Visit to the USA

Column Articles
Wednesday, August 10, 2016

I have returned to NZ from my US sojourn with an increased appreciation of our democracy and general way of life.  The US must always be acknowledged for being the first country to imagine a democracy with genuine power to the people when they declared independence in 1776 – although for women and African Americans, universal suffrage lay many decades ahead.

But for me their political system has evolved to a place that feels both astounding in its grandeur yet quite uncomfortable and challenging.

Presidential candidates relying on huge donations totalling in hundreds of millions only to spend that money attacking and degrading their opposition.  Political passions vehemently held, with angry almost hateful feelings of disgust levelled at the other sides candidate.  It left me struggling to see any decency in it all.  The election will be won by Hillary Clinton, the lesser of two evils in many Americans minds, and thanks to the unprecedented acrimony between the two presidential  candidates she will be left with dysfunction in Washington that will be almost impossible to resolve. 

Our system, reflective of our size and natural demeanour feels much more intimate, respectful, coherent and competent.  Yes we have our policy differences, and views passionately held, but we rarely veer off into personal insult and degradation. Our political debate is more narrow, because our political parties coalesce around broadly agreed principles of individual obligation and opportunity, community  cohesion and social investment.  We debate emphasis and priorities but we do not have to integrate the wide divergent of views that exist in America between a  republican from Utah  and a sanders democrat from California.

Much of our culture is absorbed by what we see and experience in the world.  I hope that our better angles always guide us in our political discourse, and not the worst excesses of others.

For all this I remain confident America and Americans will work out their challenges. 

They always have, they always will, not because of any American exceptionalism but because their system does ultimately give power to its people, and its people have collectively chosen well, even through much pain in their history .