Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Presidential Elections

The rest of the world doesn’t get to vote in US Presidential elections, but what happens in the US has an impact on all of us, and what is truly good for their citizens is (must be) truly good for everyone else. While the domestic outcome was close, scanning global media and social media both in the run up to and in response to the outcome of yesterday’s election suggests that public opinion across the rest of the world is far more in favour of Obama and the Democrats than Romney and the Republicans. Both sides of America’s deeply partisan population would do well to reflect on this.

Every nation has a lifespan, and the defining characteristics of its culture very much reflect the stage in that lifespan that it has reached. The USA is an adolescent nation. This is not intended as a negative comment, but simply as an observation of where the USA is in its lifespan, with every season having its positive and negative aspects.

American culture displays adolescent arrogance – the self-confident belief, at individual and corporate levels, that they know better than anyone else and don’t need anyone else; adolescent insecurity – the need to be adored and longed-for; adolescent myopia – the belief that the challenges they face are greater than any faced, and overcome, by previous generations; adolescent concerns – strength and youthful beauty and self-indulgence, and the corresponding denial of sickness and aging and poverty; and adolescent potential – hope and vitality, questioning and questing, and many years ahead of them.

If arrogance and insecurity and the like sound negative, I do not intend to be judgemental: they are in fact inevitable, at every stage; and if they can be mastered (as opposed to allowed to master us) they are in fact essential to us in progressing to the (inevitable) next stage well.

Britain, on the other hand, is a much older nation: not yet in its terminal decline, by any means, but at that stage of early retirement where we see people trying to redefine their role in life. Like adolescence, it is a particular fraught ‘transitional’ season. British culture displays ‘active retired’ arrogance – the belief that we are indispensible; active retired insecurity – the need to be needed; active retired myopia – here the particular problem is not that our vision becomes less flexible with age (this is perfectly natural and should be perfectly acceptable) but the vanity that refuses to wear spectacles, or benefit from correcting lenses that help us see with clarity; active retired concerns – how to extend our independence and resist encroaching dependency on others; and active retired potential – experience, and the energy to share it.

Of course, we see ‘active retired’ behaviour in America (helicopter parents) and ‘adolescent’ behaviour in Britain (last summer’s riots; the growing cult of celebrity), because societies are made up of people of every stage; but I am attempting to paint a big-picture of our respective dominant cultures, which change over long periods.

One of the key reasons, I believe, why Obama’s re-election is so widely welcomed outside of America is this: that most of the world does, indeed, love America and wants to see all her adolescent potential blossom into a mature culture; and for a host of reasons (some, undoubtedly, misguided) we identify Democrat policies and electing Democrat Presidents with America daring to grow up, and Republican policies and electing Republican Presidents with America retreating to the safe familiarity of adolescence. (I’d suggest that Carter, Clinton and Obama are all more respected internationally – for domestic as well as foreign policy – than Reagan, Bush Senior or Bush Junior.)

This is, surely, worth reflecting on, whether you are a Republican who fears the worst for your nation’s future – you can fight growing up, but you can’t fight growing older, and what served you well as adolescents won’t serve you well as mature adults – or a Democrat who hopes that the best is still to come – you will make a host of bad decisions along the way, and then discover that new challenges, as well as opportunities, await.

It is also worth reflecting on as the rest of the world, because the USA will be an adolescent culture for a long while yet, whoever comes and goes in the Oval Office, as it negotiates this (deeply and bitterly contested) transition; and we must enjoy the gift of adolescent America among the family of nations, and live in such a way that helps her grow to maturity, neither fearing her nor disapproving of her, but supporting her with humility, patience, encouragement, celebration, correction, wonder, prayers...

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