I write to you on the eve of the most controversial, the ugliest and possibly the most important presidential election of my lifetime. I’m writing to you not in the hope that you’ll read this, because I know it’s a bit late in the day, but in the hope that you, as a nation, will do the right thing, as you (in my lifetime, anyway) have always more or less done, even if you’ve taken your time about it.
First off, America, can I just say, love your work? Seriously. I am Irish. I was born in England and grew up in Ireland but I can’t remember a time when I didn’t think that just so much cool stuff came out of America. Could I just list some of those things, here, just to show my appreciation? Because you have done some shit that the rest of us can only sit back and applaud. Let’s just remind ourselves of that.
The Revolution. The Founding Fathers – yes, I know some of them were kind of assholes and more than a few were slave-owners, but for a bunch of 18th century lawyers, they outlined a nation state which has proved to be remarkably enduring. And Thomas Jefferson, in particular: hell of a turn of phrase, man. What next? New York City. Never been there, bar an hour or so in a terminal at JFK during a stop-over in 1999, but I glimpsed the Twin Towers. San Francisco! Now, there, I have been. Wonderful city. Amazing breakfasts. The Golden Gate Bridge. The BART. Berkeley. The Mission burrito. I’m getting sidetracked. These are tourist sights.
Blues! Jazz! America, your contribution to world music is incalculable, and although you all had a hand in it, I think we have to hand the garlands here to African-Americans. I live in Scotland and occasionally I find myself in a situation when I have to listen to Scottish country dance music. Whenever I do so, I say a silent prayer of thanks to African-Americans, because without them, all Western popular music would sound like Scottish country dance music. Blues and jazz are of course wonderful in themselves, but they also provided the mitochondrial DNA for pretty much all subsequent popular music of any value, from rock & roll to ‘Ima Read’. Thank you, guys. A fervent thank you. We’re sorry that for so many decades, most blues and jazz musicians lived in poverty and died young. There is no compensation, except to say: you were right all along. Scott Joplin. Louis Armstrong. Duke Ellington. Charlie Parker. Bud Powell. Miles Davis. John Coltrane. Billy Strayhorn. Cecil Taylor. Anthony Braxton. Jimi Hendrix.
Hollywood. Where would we be without the dreams and nightmares of the movies and TV? Perhaps saner, perhaps wiser, but I think also more boring. The internet! You invented it, America! We still don’t know whether that was, on balance, a good idea, but American know-how and American money got that sucker up and running! Grace Hopper. Richard Stallman. Dennis Ritchie. Most of my literary friends no longer know who the fuck I’m talking about, at this point.
What else? America, I believe it was you that first put pepperoni on pizza, and that was A Good Thing. Wallace Stevens. Flannery O’Connor. Herman Melville. Walt Whitman. Emily Dickinson. Superman. Batman. Wonder Woman. Leo Fender. Orville Gibson. Paul Auster. Sylvia Plath. Kathy Acker. Langston Hughes. Lorraine Hansberry. Rosa Parks. Martin Luther King Jr. Muhammad Ali. All your sports! Which I don’t understand, but never mind.
Well, you’re starting to get the idea. Bob Dylan. Frank Zappa. Elliott Carter. I’m appreciative, is what I’m saying.
So there is a history, there, America. A history of fantastic achievement. In 2008 you elected your first African-American president, and can I just say that most people outside America think that a.) Barack Obama is just awesomely cool and b.) it’s a shame that he didn’t manage to get stuff done.
This is because most people outside America don’t understand that Barack Obama had to battle a remorselessly hostile Congress to get anything done at all. For years, the Republican party has controlled Congress and has stopped government from functioning — and has then held this up as evidence that government is ineffective. In practical terms, that’s like allowing the army to exist but denying it weapons, and then claiming that you might as well get rid of the army because it’s useless in combat. In my adopted country, the UK, the Conservative party does the same thing to our beloved National Health Service: it denies it proper funding, works the staff to death and then bitches that it doesn’t work properly. So, this is what conservative parties do. They hate government, because they want everything to be owned by the rich, because they themselves are the rich, and they want more money. They have worked out a simple-minded theory about economics that says that the market will fix everything, in spite of the fact that it won’t. Then, when they get to control a public service, they cut its funding and then cite its resulting performance as evidence that public services don’t work.
Fuck them. When the UK rail network was handed over to a private company, Railtrack, you know what happened? The private company behaved like a responsible private company, and sought to maximise profit for its shareholders. It cut many of its safety checks and lowered maintenance standards on the grounds that they were too expensive. The result was that people died in multiple rail accidents. In the 1920s, in rural America, the utility companies did not bother to extend electricity and water to rural areas because it wasn’t cost-effective enough to do so and the government didn’t think it was right to force them to do it. The result was that millions of people, mostly women, were condemned to back-breaking work just to keep their families in fresh water and clean clothes, all because the government believed that business knew best.
I’m side-tracked again. You can’t trust business, is what I’m saying. Greed is not good for anything except making rich people richer. Greed will not keep you clean and healthy and well-fed. Only service will do that.
