Thursday, 28 April 2011

An Englishman's Take On Some American Issues

There's going to be a definite American focus to today's blog.

First of all my condolences, for the little they are worth, go out to all those affected so far by the storm system and tornadoes that have struck the southern states of the U.S. It appears so far that Alabama has been worst hit with North Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia and Virginia also badly affected. The current estimate from the USA today website is that the storm has already killed 269 people and the tragic reality of natural disasters is that that figure will almost certainly rise.

Here is the USA Today coverage -, here's the BBC's take on it - and here's a collection of photos from North Carolina that hint at the destruction across the affected States - The videos and photos on those pages capture the sheer power of the tornadoes as they struck cities and towns.

The devastation to homes and work places will also take a long time to mend but it is lives lost that are, and always should be, the focus of the coverage of and reaction to any event like this. To anyone reading this who either lives in the affected region (and i know it does get some views in the States) or has family out there i hope they're unaffected.

Stories like this from the US or the Tsunami in Japan or any of the other natural disasters to affect people all across the globe in recent years make me very grateful for the twist of fortune that saw me born in the UK, a region relatively untouched by the potentially devastating sides of nature. It kind of puts our collective national hysteria whenever it snows into stark contrast.

Staying on that side of the pond the whole, ridiculous "Birther" conspiracy took what i really hope will be one of it's final turns towards conclusion when Barack Obama released his long-form birth certificate as proof that he was born in the United States. According to a USA Today/Gallup poll released on Monday only 38% of American's believed Obama was definitely born in the States and therefore eligible to be President.

It is staggering to me that such a idiotic conspiracy theory had been allowed to gain that level of traction and that so much of the American public was willing to even vaguely consider it. As an Englishman our interest in conspiracy theories and the like is at times frustrating (the Diana murder one springs to mind but even that is only believed by a tiny minority), but i just can't imagine this sort of thing taking hold. It's the kind of idiocy even the Sun and Daily Mail would probably dismiss as too far.

A right wing media and political campaign has been making the location of Obama's birth a key political issue for the past year and recently the business magnate and attention craving figure, Donald Trump raised the "birther" campaign's profile yet further (a worrying side note is that he seems to be being at least touted as a potential 2012 presidency candidate).

Yesterday he proved, what should but won't be, once and for all that he was, as he has always claimed, born in Hawaii to an American mother and Kenyan father. I say it won't be because within moments of the birth certificate's release, almost before they'd finished crowing about their 'glorious' victory in making Obama publish it, they were questioning it's validity and changing the content of their argument to be whether having a Kenyan father disqualifies Obama from being President. Basically they don't like him being the President and they're going to keep changing the goal posts of what makes him a legitimate President for the entire time he is in office.

I believe that's one of the reasons why it's taken so long for Obama to publish the certificate. He knows those same media figures and politicians will move onto some new reason to distrust him and so while they were banging on about something so clearly untrue he was almost tempted to let them do so, but now it had become, i suspect to his surprise and alarm, a genuine political issue he's had to take steps to quash that particular lie.

Another reason i suspect may be simply an understandable reaction from him of "Why on earth should i have to prove to a bunch of right wing manipulative liars that i am who i say i am, when i clearly couldn't have got to be the President if i wasn't?" It would be a perfectly reasonable argument, but the problem arises from the fact that reasonable arguments and the American media (on both sides of the polital spectrum) do not go well together.

When i first read the story yesterday evening i could almost hear what Obama wished he was able to say to the main players in the campaign, i imagine it went something like this; "Well there you go. You wanted proof, there's proof you scaremongering, shameless, idiotic fools. Now can we please forget this stupidly childish game and actually try and get on with running this country?"

He said something impressively close to that, but seeing as he's an elected official rather than a news presenter he had to go with a polite version. I hate feeling this cynical and i don't doubt for a moment that this doesn't apply to the vast majority of Americans, but it just feels like certain elements are unable to come to terms with having a black President whose middle name is Hussein and whose surname rhymes with Osama. Linked to that is the terrifyingly high number of Americans who seem to belief that Obama may be a Muslim, despite the lack of anything really resembling solid evidence. Yes he grew up in Indonesia, the country with the world's largest population of Muslims, but that doesn't make him a Muslim, just as growing up in an ostensibly Christian country hasn't made me Christian.

I worry that Obama's legacy will be one of racially driven political sniping and media hysteria rather than anything actually to do with his policies. The actual politics of Congress is as partisan as it has been in a long time and worryingly American society seems to be following suit.

An interesting side note that i can't deny i found brilliant was this article i stumbled across via Twitter - - it basically says that in an official press release on their website the KKK said that they didn't agree with the Koran burning, Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church or the Tea Party. Now their difference of opinion doesn't always stem from reasons i agree with (at least that applies to their dislike for the Tea Party) but it did make a quite amusing thought occur to me.

When the KKK turns around and says they can't support your hateful rhetoric or actions, you surely know you've gone too far.

It only feels appropriate that the song i finish this blog with is by an American band, so i chose one of my favourite songs by Bright Eyes, "Bowl of Oranges". If ever a band somehow managed to make their songs simultaneously depressing and uplifting it's Bright Eyes, which may go someway to explain why i enjoy them so much.

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