U.S. politics rule, even in Pacific paradise

January 22, 2012 | By | Reply More

ethnically diverse of the United States.

Troy Media – by Catherine Ford

It seems very strange to contemplate the question of race while vacationing in the most ethnically diverse of the United States.

Hawaii is where Barack Obama, the United States’ first black president grew up, amid this string of islands in the Pacific Ocean. He would have been surrounded by skin tones of every shade, and while middle-America can’t rid itself of incipient racism, it would be out of place here.

That doesn’t mean racism doesn’t exist in Hawaii, it’s just not that obvious. Curiously, were it not for the ubiquity of the Stars and Stripes and the relentlessly American flavour of everything from fast food to Fox News, one could imagine this to be a foreign country. Which it is, of course, to the wintertime tourists from Western Canada, who join the sun-seekers from the northwestern states, everyone seeking surcease from the dark nights of January and the cold days of winter.

Relentless politics

But it’s not the flag or the accents that mark this place as American – it’s the ceaseless political coverage in this, a presidential election year. Only the cruise ship tragedy off the coast of Italy replaces the race for the Republican nomination, and that only briefly. Had there not been a number of U.S. citizens on board the stricken ship, it would have rated what newspaper people call “below-the-fold” coverage, i.e. not all that important.

There is no “world view” in the minds of many Americans. While it’s not strictly xenophobic, it’s decidedly inward-looking.

And the U.S. “news” media breathlessly covers every debate, every so-called gaffe, every tidbit of scandal or gossip – true or not. If it seems puzzling to Canadians, it must be downright bizarre to Europeans.

It started months, if not a year, ago, but now that a new year has come, it’s never-ending. The Canadians can only thank the parliamentary system for saving us from this interminable barrage of pundits and politicians all weighing in across the airwaves as they attempt to best each other in negativity.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper seems almost benign in his relentless attacks on the Liberals and New Democrats. That’s a very big “almost” of course. The worry is that lot of very serious people are suggesting that Canada adopt a primary system, similar to that of the United States. Are they crazy? Have they never visited the States while one of these insult-fests is going on? Is this what we want our politics reduced to? Months of vicious, slanderous, defamatory attacks on men and women who have done nothing more evil (at least on the surface) than to run for office? It used to be – as my grandfather believed – that public office was the second-highest calling for an educated person. The first? Serving God and community through being a minister, the path Clinton J. Ford actually started out on before he switched to law.

Little voter trust

He ran for office twice, was beaten both times and would have been appalled at the level of discourse into which contemporary candidates have fallen. Little wonder there’s a paucity of trust on the part of the voters. After being immersed in the vitriol that passes for reasoned debate, it’s a wonder anyone actually votes.

The most corrosive is also the most suppressed: that of race. And almost nobody ever mentions it, which is strange when one considers that race permeates just about everything in this country. (Religion comes a close second.)

To the onlooker, not involved in U.S. politics, it presents a curious dichotomy. The New York Time calls the Republican front-runner Mitt Romney, “the whitest white man to run for president in recent memory.”

Lee Seigel writes: “There has yet to be any discussion over the one quality that has subtly fuelled his candidacy thus far and could subsequently put him over the top in the fall: his race.”

And in a country where race subtly affects everything, Romney’s “outsider” religion, that of Mormonism, is trumped by his skin colour. All the other Republican candidates are white too, but Siegel makes the argument that each of Romney’s opponents is otherwise flawed. “Each is tainted in his own way.”

Romney, writes Siegel, “knows that he offers . . . the white solution to the problem of a black president. I am sure that Mr. Romney is not a racist. But I am also sure that, for the many Americas who find the thought of a black president unbearable, he is a ideal candidate.”

Frankly, it’s a strange way to run a political system, let alone a country.

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