I first went to the United States in the summer of 1987 and it’s been a love affair ever since. I feel in love with the country’s vastness, its variety and its people. I admire what it stands for, I admire its history and, yes, I admire its culture.
Because, you see, America may be a relatively young country but it does have a history and it does have an astonishing cultural heritage. Ignore the lazy thinking that portrays America is a cartoon country devoid of cultural seriousness. It is the country of Ernest Hemingway, Harper Lee, Tenessee Williams, F Scott Fitzgerald, John Steinbeck, Mark Twain and Edgar Allan Poe. I could go on.
Its hundreds of TV channels give the impression of a country happiest with the lowest common denominator, but imagine a TV world without such classics as Breaking Bad, 24, X-Files, Madmen, The Simpsons. West Wing, Twin Peaks, the Golden Girls – well, where do I stop. OK, At Dallas.
It’s a country which embraces immigrants from all over the world. It’s a country which truly believes in aspiration, in something called The American Dream, where you really do have an opportunity to rise to the top. Of course there are still massive social divisions, but there’s no class structure, the type of which still bedevils this country. You really can be a black boy from a poor ground and grow up to be President.
American attitudes to business and enterprise demonstrate why it remains the world’s most powerful and successful economy. In this country we look down on people who have a business failure in their history. In America, most successful business people have failed at least twice. There’s no envy of people who do well. Reveal that you’re a multi-millionaire and people think “hasn’t he done well, I want to do better.” In this country we revile people like that and look at their riches with pure, unadulterated envy.
America’s constitution, drafted more than two hundred years ago, has stood the test of time. The forefathers of today’s legal and political professions bequeathed a system which protects freedoms and rights like no other in the world.
Throughout my adult life, younger generations in Europe have been hugely critical of American foreign policy, judging it to be too interventionist and war-like. This is to misunderstand US motivations. There is little understanding that without American interventions in both the First and Second World Wars, we’d now be speaking in German in this country. We might like to think that “we” won both these wars, but “we” wouldn’t have had it not been for the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of brave young American soldiers, sailors and airmen. Had it not been for the United States role in standing up to the Soviet Union in the cold war, the only way it would have ended would have been for communism to triumph in western Europe.
Nowadays we judge American through the prism of its interventions in Afghanistan and more especially Iraq. Too many people have come to believe that the world would be a better place if America withdrew into its own borders and took up its more traditional isolationist stance. It’s a huge misjudgement. Without America, there will never be a successful middle eastern peace process. Without America Daesh/ISIS will never be defeated. The weakness of US foreign policy over the last eight years has allowed extremists like Daesh, Al Qaeda and Al Nusra to flourish throughout the middle east and north and eastern Africa. It is a failure of engagement that the world will have to confront over the next decade or so.
Despite the preferences of its core of religious fundamentalists the last two decades have seen huge advances in gay rights in the US, most recently with the Supreme Court judgement confirming that the constitution guarantees a right to gay marriage.
And finally, has there ever been a country (with the possible exception of the UK) which has bequeathed the world a more diverse collection of musicians and songs? Just imagine a world without Glen Miller, Elvis Presley, Jim Reeves, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Miles Davis, Billie Holliday, Bob Dylan, Louis Armstrong or Michael Jackson.
I rest my case.
This article first appeared in Attitude Magazine