Previously published in the Irish Independent.
America is an exceptional nation. I know it’s not fashionable to say so, given how the phrase has been hijacked by the huckster ruling family of that country, but it is true. The next human to step foot on the lunar surface will do so not less than 60 years after an American first did it.
Imagine it had been left up to the EU to put a man on the moon? We’d still be talking about it, although the European Mission Control building would be a massive money spinner for whatever country got it. The French would build the rocket, the Germans the lander, the Italians the spacesuits.
We’d get The Corrs to write the theme song. Well, until Jim put his hand up to ask a question…
But we still wouldn’t actually be there.
To me and many of my generation the United States was an inspiration, the country where the future came from. Growing up, watching sheets of rain coming down in Ireland amid the sideburns and crumbling quays of Dublin, one could watch Jon and Ponch on “Chips” patrol the highways (not dual carriageways, highways!) of California, a place so perfect that you could leave the house without a duffel coat or fear of getting soaked and the same coat doubling in weight as it absorbed the rain.
Farrah Fawcett and her giant beautiful hair made me feel things as a young boy that even Thelma Mansfield didn’t, and don’t get me started on Colonel Deering from “Buck Rogers” bet into her white shiny lycra. Bet in.
America was where hope and promise came from.
Which is what makes today’s America so heartbreaking. I’m a liberal, so I’m biased, but watching the Republican National Committee teeming with people who seem to really hate half their country, you have to ask yourself.
Not only if the US can survive, but why should it?
Don’t get me wrong: I find some on the American left insufferable too, and yes, there is a difference between rioting and looting and protesting.
The first two should get you arrested.
A whole heap of them hate the other side of America so much they’re effectively campaigning for Trump.
But how does a country survive when every election isn’t like a baseball game, where passions are strong but both sides accept the other side wins occasionally? How does it survive when every election leads to half the country believing that they are being run by an alien culture?
Where election results are no longer the absolute decider, but merely another “fact” to be disputed.
Is it time for the United States to disband, or at least, to reform into a new form of union?
There’s a lot of things we don’t do well. But building a robust continental-size model for political consensus? We invented that.
At the heart of the American discourse is a fear, on both sides, that the other side will impose their values on them.
We know something about that fear, and designed a union that is the sum of its parts without dissolving those diverse parts.
Is it time for an American Union which recognises that many American values have now diverged and perhaps states should be allowed recognise that.
Of course, there are many who will say the US has been here before, and it was pretty ugly.
States Rights became code for the Jim Crow laws of segregation and voter suppression. It’s a fair point. Popular and democratically elected (by white people) segregationist state politicians were overruled by the federal government and sometimes federal troops and US Marshals, and rightly.
Segregation was abolished at times by force, and a righteous use of force it was too.
But there was effectively a political consensus, between Republicans and Democrats, that segregation had to go.
There’s no consensus between Trumpism and moderation.
What if the November election descends into chaos or even violence?
What if it doesn’t, but the country stuck remains divided and paralysed?
As Europe can always learn from the United States, perhaps the United States can learn from Europe?
Imagine an agreement to devolve more power back to the states, with a transition period of a few years (another European innovation) to allow liberals in Texas or conservatives in California to basically move house.
Yes, it’s all a bit Mountbatten in India, but gives states the powers to have their culture match their state.
Let the south ban abortions. Better it be banned in Alabama than a republican Supreme Court ban it everywhere.
Let New York and California ban guns and introduce an American State Health Service.
Let governors, as in the EU, negotiate the federal budget with taxes raised in their states.
Let states have proper borders, as EU or Australian states have, and let
Americans have the four European freedoms: the right to live, work, study and vote in any state.
As for federal decisions, copy the EU’s Qualified Majority Voting: no bill can pass the senate unless it has the support of 55% of states representing 65% of the population. That way neither side can ram stuff down the others throat.
Finally, recognise that there are more than two political choices: use the Single Transferable Vote in elections.
Would it be tricky? Yes. Would it be divisive? Oh yes.
But if things get bad, it might be a choice between this and Fort Sumter.