I wrote about division last week and even the garden
doesn’t know whether it is coming or going. There are flowers in bud, flowers in bloom, there are green shoots, brown leaves beside green ones and wintry stems, all in just about equal parts. Sounds familiar ? The division in the UK over Brexit was just about half and half – just like the much larger, much richer and more violent US of A in its recent protracted electioneering.
Some years ago an American client told my then husband that he didn’t like either of the two candidates on offer and he disliked profoundly the system that made them what was available to him.
“Too long and too expensive” he said “ and that means the people you’re interested in drop out.”
But some stay in. Boris Johnson made it to Number Ten and Joe Biden made it to Pennsylvania Avenue, third time lucky. The British press is full of stories that the Blond was disagreeable when he met Biden as Obama’s vice president and that he (Biden) has a long memory. In terms of trade, need and cooperation, we can only hope that he will like us even if he doesn’t like him (BJ) – as we have felt about Americans for the last four years.
So I don’t envy about-to-be President Biden his inbox,
the snarling writhing spitting opponents, social conflict at every level and how many of America’s most important institutions have been run down both in numbers and quality of personnel. I don’t envy him the bitterness with which he will be greeted by those who hitched their dreams to the wagon of the outgoing reality television president.
The United States into which I arrived at the age of 19, where I worked and paid taxes for two years, now seems remote. Last night, a friend who spent time there as a youngster and for whom it was always top of his list of favourites, told me he doesn’t want to have anything to do with it for the foreseeable future. “They’ve lost the plot” he said.
And some of us wonder what we ever really knew about the United States.
We put bad news aside. We chose not to remember that even the personal friendship between Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, men of similar status and Churchill’s mother was an American grandee, even so – the special relationship was not enough to bring our greatest ally into WWII. We owe the Japanese for Pearl Harbour.
America puts its own bad news aside. Sooner or later a presidential candidate has to invoke “the American people” – those same American people who were systematically lied to through Presidencies of both parties, which threw all sorts of securities and loyalties into doubt during the protracted war
in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.
The old echoes of “Secession !” and “States’ Rights !” which characterised the outbreak of the American Civil War (1860/65) remain as unresolved to some as the period of reconstruction for freed slaves. There was more hope in the 1960s and there was more honesty. And honesty has no colour.
And I don’t envy Mr. Biden the sheer physical and mental burden of office which we have seen cruelly age every incumbent. I don’t envy him the stick he is going to take in Congress and the Senate, the bad mouthing he will face for his Vice President – a woman of colour with a brain.
We all have decisions we’re unhappy about, among our own and our neighbours, nationally and internationally. There are things we cheer for and things we regret, things we can adjust to and things we just can’t. And the higher up the chain of command you go, the more strenuous is the negotiation.
But Joe Biden wanted this and he got it. Because of this long long run up, he knows more about how the machinery of American government and public life works than many people. And for me, the single most encouraging thought so far is that he is noted for “reaching across the aisle”. I don’t even know if this is too little or too late. I hope not. I wish we had access to the same.