Up Close And From Afar, The View Through the Lens of an American Living in the UK

By Dawn M. Sanders

Being born and raised atop what I would later find to be America’s, city-on-the-hill status to the rest of the world, we only knew of how life affected us, but not faraway places of, ‘them’, somewhere out there…

Growing up in a disadvantaged family, my siblings and I were not encouraged to question: doctor was always right and my mother described herself as a flag waver, her brother having been killed in the Korean war, as American might was felt around the world. In the post-Vietnam fallout, no one heard of the US-backed 1973 coup of Salvador Allende, replaced with Augusto Pinochet, a merciless dictator. To this day, on the whole Americans know nothing of their endless wars.

Hailing from California, one of the most liberal states, I was used to diversity – whether a lot of kids of colour at school, meeting the odd person from China or going to camp with kids who had various additional needs. Yet within my own household there were certain prejudices harboured I never agreed with, such as  against people of colour.

Upon immigrating to the UK, I landed in a post-Thatcher Britain still talking of poll tax riots. Part of the appeal of coming to the UK, was eventually, I might be a European citizen in tandem with my UK status – how naïve I was.

After 9/11 and the subsequent bombing of Afghanistan, I swiftly awakened to the crimes of my former country and on the cusp of an International Politics degree, I had started feeling a shamed of being American. Meeting other expats, I found they too loathed George W. Bush Jr. – detesting any association with him.

Any lingering American hegemony at the start of the millennium was quickly replaced with a more aggressive agenda, signalling the starting gun of the culture wars that ensued – manifesting in Bush’s “War On Terror”. As America was the protagonist in pitting west against east, urging allies to do its bidding in Iraq, in the rear view mirror of hindsight, it was not difficult to ascertain how I felt psychologically. Listening to brash American ground troopers boast of “lighting up” Iraqis in their homes or on the streets, made my blood run cold. With America as the main perpetrator, was Tony Blair’s declaration that “The UK would stand shoulder to shoulder…” so we too were fully immersed in the invasion.

In the 80s the US had Reagan and the UK had Thatcher, setting the stage for puppet politics, so the Bush and Blair master and servant scenario was no exception. “Not in my name” was the slogan of the anti-Iraq demonstrations, where I was compelled to march all of them.

Travelling to the Middle East in 2006 at the height of the invasion, I knew being American would not be popular, so despite my green passport, in meeting people, I would identify as British – it was after all, the lesser of two evils.

As the war raging in the Middle East burnt into the Western psyche as a permanent fixture of political and cultural decay, by 2010 with the Tories back in power, traditional class wars throughout Europe and America were reignited as western  partnerships implemented austerity.

Growing up Stateside, presidential elections were minor but significant occasions – for many just another day, as democracy was like turning on a tap, there when we expected it. However, record turnout for Barack Obama was simply astounding. Donald Trump’s election has often been described as a product of our times or whitelash of Obama’s tenure. As it became apparent, Trump not only did not represent the America I grew up in, he embodied a new brand of right-wing extremism. There is a wide consensus that Trumpism is firmly entrenched in American conservatism and will be his legacy.

As Trump rose to power, behind closed doors, the same extremism was being carefully planned in the UK, with Steve Bannon (who later became Trump’s Chief Strategist and  senior Councillor) and veterans of the Tory party with long-running aspirations of leaving the European Union. The Brexit project, a definitive referendum costing two prime ministers, aligned UK politics with the far-right. Trumpism has replaced waning American hegemony, to the disgust of us on the left, UK conservatives were all too happy to lurch further to the right – polarising the UK in a Brexit vs anti-Brexit parroting of divide-and-rule tactics.  Despite Trump’s contemptuous personality and lack of political know how, the world  has witnessed in horror, a potent wave of Trumpism sweep America – spawning other extremist right-wing leaders, such as Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and India’s Narendra Modi.

With an emerging progressive movement opposing the onslaught of growing demagoguery, it has become a tug-of-war of ideologies on both sides of the pond. However, more middle-of-the-road, figures have emerged: in UK Labour’s Keir Starmer and the former vice-president to Obama, Joe Biden. There is seemingly a  budding mediocrity: as progressivism has largely been trodden over by ideologues. Now that Biden has clenched victory in a seismic US election, progression may still shine.

As the UK is poised to leave the EU, the US election result has stratospheric implications for the UK’s Brexit, as Boris Johnson will cling to the dream without Trumps influence.

This article puts it into a nutshell: as Starmer seeks to replicate Biden’s multilateral approach in a trans-Atlantic preference for mediocrity over dictatorship. As Owen Jones, founder of the Stop Trump Coalition and progressive journalist, suggested during a post US election discussion, Starmer and Biden would at least provide a bridge to hope.


© 2020