If anything I was a little disappointed.
American broadcasting, with such stallions of truth-seeking as Fox News and CNN, is supposed to be insane. Interviewers are meant to sit and ask laughably loaded questions, panellists constantly talk over one another, and the sensationalism is dialled up well past 11, with no nuance allowed.
And yet on Thursday night, as the 1st Republican debate went ahead on Fox News, Donald Trump failed to deliver. The sometime businessman and full-time reality TV star didn’t rehearse his old line about Mexicans being rapists, didn’t suggest the president redraft the Enola Gay for a sortie over Iran, nor did he announce plans to build The Wall of Westeros along the country’s southern edge.
It was all a bit, well, mild – at least by Yank standards.
Now it could be the fractures of American politics were lost on this Englishman, but to my mind there is a dispiriting inwardness to US discourse these days. The ability of the country to tie itself up in arguments over benefits (“entitlements” in the Republican lexicon) remains baffling on this side of Atlantic, even as the Tories in Westminster prepare to carve up British welfare.
As my colleague Jazza John has pointed out, there was much more agreement than dissent. President Barack Obama, by common consent, screwed up the Iran deal. He’s not tough enough on migration. Maybe he’s a Muslim and wasn’t even born here, and hates America. Repeat ad infinitum, or until you turn the television set off.
But whilst it’s not exactly a stinging insult to accuse a pack of conservatives of resting on their laurels, it is impossible to escape the impression that America is running away from the Republicans just as Britain appears to have left Labour behind. The Grand Old Party has no answers to inequality, nor the rising Hispanic population, nor much of anything.
What they do like is the US Constitution, former president Ronald Reagan, and their imaginary friends from the Bible. Trump for his part thinks that “the biggest problem this country has is being politically correct”, an insane allegation no matter how absolute your support is for free speech.
That his themes of a declining America whose citizens “lose to everybody” are hitting home is understandable. But to draw another comparison to Labour on this side of the pond, the Republicans’ problem is not so much that Trump exists but that the other contenders (of which there are 16) appear so lacking in ideas.
And unsurprisingly this conundrum has seen the conservatives of America turn to an old foe worldwide: immigrants. Ted Cruz, an unremarkable Texan senator, even went so far as to accuse the “Washington Cartel” of trying to “fundamentally change” the country, another old trope in global politics, used by any half-thinking pol through history.
Other nastiness was on show when a moderator challenged neurosurgeon Ben Carson on “enhanced interrogation techniques” – or “torture” in layman’s. “What we need to do to get the information we need is our business,” he said, taking the time to attack the notion of a “politically correct war”, as if demanding we don’t drown prisoners of war is a kind of radical leftism.
Perhaps from the old country most rightwing American politics looks insane. But even for a naif in US current affairs the Republicans look a long way from the White House right now.
Header Image – Presidential candidate Jeb Bush in New Hampshire, July 8th 2015 by Michael Vadon