Ed West

Despite its problems, the United States of America is still the best. Thing. Ever

Despite its problems, the United States of America is still the best. Thing. Ever
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There are not that many things I find more irritating than Europeans getting on their high horses about America and the subject of race, violence and inequality. Everyone seems to have an opinion about the shooting of Michael Brown, most of which contradict what the actual witnesses and forensic evidence showed in the grand jury hearing; among these are a French government minister, who felt able to distract herself from her own country’s miseries, and Paris’s increasing resemblance to a toilet at a third division football ground.

It’s partly America’s fault that it has told its own narrative to the world so well, including its racial struggle, and that this is cited by its enemies around the world. Almost everyone has seen footage of cops beating black civil rights protesters in the south; few people know or care that in France’s capital that same decade 200 Algerian protesters were simply gunned down.

As for the atrocities and oppression that are the norm outside of the west, no one wins kudos by raising the subject.

Other aspects of America’s story, though, seem less important now that the quest for racial equality has become almost a religious mission; this week I finally got around to watching the HBO series John Adams, which begins with the Massachusetts lawyer defending Captain Thomas Preston, the officer blamed for the Boston massacre. The mob wanted to avenge the deaths but, this being a colony where people passionately believed in their ancestral English liberties, ‘due process’ was followed – a term that dates back to the Parliament of Edward III but was obviously influenced by Clause 39 of the Magna Carta.

Due process is what was followed in the Ferguson case, but maybe that’s just a boring old racist Anglo-Saxon idea that we can forget about now (grand juries are literally Anglo-Saxon, dating back to the reign of Ethelred II, or possibly the vibrant culturally-enriching Viking maniac King Canute).

Today what’s important is being on the right side of history and the struggle against racism; that mentally, combined with a media and Democrat party that has a vested interest in stoking black anger over injustices real and perceived, can be quite explosive. But then the American Left can be just as extreme as the American Right when it comes to non-economic issues.

That’s America for you – the best and worst of the world, and everything in between. It is as it is – divided, violent, racially-charged – because it is so diverse, something Europeans just wilfully ignore when they criticise its record; if the 50 states were populated entirely by Swedes and their descendants, then the country would have institutions and a Gini coefficient similar to Sweden. Perhaps as Europe’s population begins to be as diverse our societies will start to resemble America’s in many ways, but with religious conflict thrown in to the mix; one might almost feel a sense of auto-schadenfreude (do the Germans have such a concept?), except that as always it wont be opinion-formers who suffer the downsides, but people as powerless as the poor Indian and black shopkeepers of Ferguson.

Anyway, despite everything, America’s still possibly the best. Thing. Ever. Happy Thanksgiving.

Written byEd West

Ed West is the author of The Diversity Illusion, 1215 and All That and is writing a series of books on medieval history

Topics in this articleSocietyinequality