“America is great because America is good.”- Hillary Clinton.
“We dream of a brand new start-
But we dream in the dark, for the most part.”
— Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton.
When I was a child, I always half-suspected that America wasn’t real. It had to be made up. It was too good and too simple a story to make sense in the everyday world of bus stops and breakfast cereals and adults who invariably let you down.
Living and sometimes working here as a grown-up has not changed my opinion. Right now, backstage at the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia, I can see the story being written in real time.
I’m writing this from the sopping wet-media refugee tent behind the perimeter, as the Star Spangled Banner echoes from a television screen somewhere out of sight. I’ve spent the past ten days having my eyes dazzled backstage at the biggest show on earth. The American political machine is trying to pilot its next season. Last week we had ten thousand terrifying Republicans going for a straight up tits-teeth-and-ammo exhibition, peddling fear and flag-waggery with a promise to rain down terrible vengeance on everything that irritates you. Like your immigrant neighbors. Like women who get above themselves. Like having to mind your manners.
This week it’s the Democrats, with their tired-looking cast-members repeating lines that sounded hokey the first time in between guest appearances by beloved celebrities all hoping the networks won’t cancel. They’ve got the script and they’ve got the stars, but they’re still trying to find the right narrative arc, because the American public’s disbelief is rapidly losing suspension. This is not politics, not as I know it at home. This is something else. This is pantomime.
There is a certain look that I’ve been sharing with other visiting foreign journalists this week and it is just that — a look, sometimes with the hands spread in a horrified half shrug, because sometimes there are just no words, even when there have to be, you know, because that’s how we make rent.
How to possibly express the choreographed insanity of this brassy, breadless circus? How are we meant to actually communicate like human beings when we are trapped here, sweating on the floor of the dream factory as they hand out buttons and baseball caps plastered with empty slogans? It reminds me, more than anything else, of a music festival, down to the overpriced snacks, the complicated entry system, the constant impression that the weather is trying to kill you, and the way that normal rules are suspended as we pretend, briefly, that another world is possible. Specifically, world where the political process is simple and unsaleable, and strong leaders can change things for the better. A world where hope is feasible and our votes matter and we all go, as Philip Larkin once said, down the long slide to happiness, endlessly.