By the time you read this, the longest run-up to an election will be over, thank God, and the usual bores will be pontificating over the results. The irony is that for the first time ever I couldn’t care less who won. Nothing will change in the Land of the Depraved, and Big Business will continue to call the tune in DC. I watched all three debates between Obama and Romney and the word Israel was mentioned 35 times, Iran 42 times, and Canada and Mexico once each. More than 60,000 people have suffered violent deaths in Mexico this year alone, yet the problems of America’s closest neighbour get only a passing mention in a presidential debate. No one dared say a nice word about the Palestinians — it would raise a storm among American Jews and be considered anti-Semitic — and opening a door to Iran would have been seen as Munich 1938, but worse.
So who cares whether a white man or a black man lives in the White House? The white man will wage war, thus further crippling the economy, the black man will not wage war and will further cripple the economy through wild spending. It was not always thus. When I first came to America as an 11-year-old, Uncle Sam was in the midst of saving western Europe with the Marshall Plan, balanced his budget, and tried his best to be fair to both sides in Palestine. Tradition was respected, we pledged allegiance to the flag daily before starting class, men removed their hats when a lady entered a lift, and swear-words were never used in the presence of women.
Later on in Virginia, we were governed by a 19th-century honour code, were members of secret societies, whose old-fashioned ideals of honour and discretion were paramount, and acted towards each other as if Thomas Jefferson himself were ever-present. With respect and loyalty. Once back in the Big Bagel during the mid- to late-Fifties, the last innings of a Wasp culture were drawing to a close. Every man, no matter his financial status, wore a suit. When sitting in the bleachers of Ebbets Field in Brooklyn — at 60 cents per — men removed their coats. During the summer, boys and even adults went to swimming holes, versus the treadmills of today, the Hamptons back then remaining terra incognita to the great majority. People ate hot dogs, versus the vegan diets of today, and they observed each other rather than their screens. Professional athletes had to work during the offseason, and the highest-paid baseball player in the world was Joe DiMaggio, at $100,000 per year. Stanley Matthews made about ten quid per game. It was a time of greater intimacy, and the celebrity culture was a faraway monster in the future. People smoked. It was vivid and more alive.
Multimillionaires back then made sure they stayed out of the headlines. When Bobo Rockefeller divorced her Rockefeller hubby, there was shock horror all round. Ditto when Horace Dodge, of automobile fame, got unhitched. Ann Woodward shot her husband in their Long Island palace and claimed she mistook him for a prowler. Everyone knew that he was about to ditch her and that they were both drunk, but his mother chose to keep it in the family and avoid a public scandal. No one washed their linen in public, except for Tommy Manville of Texas, who married nine women and held press conferences following his divorces. The great Mickey Rooney almost matched Manville in marriages but was discreet following the break-ups. One of his wives was Ava Gardner, which goes to prove what fools men are. No divorced man could live in the White House, nor even a Catholic, until JFK, that is.
Which brings me to the election that took place a day after this writing. The Athenians had it right so very long ago. They figured that the fairest way to ensure everyone had an equal chance to rule the state was through a lottery. So they did just that. The Athenians believed in active participation in the democratic process, rather than the way Persians saw the system of government, one in which a benevolent but all-powerful leader looked after them. Until the Greeks, and even after them, rulers were held responsible for the wellbeing of their people. We seem to have regressed, as our political leaders promise us everything before, and give us absolutely nothing afterwards. Machiavelli wrote a handbook on how to cheat the people — how to gain and keep power — and political leaders the world over seem to keep the handbook very handy. African leaders especially. They might not be able to read or write, but they have memorised the book. They also kill their opponents, which makes the political system rather easier.
When asked what they wish for, most people answer that they want to be free. But free to do what, asks one of the greatest Greek thinkers of all time. Freedom from coercion and interference by the state, or free to shape their future by participating in the governing process by writing the laws and deciding when and if to go to war? Well, let’s face it. We are not free from the coercion of the state, and we have the surveillance by millions of cameras that watch us at all times to prove it. And we certainly do not have the power to participate in major decisions such as going to war or writing laws. We are sheep led by knaves and conmen, and this is why the electoral process we call democracy is one big joke.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 10 November 2012