Response to Bob Gattie’s article

Response to Bob Gattie’s article

Dear Bob

A response to Bob Gattie’s article on the United States

Like many other people, I agreed with what you said about politics and standards in the United States in your Daily Paradox article “The United States and Us” 08May20. Beautifully expressed it touched a chord with most people, at least of those living outside the USA. Like you, I too have a close association with the country since I am half American. My mother’s family were German emigres about 130 years ago. A group of them settled together on the banks of the Mississippi and built a small town called Little Falls halfway between Minneapolis and Duluth.

My mother had died when I was only a year old and I didn’t get to know the family until after WWII, by which time I was in my early teens. Their lives were very disciplined, very family oriented. Church on Sunday was a must but so was the family feast afterwards when my several aunts competed to display their culinary skills, which were formidable. Their homes were modest but comfortable, with refrigerators the size of a Singapore double garage. They boated, skied, explored the wilds of America and seldom if ever went abroad. They didn’t need to – it was all there on their doorstep. They had second homes on a lake. I have happy memories of quietly boating round to wave to the other residents or sitting lazily watching the loons signalling spring or fall.

It was some years later that I got to know a little about US politics and the so-called balance between the Senate, the House and the President. To say that I fully understand it today would be wrong. I have a vague inkling of what it is supposed to do  – it just doesn’t seem to have been doing it for some time. It is a particular form of democracy that has polarised the voters to such an extent that even many of those who fundamentally disagree with what is going on in the White House will again vote for President Trump. They couldn’t see themselves voting any other way. Their loyalties are to party rather than country – though they see that as ‘country’.

When your voting system is not working properly you should change it. But that takes a long time. We vote selfishly and for the short term. Principles and vision are largely absent from the ballot box. Change is therefore regarded with suspicion, especially changes over voting. Many other voting systems around the world are also not working properly. The rush for a referendum in Britain may have been something of a one-off but there are signs everywhere that the voters want more say without taking more responsibility. In that situation if you want to get them on your side you appeal to their nationalistic and iconoclastic tendencies. As we can see.

It may be that a general perception of the citizens of the US is that they have lost their way. If we judge the behaviour of the electorate as voters that would seem to be the case. But looking at my own family in the midwest and in the south and on the west coast, where I have other relatives and a widowed granddaughter with small children, I would say that standards of behaviour have sustained very well. Among seventy-five families that emanate from the original emigres there is only one divorce, not perhaps a measure of goodness but one of consistency.

We have a pandemic. We have a climate disaster unfolding in front of us. But we have a third enemy, potentially more dangerous than both of those put together. It is the enemy of corruption. It makes nonsense of both law and morality. It permeates politics, business, social life, health – indeed all aspects of existence. We tend to admire it rather than punish it. From early childhood we teach that street smart is better than smart morals. Corruption is the foundation of the societal sickness we see in too many places, including the USA.

By all means let us express our views about the political scene in America, and to the right people, if we are to have some effect. Let us, at the same time, recognise the appalling growth of corruption and our apparent lack of success in reducing and stopping it. Remove corruption from most political systems and they will work pretty well.

It would be true of the USA too. I think we in Singapore recognise that.

Best wishes – and thanks for starting a useful discussion,