In the course of an eventful week which featured a military coup in Thailand and democratic local elections in England, a retired U. S. Army Colonel successfully devised and led "Operation American Spring," which restored the Constitution and freed the American people from their government's "despotic and tyrannical federal leadership."
Except that isn't quite what happened.
Despite fervent belief and a flood of farcical Facebook posts promising that ten to thirty million "patriots" would descend upon Washington D. C. and force the President and most of his Cabinet out of office, only about 460 showed up.
And as far as I am aware, Barack Obama has not yet resigned.
It would be really, really easy to take the piss out of this one; but I've now crossed America four times (first in 1989 and more recently in 2010, 2012 and 2013), I've met Republicans and Democrats, hung around in Greyhound bus stations in the wee small hours, admired the Lincoln memorial, crossed the Rockies and nearly fallen into the Grand Canyon. I like Starbucks, I'd say the Golden Gate Bridge is one of the world's most beautiful structures, and most of all I like the folks. They really are, as Christopher Meyer, Britain's former ambassador to the U. S., commented in DC Confidential, "this most generous and hospitable of peoples."
According to Theodore Roosevelt, the American identity includes, "strength, courage, energy, and undaunted and unwavering resolution," while British characters have a great tendency to take the piss out of each other in pubs. However, as I had experience of both cultures and American Facebook friends from both sides of the political divide, I decided it would be fair simply to wait and see how the Colonel's dream of an "American Spring" turned out.
I didn't really expect to wake up on Saturday 17th May to see headlines proclaiming SUCCESSFUL COUP IN AMERICA! OBAMA OVERTHROWN! NEW WORLD ORDER! but I did wonder if this march on Washington might have some echo of Martin Luther King's 1963 gathering. I do think the people should hold governments to account by peaceful protest and/or civil disobedience, I don't agree with right or left wing extremism that expresses itself in intolerance and ends in violence. The rebel becomes that which he himself (or she) professes to despise.
In the end, "Operation American Spring" turned out exactly as I'd expected. 460 people came along and the media had a bit of fun with them with tweets like:
It would be easy to satirize this, and there are indeed elements in American society whose attitudes make no sense to those of us on the other side of the pond. But it's important to remember how little Americans and Europeans understood each other's viewpoints up until quite recently. In the foreword to Alistair Cooke's wartime American Journey (written in 1945, lost and re-issued in 2005), the editor commented that "nobody in Britain had much more than the foggiest notion then what the Americans might bring to the war, or indeed what Americans were really like." Cooke's weekly radio programme, Letter From America, which ran from 1946 to 2004, helped bridge the gap; but it may only have been with the birth of the internet and the blossoming of Facebook that for the first time Britain, America and pretty much everyone else were being exposed to each other's culture courtesy of video, audio and real-timeun-edited interaction.
I'm old enough to remember the cost and rarity of international phone calls forty years ago. Back then I only heard of American affairs via Weekend World, Panorama or the Nine O'Clock News. I have an unfocused memory of an old-timer wearing a baseball cap saying THANK GOD FOR AIDS or some such in a documentary about the American right wing, but most of my information about the U. S. trickled through via traditional broadcasters' filters, Charlie's Angels and DC Comics.
It's a bit different now, and therein lies the rub. For America is still the world's only hyperpower and of colossal global importance. Thirty years ago, comment on an event like "American Spring" would have been confined to the inside pages of hard-copy broadsheets or quiet lampooning in Punch, and that would have been that.
Not today. Today we get shares and comments direct from some American citizens which liken Obama to Hitler and suggest he was not born in Honolulu...
So let's be as honest, unwavering and resolute as Roosevelt might have been about the outcome of "American Spring." The operation had its chance and it failed utterly. It was pretty stupid and rather embarrassing, both for the people involved and to some extent (I would argue), for the country as a whole. As the BBC's North America correspondent Mark Mardell said re the recent U. S. political brinkmanship over Obamacare, "governing by lurching from crisis to crisis, clutching a hostage, does not improve America's image in the eyes of the world."
America and the Americans are now under swift and new scrutiny via ultramodern social media, so (traditional and archaic as it may sound) I'd suggest true patriotism includes the obligation to remember you're representing your country, culture and values when you post online.
What you write will be there forever. Once the world was blind, but now it can see.
James Christie is the author of Dear Miss Landau. He was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, a mild form of autism, at the age of 37 in 2002. He lives in the Scottish Borders.