After one week in the United States it is time to halt a minute and review progress so far: the best girlfriend ever and I have driven 1200 miles in 6 days, crossed 6 states and visited a few places that are not your typical U.S. garden spots. Nevertheless being off the typical tourist track (apart from Washington D.C.) Cleveland, Ann Arbor, Detroit, Fort Wayne and Lafayette gave us invaluable insight into a deeply divided nation that is trying to get excited about the forthcoming elections but is not particular bothered.
Driving through the Mid-West it was quite obvious that these states are firmly divided between rural and urban communities. From Washington D.C.to Cleveland we did not see or hear one democratic ad, either on the road side or on the radio. Instead, we were bombarded by misleading messages from the fossil fuel industry, local chambers of commerce and rich individuals, urging us to reverse the push towards sustainable energy and rather vote for supporters of local coal and gas. As soon as we crossed into towns and cities with more that 10.000 inhabitants, the Obama/Biden signs started to appear and the local radio stations started featuring the more optimistic democratic ads. The wonderful people we met, all with undergraduate or postgraduate degrees, were often embarrassed by their fellow conservative citizens and felt that they the agenda pushed by the Republican lobby was comparable to a slow Christian talibanisation of this great country, with one of our friends referring to the ‘Powell Memorandum‘ as proof that since the seventies progressive agendas have stalled. With the Republicans moving to a Stone Age form of conservatism that has nothing to do with the pre-Reagan conservatives, the religiosity of their current party would certainly be anathema for those earlier conservatives. Newspaper and television commentary on the current issues facing the U.S.A felt insular and isolationist, emphasising the perceived amorphous, dangerous and threatening blob that is China, which needs to be ‘stood up against’ and ‘to be kept in check’. As the biggest bond holder of American debt you can hear the Chinese chuckling merrily all the way from Peking when they hear this unnecessary and dangerous posturing. Add to this the constant reminders of the Republican stakeholders that their view of rape and female empowerment are obviously taken from the Old Testament, I would hate to get into a political argument with a GOP voter, but as I am at this very moment on my way to Texas, this is becoming more likely by the kilometre. Just to demonstrate how suspicious your regular American is of anything foreign, our pilot today had to reassure passengers that the Airbus that they were sitting in was “an exceptionally well made European aircraft”.
Nevertheless, even though this place is often inexplicable for the common European tourist, there is one thing that seems to be characteristic for the vast majority of this diverse society. For this, let me quote Garrison Keillor:
Cheerfulness is a choice people make. Happiness is something else – happiness happens to you, rarely, like when Minnesota beats Michigan, and you don’t get to choose it. Joy is a theological concept. Contentment is something that happens to other people, the Inuit, for example, or the Micmac, or Basque sheepherders, or people in Nebraska. Not you or me. But we can choose to be cheerful and loose or jazzy, in the face whatever life throws our way. […]
Cheerfulness is the great American virtue, found in Emerson, Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, and also in cafes and taverns and workplaces all over America. Academics tend to be negative, especially in the humanities – certain educations are a depressant – and of course young people have an obligation to be morbid and filled with angst and stay up late and brood. NOT MY JOB.”