For the first time in my 5+ years in this job, I was asked to do some work at one of our fundraising offices in the developed world – our US office, which is split between Washington DC and Warwick Rhode Island – for a three-week trip.
I had hoped to get a weekend day or two to get out and see something, particularly in Washington, but it wasn’t to be. Too much work, combined with back-to-back heavy colds, coughing and associated temperature and chest pains (it seems I’ve had bronchitis), meant no time out at all. Daytime in the office, evenings and weekends in the hotel room either working or lying in bed feeling sorry for myself.
But from my sick bed I ended up watching quite a lot of the domestic US version of CNN, and was surprised by the insight it gave me into American culture, certainly more than I would have got from visiting the African Art Museum at the Smithsonian…
Campaigning for leadership of the Republican Party (or the GOP as they seem to call it now) was well underway. There were televised debates between the candidates, interviews and various analyses by TV pundits.
Until this trip I had always thought that the UK and the US were pretty similar culturally, with a few exceptions (their gun culture and antagonism towards the welfare state). But it turns out that there is a whole chunk of their population whose beliefs and attitudes are a universe away from ours. Or maybe a couple of centuries away would be a better way of describing it.
Rick Santorum, one of the Republican nominees, does not believe in evolution, in climate change, in gay marriage, in abortion, in contraception (he has seven children), and even derides college education as being “for snobs” and dangerous as many who begin college life as Christians apparently leave as non-believers. Can you imagine someone like that getting anywhere near a position of power in the UK? I’d say his views are closer to those of the Taliban than to those of the average British citizen, yet he is a serious contender for Republican Party presidential candidate.
TV adverts backed up this strange world view. They alternated between medical adverts (for erectile dysfunction tablets and catheters, mainly – surely your doctor should be prescribing such things for those who need them?), legal adverts for those who had used medical products that now turned out to have dangerous side effects (yes, go to your doctor for prescriptions in the first place), and adverts by lobby groups, mostly for the drilling and use of more oil.
There was also one advert for a factory full of machines that not only make cars but also fix themselves when they go wrong (I suppose if you don’t believe in a welfare state then you won’t care about unemployment), and another advert for “Christian Mingle”, where single Christians can meet eachother. To talk about a world free of homosexuality, contraception and higher education, perhaps?
Just for balance, I should say that the colleagues I met there seemed nothing like those portrayed by the TV, but still, I felt a long way from home.