Once upon a time, all public buses in Western Australia carried a prominent sign above the driver’s seat: “PASSENGERS MUST NOT TALK TO DRIVER”. One day on my way to trade-theory classes in Perth, I stepped on a bus in Fremantle. Its sign had been altered using paper patches and red ink. “PASSENGERS MUST NOT TALK DRIVEL”, it commanded. Widdershins again, but it will become relevant.
In Australia on a quiet news day, the teevee networks are fond of slipping in the occasional “Only in America” story, often one of the urban myths you find circulating on the Internet, the more bizarre and outrageous the better. No-one bothers to check sources – and probably wouldn’t do anything if they did – it’s better to have your audience feeling holier than thou and outraged by something else other than the quality of the tripe your station dishes out in the guise of news.
Then, not very long ago, America did a wonderful thing, something that gave that overworked phrase an entirely new meaning. It elected Barack Obama. And as far as I could tell the world – the sane bits anyway – felt good about it. I was still living in Australia when it happened and along with about 99.99 per cent of my fellow citizens I was overjoyed. On that day the USA proved to more than a few people that it once more deserved to be known as “leader of the free world”, regaining a reputation that since World War II had to many become a bit tarnished.
Like many of our American second-cousins, most Australians saw in President Obama the person who might lead us from the wilderness of uncertainty in which we are wandering, a wilderness made dangerous by ruthless militants we seem unable to bring to book and unscrupulous money-grubbing shonks we seem unwilling to punish. Overnight we became a big, empowered “us”, united in the face of common foes.
Ordinary people – that’s you, and me and your wife and kids and every other Sergei, Ling, Abdul and Susie on the planet just trying to get along in the world and not knowingly harm anybody else while we try – were given a chance to believe that things might just get better. If America, the same America we see on teevee and in the movies with its scary Ku Klux Klan stuff and NRA and all that can elect this bloke as president, then maybe, just maybe, there really is some hope for the rest of us. “A black family living in the White House. Strike a light Blue, who’d a-bloody thought it!”
Now given the situation we’re in, surely the sensible thing to do would have been to get behind the President and support what he’s trying to do. Disagree with his politics all you like, ask your representatives in Washington – and I have come to the sad conclusion that this last is an oxymoron – to keep an eye on what you personally might consider his potential for excess, but generally support him in his efforts to do what he thinks needs doing. We’re all suffering, who cares who makes the bloody medicine?
However, the self-appointed, self-important “leaders of public opinion” disagree. They’re spending inordinate amounts of energy and unknown sums of money doing their very best to make sure the President is unable to accomplish anything. Court cases, dark hints at conspiracies and opinion dressed up as fact, all to protect our “liberty”.
Best known for his epic Paradise Lost, John Milton wrote:
Give me the liberty to know, to think, to believe, and to utter freely according to my conscience, above all other liberties.
But he also wrote:
License they mean when they cry, Liberty!
For who loves that, must first be wise and good.
But I suppose wise and good don’t matter. The truth should never be allowed to get in the way of good ratings.
While all this is going on things won’t improve much, but that’s okay. If the President fails it won’t be the fault of the media messiahs, the Rudeboy Molochs of this world, will it. And being the shrinking violets they are they won’t get up there and say; “Okay Mr ex-President, now tell us who you think is really running the country” will they.
This isn’t patriotism, it’s pessimism, or at least George Bernard Shaw’s view of it: “[a pessimist]…sees everybody as nasty as himself, and hates them for it”.
If enough people become so discouraged that they don’t vote next time and Obama leaves the White House the dinosaurs will be home and hosed. People in other countries will shake their heads at the great incomprehensibility that is America and go back to being cynical. Then the Antediluvians of the Airwaves can choke back emotion as they cry “America the beautiful” and support “their man” by insulting other countries, holding their citizens up to ridicule and belittling their right to any sort of opinion about anything. Because very few people outside the USA ever hear the Holy Say they’ll never realize that it’s not “America” that’s at fault but a few zealots, blustering Colonel Blimps who use their position and the privileges they enjoy under democratic government to promulgate the ideologies of the half-sucked-lemon school of philosophy. Of this great groundswell of true believers, how many only vote when someone they like is running?
Will the real patriots please stand up; the world needs you. Will the anointed of the airwaves please read the sign.