I spent a refreshing sea voyage recently with a prospective Conservative MP. Lest you think I have sold my soul to Beelzebub, apart from feeling as if I had momentarily slipped into a congenial, if deranged alternative reality, I found myself spectating with enthusiasm and enjoying the fried fish and chips thereafter. The lady herself is eminently electable. Good breeding, articulate and appropriately managerial with underlings – indeed refraining from ribald commentary over an inferior Chardonnay. The constituency she represents is one of moderate, God-fearing dinosaurs and it might be interesting to see what happens if she ever had real power. Which brings me to America. The great, the good and the terminally garrulous are converging on Denver, and the TV is full of it. No doubt Barack and Michelle are smelling the floor polish along the corridors of the White House already. A new book, The Great Derangement, by Matt Taibbi, reports widespread lunacy in the national psyche just when America needs to understand the dangerous real world more than ever: “On both the left and the right, huge chunks of the population were effecting nearly identical retreats into conspiratorial weirdness and internet-fuelled mysticism.”. The book has been described as ‘opinionated, profane, depressing and hilarious’.He visits churches that are prayerfully, proudly ignorant of the larger world and equate hatred of Nancy Pelosi who had the temerity to demand equal pay for equal work for men and women in her Californian constituency with love of God. He visits left-wing assemblies seething against President Bush: They’re sure 9/11 was a White House plot. These are fantasies of a sheep-like populace that cocoons itself in Internet escapism and white-hot tribal resentments, with no clue about how real power operates.
“They voted in huge numbers, but they were voting out of loathing, against enemies and against the system in general, not really for anybody. The elections had basically become a forum for organizing the hatreds of the population.”
These are prime-time values no longer. Demonization is big business, even if it ruins the country. Dispiriting, isn’t it. But incomplete, since it ignores an essential bloc of American (read Western) humanity: religious moderates. The backbone of communities, they do the unglamorous charitable work. They are faithful worshippers who discuss complex social issues at Sunday school. They embody an embattled set of values that evolved after World War II, when believers were weary of fascist bigotry and global atrocity — tolerance, patience, faithfulness, internationalism, in other words, decency. Much like many of my shipmates bobbing up and down around the harbour the other day.
Denver, it is noted, is also a ‘no fry zone’ in order to promote healthy eating at the convention. No fried chicken. No fried catfish. No fried green tomatoes. No fried okra. No fried anything. Unlike the Conservatives at sea the other day.
Let’s hope they keep it festive and truthful, digestively calm and confine the hate to two minutes.
Postscript…I found it instructive to crowd-watch during the almost wall-to wall coverage of BO and friends in Denver. The beatific adoration was almost more than flesh and blood could stand, especially as his running mate looks and sounds like a younger, fitter version of John McCain. It’ll be fascinating to see what the Old Guard can pull out of the hat up in Minnesota in the wake of Gustav. Hopefully, a little statesmanship.