US & Canada

The selfless America outsiders don't see

  • 31 October 2012
  • From the section US & Canada
  • comments
Scattered traffic cones in Cape May, New Jersey. Photo: 30 October 2012
Many roads in the storm-hit areas remain eerily quiet

Before the campaign, a couple of lines about the kindness and decency of Americans.

As I turned back onto the I-90 towards Toledo and eventually Detroit, after a nutritious burger and fries, a filter took cars onto the interstate across a lane of oncoming traffic.

Normally a traffic light regulates the flow of cars. But today a fair number of lights had given up the long battle against brutal winds and driving rain. So, each oncoming car stopped, let one through, then went on; the next car stopped, let another one through, then went on.

Up the road, at a more complex junction, it wasn't so pretty, but it was still civil and self-organised. No-one honked their horn, and no-one went out of turn - except, perhaps, by mistake.

Later, at Detroit airport, the tiniest thing - in a cafe, a man saw another customer's suit-bag flop onto the ground at a nearby table, into the path of oncoming travellers and their wheelie bags. Without saying a word he leant over and propped it back up.

The man whose bag it was didn't notice; the whole thing took maybe two seconds. It was selfless, and felt very American.

This country is not particularly well served in terms of its public image by one of its greatest exports - films and TV shows.

The America I grew up with - Starsky and Hutch, Dallas and Miami Vice - was violent and selfish, individualistic, crime-ridden and brash. The America my children grow up with in film is a place of near-constant dismemberings, explosions and brutal slayings.

And yet the America I report on is open and generous, charitable, decent and largely very peaceful.

Chasm of misunderstanding

Lots of people beyond America's borders are affected by this election, and they all feel they know - even have a stake in - the country which still determines so much around the world.

I got into a Twitter tussle today with a pressure group asking why there wasn't - in the light of (super) Storm Sandy - more reporting of the debate, or lack of it, over climate change.

Mitt Romney is almost entirely silent over the issue, using it in the first presidential debate only to swat President Barack Obama for worrying about the rising seas rather than Americans at home.

President Obama has raised it once or twice, but knows it is not a vote winner and is keen not to antagonise coal miners further - especially in Ohio - with talk of carbon taxes or cap and trade and the like.

So what to do? I report on the national debate as I find it. Should I address climate change, poverty, the death penalty, income inequality, healthcare, which so dominated debate four years ago, when they are not on the agenda?

Outsiders cannot make this election about what it is not. There is already a chasm of misunderstanding between Americans and their global neighbours.

I will stick with the agenda that is in front of me - for all its faults. And hope to report America as I see it.