Max asked this in the comments and I thought it might make a decent blog post.
The simple answer is that, in my eyes, American politics is still rooted in the big ideas of freedom and democracy. British politics, for all its complications, is mundane in its breadth of thinking. There are some big ideas that shift the political ground – Thatcherism and the rise of the free market being the most obvious in the 1970s, and then, perhaps, smaller and less long lived, the Left’s response to that in the form of New Labour – but really these arguments are settled. British politics is often about how one clique tries to restore the values of one of these two movements whilst their respective parties fart around and fail to achieve a proper grasp on power. What we’re then left with, instead, are the politics of the party, often revolving around the politics of personality. There are some big divisions that we see but they tend to be rather crudely drawn; moderates and hardliners and the power dynamics between the two evolving according to success in the polls. Except for Brexit, we rarely have big fundamental ideas that separate us and lead us into interesting arguments.
America, however, is still arguing the stuff of the Enlightenment and as somebody given that I studied the eighteenth century, I find that exciting. The reason I love Pope (title of this blog) and Swift is the same reason I enjoy US politics. I’m not a huge fan of any politics that eventually reduces down to the Divine Right of Kings, even in the British system as moderated by Parliament. I do, however, find it fascinating when we have a constitutional crisis, like we had with the Supreme Court decision on the proroguing of parliament. I found those court sessions compelling and listened to every hour of them. Beyond that, I don’t find parliament that interesting.
In the US, it’s quite common to hear the philosophy of Hobbes and Locke discussed in ordinary political discourse as though they’re still relevant. Americans still argue about Jeffersonian and Hamiltonian notions of democracy, which we’re now seeing been played out with Trump’s attitude towards the states. On top of that, we have the Constitution, a document written to embody human rationality but constantly being turned into a religious text by the conservatives. The philosophy around that I can’t help but find interesting. As an atheist, I also find the religious debates more satisfying, compared to the UK where (I think) our secularism is more settled.
Then, of course, America is the leader in technology and, being obsessed with tech, I see America as leading us into the future. US politics can stray into the space race, which is a mild obsession of mine, and then internet freedom, Big Tech, as well (in the past) a more aggressive attitude towards renewable power. Plus, given the size of the nation, there are often interesting things going on. Plus, America is the epitome of the modern capitalist and celebrity culture, so how that interacts with politics is also interesting…
Then there’s also great satire coming out of America, plus I generally find their comedy better, especially around politics. I love American culture of the 1970s, especially the Nixon era. Many of my writing heroes of the past also wrote about it: PJ O’Rourke, Hunter S. Thompson, Christopher Hitchens… These days, I enjoy quite a few US writers, with Rick Wilson being a current favourite.
Lastly, and perhaps as important as any of the above points: it doesn’t affect me. I can watch it fairly impassively, with no skin in the game. Watching UK politics just reminds me that I can never write about it. It’s pretty much a closed shop with every bugger with a PPE degree from Oxbridge jumping into the game. (I also have a long history as a UK political blogger which sort of ruined it for me but it’s a very long story, usually involving rejection). Then, of course, there’s the reality of UK political coverage which is starkly drawn between two monumentally flawed camps. There’s not much room for a centrist like me, and even less of a welcome. Even when I do get drawn into the day to day business of UK politics, I often feel all manner of pissed off at how Londoncentric the business is. It reminds me that, living in Labour heartland, my vote means nothing. It never has. Nor does my voice. So I look to America instead.
4 thoughts on “Why American Politics?”
Fair enough. I do think you’ve conflated love for America (which I share) with that of their politics but was that deliberate emphasis? I also dont quite follow how as an atheist you enjoy listening to all sides of American politics invoke god. It makes me grind my teeth! But each to there own. Don’t get me wrong I’m fascinated by the US and have been luck enough to visit on a few occasions. I also think that if you truly want to be informed about the world you need to be informed about America.
Oh, no doubt I do conflate it with the culture I love but it’s hard not to see everything deeply intertwined: Bloomberg turning up in Curb Your Enthusiasm, Trump in nearly everything, celebrity populating everything… I probably have a slightly morbid curiosity about the ugly results. Thorugh my eyes, everything looks like Ralph Steadman’s drawings of the Kentucky Derby. The religious stuff leaves me the same as you but it also feels like it’s an ongoing honest argument rather than the slightly nonsensicle position we have in the UK where we dismiss it most of the time and then it suddenly it’s meant to have “meaning”. Even when it’s ugly, dumb, and ridden with nonsense, it all feels more lively than British politics, where, again I come back to this, it feels like another world cut off from reality. As Rob pointed out yesterday with PMQs, it doesn’t matter what the truth is when we have media filtering it through such polarized lenses.
The British version of the Mustang was the Capri, the British version of the Chevy Bel Air was the Vauxhall Cresta, everything in Britain is writ small.
It is interesting where you tend to turn your attention as a person. For me, I tend to look towards what happens in Asia, I read stuff like the Times of India, Japan Times, Straits Times and watch NHK World, probably because I have spent a lot more time out there than in the US.
I remember going through immigration in Boston when I visited America for the first time and the lady going through my passport was almost incredulous that I had a load of stamps for Asian countries but had never visited the good old US of A. Don’t think the Indonesian and Burmese stamps helped that much tbh, “interesting” was what she said.
I don’t really have the time to follow US politics in any real detail, so for instance my view would be that Trump will get thrashed in the election even allowing for his hardcore support who think everything is fake. When I do look I tend to see a load of geriatrics looking back at me, Nancy Pelosi, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Donald Trump, I’ve just looked their ages up and they have 309 years between them!!. Where is the young talent or the new ideas in American politics?. In other arenas they are making up for their inadequacies by importing talent on a huge scale, they can’t do that politically. I wrote recently recently about China’s problems which are very real, but in many ways the USA seems moribound.
I think your summation is a good one but, as I wrote in reply to Max, I find that whole world has a slightly surreal and cartoonish quality I find appealing. It’s the stuff of Ralph Steadman cartoons of fat men dressed for Floria whilst also working for the FBI… It probably has so much to do with my influences growing up: my love of 1970s America cinema, the Western mythology, as well as the Space Race, Kennedy, Nixon, Vietnam… More than that, I guess, it’s the mental game involved in American politics, which seem to be the human game: balancing freedom with the need for government. That’s essentially what American politics deals with and I’m not sure any country does in the same degree or with as much honesty about the difficulty.
Japan fascinates me but I’d never get over the language. China less so, though I realise it’s importance. India not at all. Just a culture that has never synced with my tastes: too much colour and far too many snakes.