Howdy! I haven’t seen you guys for a long time. I really miss going to Arizona, Texas and Nevada to see you. I hope you’re all in fine fettle. I just have some things to sort out, and I think I might be seeing you a lot sooner than I thought this time two years ago.
Anyway, I talked a wee bit about politics with you while I was there. Some of you are Democrats, some Republicans; a Libertarian or two; more than a few that don’t like those – or, indeed, any – labels, and certainly dislike the binary party politics of your nation. As such, it was fascinating listening to your perspectives on economics, social security, healthcare, international relations, and local government. I didn’t agree with everyone, but our conversations confirmed to me just distinctive and independent the United States are.
Were I a citizen of the United States, I feel I would view US politics completely differently to how I view them as a Scot. I’m used to health, further education, and social security being national rather than private concerns; I couldn’t imagine dealing with some of the taxes and laws you guys put up with; our history and culture has as many differences as commonalities. Similarly, I don’t doubt many of Scotland’s laws are complete anathema to you. So I truly don’t think I could say who I would vote for in the upcoming US election, for the simple fact that I am neither a resident nor citizen of the United States. I couldn’t even tell you who I’d vote for if they were candidates for First Minister in Scotland, because we don’t vote for First Ministers – or Prime Ministers – here.
So, in that spirit, I thought I’d offer some of my observations. Not judgements, not suggestions: just a few thoughts.
There are some pretty strong feelings on the election over here in Scotland. Independence supporters have no particular fondness for either major candidate; EU supporters have even less love for one in particular; and the less said about a certain party’s attempt to bolster the other’s campaign, the better. But just as I wasn’t too enthused to see your politicians comment on Scottish independence, I think it would be churlish of me to comment in kind. It is your election, after all, and the last thing I think any nation wants is to be lectured on how you should vote by pundits from another nation.
In a way, it isn’t even about the candidates any more – it’s about what the candidates represent, and the people voting for them. Much like the EU Referendum Campaign, people are voting for either individual for a myriad of reasons. The United States from a foreign perspective appears to be in a sort of suffocating limbo, still unsure of its place in this new century, and with a population that simply can’t seem to come to terms with itself. The possibility of reconciliation almost seems deliberately thwarted by those who profit from strife, strengthening existing barriers and building new ones, to pit American against American – the same auld sang we’ve seen the world over, but which your grand nation was so good at changing.
It’s difficult, because so many of you are utterly dismayed by this campaign. I can’t count the number of friends who’ve fallen out with each other in interminable Facebook arguments, the passive-aggressive “just leaving this here” links, the memes – oh good grief, the memes! A few friends express their genuine concern for the future of the US if one candidate is elected; others feel exactly the same if the other one wins. When talk of totalitarianism, fascism, World War 3, loss of civil liberties, and Nuclear Armageddon is frequent in discussions of both the Democrat and Republican candidate, you’ll understand if I just back away slowly from the keyboard. And it’s hard to say this is the same pre-election excitement that happens every four years.
The first election I remember in any detail was 1992. I recall a lot of people were fed up with Bush the 1st (or as he was then known to me, That Man That Hates The Simpsons), and there was lots of chatter about the Democrats getting back in. Everyone seemed quite excited when Clinton won, and I remember reading through a special magazine chronicling what was then every president. That’s probably where I first found my appreciation for James A. Garfield, who I consider to be your finest president. It was difficult to view the 1996 election beyond a Simpsons-esque “a pox on both your houses” perspective, but it’s a bit frightening how timely it is for those disgusted by both candidates 20 years later:
By 2000, I was thoroughly sick of politics, here and internationally, and so viewed the next two elections with tired antipathy. It wasn’t until 2008, with the possibility of real change in politics with a *gasp* black President of the United States (and this time, it isn’t science fiction!) that I started to pay more attention. But, just as I couldn’t see John Kerry possibly unseating Bush the 2nd, there was no way Romney could’ve usurped Obama in 2012. In all of those elections, I was aware of various tensions and disagreements, but – from my faraway perspective – it never seemed like the country was going to erupt in fire and anarchy regardless of who won.
But this isn’t going to be an eschatological post. Enough people have made grim, threatening, menacing forecasts of what happens next. I’m not going to do that, regardless of any fears I might have – because as bad as things are, I know that it doesn’t have to be this way.
I think back to the 1980s and 1990s. Back then, the Cold War seemed like it was going to last forever, with the shadow of Polaris and its successors forever cast over the Clyde, the Russians and Americans always seeming to be just on the verge of open war. Back then, the Troubles seemed like they would be with us all our lives, constantly waiting for the next atrocity, hoping it wouldn’t be our town, our pub, our school. Back then, it seemed like Scotland would forever be marginalised & neglected, and never have the Parliament we have been campaigning decades for, because of a UK establishment all too eager to keep us in our place. Only it turned out forever wasn’t forever at all. The Cold War ended. The Troubles ended. And we got our Parliament back.
The future has a habit of being very unpredictable. I think back two years ago. 300 years, it took the believers of Scottish Independence: three centuries, before we finally achieved the opportunity to ask the people of Scotland if they really wanted to remain in the UK. 300 years. For a moment, it all seemed to be for nothing. Scotland was the only nation on this planet to give its sovereignty away by means of a referendum. That seemed to be that, for many of us. Then the SNP membership grew. Then we won 56 of 59 seats in the House of Commons. Then we won a third term in the Scottish Parliament. Then we voted to remain in the EU, only for England to want a different future. Suddenly, independence seems closer than ever.
The US seems to be on the precipice of great change, and many are worried it is a change for the worse. I look at America, and think: for a nation who thinks so highly of themselves, sometimes you can be blind to your greatest qualities. When I think of America at your best, I think of the Berlin Airlift; Emergency USA; the Declaration of Independence; Americares; the Iowa Famine Relief Movement; the March on Washington; the generosity of the Choctaw Nation; American citizens’ support for Greek independence; the aid given to Venezuela following the Caracas Earthquake of 1812; of people like Saul Alinsky, Susan B. Anthony, Kevin Briggs, Rachel Carson, Cesar Chavez, Desmond Doss, William Lloyd Garrison, Martin Luther King, Reverend Bennie Newton, Eleanor Roosevelt, Lucy Stone, Sojourner Truth, and so many others.
These great undertakings by remarkable people happened throughout American history, from its darkest days to its finest hours. Our wee nation of Scotland has achieved wonders of its own: think of what the 319 million of you can do! The American Dream need not end in a nightmare, however the election goes. The only thing that will end with this election, is the beginning – of the rest of America’s history.