The clocks changed at the weekend. The days have been getting noticeably shorter for some time, and it is full dark now when I leave work in the evenings. Edinburgh is at latitude 55°N (ish), which puts us about 1200km (760 miles) away from the Arctic circle. That might sound like a lot, but it means we only get about seven hours of daylight at midwinter.
Trying to look on the bright side of this, going to work in in the mornings, with the sun rising after 8 o’clock, can be extraordinarily beautiful. We live on the South side of the city, which, on a clear morning, gives us a lovely view of dawn breaking over the Pentland Hills. And it’s a curious but fortuitous feature of Edinburgh’s micro-climate that even when the day turns out dreich, the mornings often start off crisp and clear.
In November of last year I was cycling to work in Dalkeith just a few miles away, and I regularly found myself stopping by the side of the road to watch the raking light spread over frosty fields. There was a particular spot that I loved, on the bridge over the river Jewel, where ghostly whirls of mist drifted lazily over the water’s surface. Craggy trees lined the banks, their trunks still in the shade, but their branches glowing like molten gold. With cars whizzing by right next to me, looking down on this was like staring into a magical other world.
I treasured that beauty throughout each day. It was my Happy Place when things got bad.
With George Bush in the White House for a second term of office, we will surely see a winter of a different sort descend on the US. For us foreigners it is easy to question and curse the stupidity of a country capable of electing such a leader. But it is also easy to forget that approximately half the population of the US is just as–if not more–strongly opposed to his policies and hegemonic rule as the rest of the civilized world.
We must not forget that the US is a nation of many different states, and hundreds of millions of individuals. The Republican Party may be its current political figurehead, but when we visit the place called “America”, we don’t visit the country as a whole: we visit California, or Massachusetts, or New York. When we talk to “Americans” in everyday life, we’re not talking to members of a brainwashed clone army: we’re talking to friends, family, Bob at the office, or Carol behind the counter at Starbucks. Individuals with hugely diverse opinions and desires, even though they may belong to the same political party.
If you need a Happy Place to see you through the darker days of the next four years, think of an American individual you like, love, admire, or respect. Then think of five more. Then a dozen, or a hundred. Then realize: these people are not just Americans, they are America.
I’m not suggesting that Bush’s opponents and critics, both at home and abroad, should just shrug, and try to make the best of a bad result. Not at all. But the opposite reaction–turning away in disgust from the apparent futility of political engagement, or losing faith in the cognitive abilities of the American electorate–is a much more certain road to further defeats two, four, ten years further down the line. To carry on the fight, you have to remember what you’re fighting for.
On an even more positive note, here are three reasons why a Bush victory might well be a good thing:
- The Bush presidency has had a unifying effect on Europe: he’s a hate-figure to rally around. With ten new countries in the Union, and the new European Constitution just agreed, but not yet ratified, we’re going to need all the unity we can get in the next few years.
- Here in Britain, Tony Blair is going to take a political knock from his closeness to the Bush administration, and from his failure to endorse Kerry. With a general election expected some time next year, it would be pretty sweet if this would pull enough of the rug from under the Labour party to force a coalition government.
- The US dollar is going to head even further down the toilet. For us Europeans planning holidays in America, exchange rates are going to rock!