You are facing a big decision. But there is no point in addressing you as though you are a unified nation, because you clearly aren’t one anymore, if you ever were one. So I’ll talk to each group of voters in turn.
To Hillary Clinton voters:
Hi. If you are reading this, you’re going to vote for her anyway, so what can I say except, please do so, and know that even if she doesn’t get elected, she will have made history. Because it will then be clear that, given the right circumstances, too many people regard even a supremely qualified and dedicated woman as less worthy of the highest office in the land than a stupid, racist, bullying, rich, incoherent fuckwad who just happens to have a penis. If she does get elected, and I hope she will, then…well, thank fuck. I am too tired of worrying about this election to be as elated as I should be by the prospect of the first woman president, but I can’t think of anyone who’s deserved it more.
To Jill Stein voters:
Good for you. But if there is any chance that Trump can win your state, please don’t vote for Jill Stein just because your conscience won’t let you do anything else. This is not a regular election. This is a war against misogyny and entitlement, and we are trusting you to take up arms. If Clinton gets in, you can at least be heard. If Trump gets in, look forward to 1-2 years of utter chaos and then six years of Mike Pence rolling back everything you stand for. And that’s the best case scenario.
To Gary Johnson voters:
…Um, okay. I don’t really know what to say to you. I mean, I’ve seen your candidate on TV and…well, maybe it’s some sort of lifestyle thing. But you do realise that…no, probably you don’t. Sorry. I am a left-wing anarchist. I don’t even like nation states. I can’t regard your guy as anything but a rich idiot who wants the laws to be changed so that he can do whatever he wants.
To Donald Trump voters:
I’ll keep it short, not because I think you are all dumb white guys. I know that some of you are highly-educated white guys who see power within your grasp and want to turn America into a fascist state, so there’s no talking to you. But some of you, probably not you reading this, because chances are you’ll never read this, but some of you are God-fearing people who, for reasons I’m not sure I understand (but I’m about to speculate about), genuinely think you’re doing the right thing.
I’ll just say this: with Obama, never mind the whole birther thing, never mind that his middle name was ‘Hussein’, never mind the Affordable Care Act as socialism by another name, I know you don’t even know what socialism is, even though I have heard at least one senior US military officer describe the US armed forces as the biggest socialist organisation in America (well, the government pays the salaries, what else do you want to call it? Or would you privatise the army too?) Never mind the policy stuff.
It’s because he was black, right? Can you just admit it?
Likewise, with Hillary Clinton. It’s not the issues, really, is it? It’s not Benghazi, it’s not the foundation, it’s not Bill, it’s not the finances — your boy is in no position to attack anyone else about crookedness, given his record of multiple bankruptcies, unpaid contractors, failed casinos.
(The casinos! When the mob developed Vegas, they placed casinos in territory where you had to commit to go there, and so you had to bring money with you, so that they could be guaranteed to have a stream of affluent gamblers who would spend days in town making money for them. Trump opened casinos in fucking Atlantic City! At a time when the clientele consisted of elderly, not very affluent New Yorkers who’d pop down for a day trip, drop a few bucks, have dinner and go home on the evening train! You call that business genius? No wonder they fucking failed!)
No, it’s not anything Hillary Clinton has actually done.
It’s because she’s a woman, right? Come on. Just own up.
You really would prefer to have this toxic fucking asshole in the top job, because you think presidents should be men. White men, to be precise. And all the other white men who were queueing up were a sorry fucking bunch, weren’t they? At least your boy was gripping to watch. He’s great TV. Cruz is a humourless shit. Rubio, Christie, the others, they were nothing. Your boy can do a punchline.
And that’s all. He’s good for a sidebar headline: oh, what’s Trump said today. Oh my. What a scoundrel. But what has he done? What has he transformed? How has he made people’s lives better? What makes you think he could do anything for anyone but himself? (And, at a stretch, his immediate family? Not the rest of his family, because…well, google ‘Trump will nephew cerebral palsy’, and you can read just how much of a fucking shithead the guy can be to members of his own family.)
If you can just admit that you hated Obama because he’s black, and you hate Clinton because she’s a woman, we can all move on. Well, we can’t, but it would be a start. Because I don’t see any other logic to your choices. Unless you think that America is not for you any longer, and so you may as well bring it down for everyone else.
–Well, that’s my semi-hysterical screed done. Thank you, America. I salute you. I hope you will do the right thing. Because that’s what America was built on: trust in a common undertaking. Not trust in a mighty father who can do everything. You got rid of the mighty father when you told George III to fuck off. You have our respect for that. And that’s why we’re so alarmed to see that so many of you have chosen the kind of approach that we had in Europe back in the day, and which you helped fix: blind faith that one strong man can live up to his own bullshit. It didn’t work, America. Germany is proof. Trust us, you don’t want to be like Russia or Hungary or North Korea. You want to be you. So, remember the song you’ve always sung — it’s an old one, based on a previous tune, but you do a memorable version of it.
It’s not the one that goes ‘I alone can fix this’.
It starts like this: ‘We, the people…’