumped up little snot like China or Russia or Norway? That doesn’t sound good. That doesn’t even sound plausible.
No, we have to lend our hand. Roll up our sleeves and show some of that good old Aussie "can-do" spirit. Let’s get over there and haul our pals out of the hole they find themselves in. Whatever it takes – sending money to investment banks, culling the homeless, declaring war on Iran – let’s get behind Uncle Sam and give him a big push off the sidewalk of insolvency and into the path of the semi-trailer of recovery.
Because Batman might be an alcoholic paedophile, but he’s our alcoholic paedophile, and he always will be.
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