Questions for America

To my great relief, absolutely nothing changed after America’s election this November. However, once the post-Romney-defeat euphoria wore off, the world realised that absolutely nothing had changed. The problems of a divided government rose up out of the swamp of campaign politics – most notably the ongoing saga of the fiscal cliff. Yes, that’s right, if Washington’s politicians don’t grow up a little in the next nine days, a culmination of tax rises and spending cuts will wipe 5% off the GDP of the world’s leading economy.

Forget the implications of this for a minute. The fact that America has ended up in this situation is crazy enough as it is. In recent years the Democrats and Republicans have moved further and further apart from each other on the socio-political scale; dividing the country along with its Congress. Why has this happened? Many cite the recession, but the trend began way before the sub-prime bubble so rudely burst. I would argue that what we are seeing is a conflict of ideas about how to redefine America as it sees itself being overtaken by China, Brazil and India. The Republicans appear to be founding this ‘new’ America on its 19th century predecessor. Sometimes it seems that the Democrats are merely trying to stop them from succeeding. That may not be a bad goal.

I realised recently that I can not remain objective about American politics. I have tried and I have failed. The Republicans are simply too balmy – too socially regressive. So from now on, I am not even going to try to hide my liberal bias.

And so the markets will spend this holiday season fretting about the fiscal cliff. I am going with most commentators and hedging my bets that a deal will be done. Surely not even America’s politicians would sacrifice the world’s economy in order to ‘keep face’? But a deal won’t represent a breakthrough – bipartisanship won’t thrive. Until America is on the road to somewhere, its politics are going to remain ugly.

Nothing exemplifies this more than the shooting of twenty children in a small town in Connecticut. America’s gun laws are almost unique – in some states guns can be brought in supermarkets by showing a driving license. These are the laws which allowed a teacher in Newtown to buy the gun her son eventually shot her with, before committing the multiple murders of her former colleagues and the children they cared for.

Why do these laws still stand more than 200 years after the need to fight the imperialist British was removed? Because ‘the right to bear arms’ was enshrined in the Second Amendment of the Constitution, making it sacrosanct in the eyes of many Americans. The National Rifle Association, in a press conference held on the same day as the first funerals of the children – called for armed guards in all school, declaring that violent video games, not the ready availability of guns, were the cause of the Newtown tragedy. Many Republicans – and, indeed, some Democrats – agree with the NRA. They will have to fight with Mr Obama, who this week finally declared his intention to reform gun laws.

And so we are left to wonder: will the deaths of so many six-year-olds achieve a change in sentiment not touched by the murders at Columbine, Virginia Tech or Aurora? Perhaps, but alas, perhaps not.

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