This is my little ditty after my US trip this summer. It’s not meant to be mean to the wonderful people we know and love in the US, its just my view on the disenfranchised and how Trump got in.
I came away very sad about America after my month long trip there this summer. My take was that it’s not the “forgivable young culture” that people say it is. I think it’s a hotpotch of circa ten sub-cultures: the privileged and influential 1% plus the next 10% who are still very well-off and aspiring; the destitute and unenfranchsied white-and-other-trash (even that derogatory terminology is indicative of the central problem (more of which later) and upsets me for the lost souls they are) the Mid-Belt Bible bashers; the Hispanics (California predominantly Spanish speaking now); the Blacks; the white supremacists and their silent followers (bigger than the surveys show for obvious reasons); the west coast and other cosy liberals; the East coast harder liberals; the old-school conservative republicans and the mulch of what’s left. They’re like a series of spinning plates all precariously balanced on top of ten sticks that rest on the ground of America yet there’s no symbiosis between them. They wobble together but are not joined in any way. In fact, in many cases there’s long standing unspoken resentment and opposition between them. They’re almost as disparate as European countries in their own cultures and ways of thinking: Its actually the “DisUnited States of America”.
I drove 3,000 miles and was intrigued by the fact that every city, town, village, hamlet and outpost always had a huge American flag flying in its centre. We don’t have this in Europe and it struck me that it was so vital to these mixed and untrusting sub-cultures to be able to look at it and feel that it meant something and that they were all a part of “something wonderful” when in fact they really weren’t. A bit like the couple who constantly go around telling everyone how good their marriage is but in reality we all know that they’re both having extra-marital affairs and are desperately unhappy because there’s no shared values nor trust to hold on to between them.
As Europe shows, you don’t need huge flags in every community to entice people to work together and share values. You just need to work together and share values! These ten US subcultures don’t.
On arrival in LA I was asked by my 12 year old son why there were so many homeless people sleeping on the beach when America was meant to be the greatest country in the world. On departure from San Francisco I was asked the the same thing again. Here we have a city of 700,000 people; probably one of the wealthiest cities in the world (Pacific Heights; Google, Apple; Netflix; Microsoft, Facebook; Silicon Valley) and yet there are 17,000 homeless people sleeping on the streets. Why aren’t the wealthy helping the destitute? Go figure!
I queried this with an English friend who had worked in a high-powered job in IT there for two years. He replied that when he hung out socially with many of the tech millionaires/zillionaires they had a distinct air of “achievement”, through acumen, energy, sacrifice and hard work and that they were therefore “worthy” of their success and that people who hadn’t achieved this were somehow unworthy and probably because they hadn’t tried/worked hard enough. It was their “fault” they were on the street and there were therefore worthier causes these wealthy achievers should be philanthropic to.
Separate, but related still related to this, I noticed that in all the hotels and restaurants I visited I was never served by anyone who looked older than 25. Their style of service was attentive but driven by the rule-book/menu of the establishment rather than by intuition and interest in what their guest may actually want. There was a focus on getting-the-job-done and earning-the-tip but no notion to “pride in service”. Effectively they were all doing holiday jobs (probably away from university) and this was not the job they wanted as a career. It was a temporary position. It made me think of how a culture based on avarice and success would never really find pride in service because being in service would be seen as demeaning or not a “success”.
This is very different to European cultures; especially Italy and France where being in service carries pride and respect. Just think for a second of the charming 60 year old Italian waiter in an open street cafe, serving you a cappuccino and attentively offering you water, cleaning the table cloth, and commenting on the weather and the view as he shares your moment. There’s a huge difference and it impinges in the happiness and values of its populace.
If you’re always wanting more because that’s what society dictates, and you feel you’re not respected without that achievement then you’ll never really find joy nor pride in what you have; whether that be material goods or job satisfaction.
This recognition and the earlier answer of my friend about “worthiness” strikes a sharp and painful chord and gives weight to my central premise that America suffers both from the disease of avarice and that it’s emphasis on “meritocracy” simply doesn’t work.
Put simply: the “quest for more” doesn’t bring happiness nor a proper system of values, and: people are not born equal so don’t assume they are capable of equal endeavour.
Conclusion: a focus on meritocracy and success without any notion of pride-in-service leads to deemed failure and resentment. Nationalism without shared values means nothing and won’t bring communities together. Ten self-focused cultures maintaining their individual differences and identities will never become a happy union. Unhappy people vote for change without consideration to what that change might bring. Hence Trump. So don’t blame him; he’s the effect, not the cause!