I’m accused regularly of being an American stooge, superfan, or patsy; or, to use the current Internet vernacular, a “simp” for Uncle Sam.
Of all the accusations I’ve encountered in my life, which include being told that I was a “Labour Party activist” while being a paid-up member of the Tory Party at the time, it’s the one that carries the most weight.
For someone living on this side of the Atlantic, I’ve spent a lot of time in the USA and I am deeply fond of it. However, setting aside for a moment the personal memories and friendships that tie me to America, there is something deeper in my affection for the place that abides because, as unpopular as it may be to say, I continue to believe that the US is a force for good in the world.
I am not blind to the problems that currently run rampant throughout the US. America has to contend with inadequate leadership, a political establishment that seems to aspire to do little more than hold office, a history of racism that has gone unresolved, too few opportunities, and a general ‘fall of an Empire’ vibe.
In short, America has some wounds to which it must tend if it is ever to heal properly.
However, even with so many deep-seated and significant social, political and cultural problems, I believe that there is still good reason to have confidence that the American Revolution will continue to be the only successful one in history – and that the country it created will regain the full height demanded of it by the lofty principles embedded in its programme.
It takes a sense of historical perspective to grasp this. From the shots fired at Lexington and Concord, George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River, that inspired meeting in the courthouse in Philadelphia at which the beautiful Declaration of Independence was crafted via the Emancipation Proclamation… to the key role the country played in defeating 20th-century fascism and socialism, the passing of the Voting Rights Act, and latterly the granting of marriage equality to millions of gay Americans, there is a golden thread of progress running through the star-spangled banner.
America encounters its problems and, by returning to the vision that the government should be limited, that the people are in charge, and that freedom and justice are for all, emerges stronger.
The need for a restoration of strong and confident American leadership, guided by those values, can be felt across the world.
In Europe, the EU, our own attempt at a grand union, lies in tatters with an economic and social timebomb strapped to what is left. Meanwhile, closer to home, Britain is a country culturally lost and overwhelmed by forces with which it can no longer deal – both internally and externally. The straight line connecting Runnymede and Philadelphia has become faded, and its colours lacklustre, at the British end.
Meanwhile, the ghoulish spectres of Putin’s Russia – a gangster Disneyland crammed with a population pre-programed to do whatever they are told for a couple of quid – and China, the Blofeld of geopolitics, continue to gain momentum and power. Robust and optimistic American leadership is no longer a luxury; it is now essential if freedom, democracy and prosperity are to be our global future.
In his final address to the American people in 1989, President Ronald Reagan returned to his favourite metaphor for what America ought to be. Drawing on the words of English lawyer John Winthrop, the Great Communicator described his vision of America as the “shinning city on the hill”, which shines the light of liberty for “all the pilgrims, from all the lost places, who are hurtling through the darkness towards home”.
What is often forgotten is that during that emotional address, Reagan’s left hand was bandaged up as he was recovering from surgery.
When I revisited his speech, as the American patsy that I am, I saw a prudent metaphor on display. America is wounded, it’s bandaged up, but it can – as it has done each and every time it has faced adversity in the past – recover, get better and emerge stronger, because it is the only country in the world with good founding principles. There are no others.
As a Presidential election looms and America becomes, even more so than usual, the centre of the political and cultural world, it is more important than at any time since the end of the Cold War for America to rediscover the values that the Gipper extolled in that address he made before returning to civilian life and to project them, both internally and across the world. America now, like the then-President, is hurting. It has a metaphorically strapped-up hand, but it can, and must, get back to the business of being the United States of America.
The rest of the world, and the American people themselves, deserve nothing less than that.