Waking up to the real differences between Britain and America

Their politics is grander than ours, but also far more prone to fantasy and extremism

Share
Related Topics

I went to bed believing that politics was a bitterly fought struggle of ideas that was often corrosively divisive and woke up to hear that it was a healing force, something that could bring a nation together, a means by which those of opposing views could work together for the common good.

Americans may, in the main, look like us and talk like us, but there's nothing like a presidential election to remind us that our two countries are very different.

Leave aside the complexities – and occasional failures – of their democratic system. Or the fact that some voters go to the polls in deep snow and others in tropical sunshine. Or the way that extremist opinions can make it into the mainstream. What makes American politics distinct from ours is the grandiloquent language, the sweep of the oratory and the belief that, when all else fails, you can rely on... belief.

"We are not as divided as our politics suggests," Barack Obama said in his moment of triumph, a rather odd claim given that the previous months of campaigning had seen him and Mitt Romney pointing up the differences between the Democrat and the Republican view of the world. And in defeat, Romney was gracious to the victor and his family, and offered to pray for Obama to be "successful in guiding our nation". He added: "At a time like this, we can't risk partisan bickering."

This noble sentiment was echoed by Obama. "We are not as cynical as the pundits believe," he said. Really? And here's me thinking that politics in America is a dirty business, where high ideals meet low cunning. Of course, this consensus – forged in the bright glow of victory and in the relief that the battle is over – won't last for long, but judging by the ovation given both men when they talked of unity, it's what Americans want to hear now.

Whether they like it or not, they also hear a lot about God. As Alastair Campbell said about British politics, "we don't do God". America has no such restraint. Romney's concession speech was laden with faith-based epithets, including a call for guidance from "our pastors and priests and rabbis and counsellors of all kinds" (no mention of Imams), while Obama concluded his address by saying that with "God's grace we will continue or journey forward". The reliance on the language of the pulpit merely highlights the difficulty for politicians in finding a common thread with which to address all America. If you're trying to find policies that appeal to, say, the equivalent of Guatemala City and Hampstead Garden Suburb, it is advisable to place yourself and your constituency within the framework of a power that's bigger than government.

Neither would you hear British politicians proclaiming with such certainty that "we live in the greatest nation on earth". But in the land where showbusiness was invented, there isn't much of a dividend for modesty and understatement. America, eh? It's like another country.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Teaching Assistant

£50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letters: No vote poses difficult questions – so why rush?

Independent Voices
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside  

Autumn’s subtle charm is greatly enhanced by this Indian summer

Michael McCarthy
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments