Pride Before The Fall: What Woke Capitalism Tells Us About Power In Modern Society

Oreo Pride Month pronoun celebration cookies

A tale of two product launches, set against the most fawningly corporate Pride Month in American history

Imagine that you are Jerry Falwell, Jr. or some other notable socially conservative reactionary type, and you see the above image in which the makers of Oreo cookies announce that they are celebrating Pride Month by producing commemorative packs encouraging customers to “share [their] pronouns with pride”.

One can easily imagine Falwell, Jr. taking to his Twitter account in high dudgeon to complain about something (the ongoing erasure of the gender binary) so clearly against his own personal beliefs and conception of Christian morality being promoted on the packaging of a beloved, family-friendly American snack. Maybe this would be followed by an angry TV news appearance – or, in the good old days, a strongly-worded open letter, printed in the national press and addressed to the godless, degenerate executives at the National Biscuit Company.

There was undoubtedly a time when such a reaction from the likes of Falwell, Jr. – or more likely, going back several decades, his father – would have resulted in a swift and chastened response from those on the receiving end, followed by an immediate retraction and apology for whatever the offensive conduct may have been. Needless to say, that time has long since passed.

Now imagine that you are mediocre ex-football player, social justice icon par excellence and Nike endorser Colin Kaepernick, and one day you find out that the company which pays you millions of dollars to use your image is preparing to celebrate American Independence Day by launching a special edition sneaker featuring the historic “Betsy Ross” version of the American flag:

Nike Betsy Ross American Flag - Colin Kaepernick

Naturally, the multinational organization which has gone to such great pains to hug you close as a product endorser cannot simply be indulging in the innocent, age-old corporate American pastime of cashing in on patriotism, but rather must be somehow actively perpetrating racism and white supremacy.

From the Wall Street Journal:

Nike Inc. is yanking a U.S.A.-themed sneaker featuring an early American flag after former NFL star-turned-activist Colin Kaepernick told the company it shouldn’t sell a shoe with a symbol that he and others consider offensive, according to people familiar with the matter.

The sneaker giant created the Air Max 1 USA in celebration of the July Fourth holiday, and it was slated to go on sale this week. The heel of the shoe featured a U.S. flag with 13 white stars in a circle, a design created during the American Revolution and commonly referred to as the Betsy Ross flag.

After shipping the shoes to retailers, Nike asked for them to be returned without explaining why, the people said. The shoes aren’t available on Nike’s own apps and websites.

“Nike has chosen not to release the Air Max 1 Quick Strike Fourth of July as it featured the old version of the American flag,” a Nike spokeswoman said.

After images of the shoe were posted online, Mr. Kaepernick, a Nike endorser, reached out to company officials saying that he and others felt the Betsy Ross flag is an offensive symbol because of its connection to an era of slavery, the people said. Some users on social media responded to posts about the shoe with similar concerns. Mr. Kaepernick declined to comment.

In this depressing contemporary case, Kaepernick barely had to raise an eyebrow before terrified executives at Nike were fawningly apologizing to him and scrapping the launch of their new shoe, presumably at some considerable cost to the company and ultimately its shareholders.

Think of all the various legitimate and often seemingly intractable problems facing the African American community – poverty and lack of capital, the percentage of unstable or single parent families, lagging educational attainment, male violence within the community and an often fractious relationship with local police forces which at times has led to the tragic and outrageous death of unarmed black civilians at the hands of police officers. These are complex and often interlinked issues, but rather than discussing them and continuing to push rational policy solutions to the fore, instead we must all now stop and waste our time discussing the mental and emotional trauma unleashed on poor old Colin Kaepernick when he beheld a new pair of shoes.

We are loftily told by the usual Twitter verified bluecheck suspects that this should not be reported as a case of fragility or “hating America”, but rather protesting a symbol which is apparently in the process of being appropriated by a number of fringe extremists who like to hearken back to the good old days when minorities knew their place:

Well, if we don’t want something to be appropriated by unpleasant extremists, what is the absolutely worst thing we could possibly do? I would venture that the worst thing we could do is cede the ground to them without a fight and run away screaming, being sure to destroy any products inspired by good-hearted pride and patriotism so that only the scrawled banners of the haters remain.

But clearly I am at odds with the woke commissars, who have instead decided that as soon as a venerated symbol is once used by extremists, it is then lost to the mainstream forever. This never ends well, as I can personally attest, having emigrated to the United States from England, where the English national flag (the Cross of St. George) is still so heavily associated with 1970s racists and football hooligans rather than mild-mannered patriots that even many prominent politicians struggle to relate to it without coming across as insincere, ironic or even derisive.

Now, none of this is to say that racism, sexism and homophobia have been banished from society, and that we do not need to take reasonable care about the symbols and language we use. Not by any means. But it is striking that the people who now complain loudest about word or symbolcrime, and who portray themselves as the most grievously pitiable victims, actually tend to operate in realms where they hold overwhelming cultural and organizational power.

There probably aren’t ten impoverished black teenagers in America today who would have objected to Nike’s new commemorative sneaker bearing the historic Betsy Ross version of the American Flag. But it sure did seem to trigger Colin Kaepernick, multimillionaire, doyen of woke elitists and star of slick television commercials (inexplicably produced given his fading sports career, but for the fact that he substituted football for the fallback option of peddling racial grievance). And so it’s gone, just like that – the sneaker design vanished down the memory hole and the finished products themselves yanked from store stockrooms, presumably to be incinerated in a bizarre holocaust to the god of intersectionality.

The same likely applies to being gay, or an ethnic minority. If your daily existence is lived in the rarefied world of academia or working with your mind in the creative and knowledge economies, your identity is likely not a handicap but a boost in modern day America and much of the West. While pockets of bigotry remain, together with increasingly isolated, unreformed older bosses, from an HR perspective you may well enjoy some kind of exalted position. Your minority status may be continually celebrated and affirmed at various corporate networking events and brown-bag lunches, while your HR department is likely in the process of rolling out inscrutable new guidelines, cloaked in rainbows and the language of inclusivity but designed to ensure that the workforce basically polices itself in order to identity any retrograde or “harmful” thinking – and then either silences it or purges it from the organization, for your supposed benefit.

How different the experience is likely to be if you are working on one of the lower rungs of the economy – in a wage paying service job, or in agriculture or manufacturing. Here, your ethnicity, gender identity, sexuality and other facets of identity are far less likely to be celebrated. In fact, there is likely more chance that your company will summarily fire you without any kind of due process because an over-entitled upper middle-class woke individual takes unnecessary offense at something that wasn’t even your fault.

Naturally, one of the most recent and compelling examples comes from the increasingly dystopian city of Portland, Oregon:

Last month Lillian Green, an “equity director” at the state Education Department, entered Back to Eden, a vegan bakery, a few minutes after closing time. She recorded videos accusing the bakery of refusing to serve her because she was black. Using the hashtag #LivingWhileBlack, Ms. Green—a doctoral student at Lewis and Clark College—took to Facebook to demand that Back to Eden fire the clerks.

The bakery obliged, issued a 3,400-word apology, and offered Ms. Green a job training the remaining employees in “racial inclusivity.” “In this situation it doesn’t really matter that the two staff members working are not themselves racist because the call they made to deny Lillian service caused her to feel like she had been discriminated against,” co-owner Joe Blomgren wrote in a now-deleted Facebook statement. “Sometimes impact outweighs intent and when that happens people do need to be held accountable.”

In this truly disturbing incident from last year we have a very highly credentialed, economically successful black woman successfully getting two young wage-earners fired because they had the temerity to refuse her service after she entered the store after closing hours. The loyal employees may have expected their boss to show them loyalty in return for their service, but instead they were thrown under the bus in ritual sacrifice to modern intersectional outrage culture, just as Nike’s new training shoes will doubtless be incinerated as a burned offering to the same unforgiving god.

We are constantly told by progressive activists, against all objective reality, that we live in an age of unprecedented oppression, with ancient and universal rights being swept away before our very eyes. Never mind the fact that President Obama took office still officially believing that gay marriage should not be permitted, and that America wasn’t “ready” for such a step. Never mind the fact that the word “transgender” barely even featured in the coverage of major newspapers as recently as a decade ago while now major corporations race to embrace every aspect of the new avant garde gender theory. Apparently we are to believe that the people who shout the loudest from the most prestigious platforms about intersectional identity politics are in fact the most downtrodden among us, while those who lose already-precarious jobs or find themselves cancelled and unpersoned for failing to keep up with the latest intersectional nomenclature somehow wield immense societal power.

This is ludicrous.

If you want to know what real privilege looks like in modern America, it is this: having the power to pick up the telephone, call Nike and get their executives to voluntarily recall and burn thousands of lucrative special edition commemorative sneakers because the historic American flag design offends your pathetic, overly coddled snowflake sensibilities.

Real privilege is being so enormously removed from the concerns of people who actually struggle – including ethnic minorities, gay, lesbian and transgender people who do not have the immense fortune of an elite college education and a lucrative career – that minor or even imagined verbal or visual slights become more important in our national discourse than the social and economic wellbeing of the least among us.

Be assured: we are not living in the age of Jerry Falwell, Jr. We are not even really living in the Age of Donald Trump, though he temporarily resides in the White House and sweats his insecurities on Twitter from the bathroom at 5AM. Neither do we still live in what may become known as the age of “tolerance” – those halcyon days when mere tolerance of other people and alternative lifestyles was considered enough to be able to live one’s life free from the woke inquisition.

No, today we live in the Age of Kaepernick; the Age of Pride, turbo-charged by performative woke capitalism and enforced by some of the thinnest-skinned, most cruelly vindictive people in our society, despite – or perhaps because of – their immense cultural and economic privilege.

And I increasingly fear that toxic pride of this inescapable, coercive type may presage some kind of fall, for all of us.

Budweiser asexual pride

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For A Proud New Immigrant, Independence Day Offers Much To Celebrate

City of McAllen Texas - 90th annual Independence Day celebration - presented by HEB

Some reflections on my first Fourth of July spent as a permanent resident of the United States of America

Today I spent my first Fourth of July, my first Independence Day, as a permanent resident of the United States of America. After receiving my long-awaited US green card I finally came to call America my home when I landed in Los Angeles on 25th May, and since that time have been staying with my wife’s family in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas while I wait for law school to begin in September. So now here I am, a British expat living in America on the day when everyone around me celebrates casting off the yoke of the British Crown.

We live in a time when it is fashionable (among some circles) to imagine that immigrants in general are persecuted and threatened to an unprecedented degree – largely thanks to a deliberate, concerted effort by many politicians and journalists to erase any distinction between legal and illegal immigrants, economic migrants and refugees, otherwise law-abiding illegal aliens and determined criminals. And spurred on by this delusion, many American politicians, particularly those of the Left, are presently burnishing their reputations (or in some cases their presidential aspirations) by claiming to speak for me and others who, like me, were not born in the United States.

From these liberal saviors, I learn that I am presently under attack; that I apparently feel despised, devalued, belittled and threatened, both by the elected head of state, those who support him and indeed anyone who does not support tearing down the entire immigration system and even the concept of national borders itself. All this I must feel deep in my subconscious, because as a mixed-race man who has travelled through some thirteen of these United States (many of them staunchly Republican states in the Midwest) I have known nothing but friendliness and an abiding, sometimes overwhelming hospitality. But clearly the liberal saviors know best, and in reality I live my life in permanent fear of verbal abuse, physical assault or deportation, even though I don’t realise it.

My point is not to relitigate the immigration debate here, or to point out the calculated cynicism of portraying arguably overzealous action against illegal immigrants as some kind of assault on all immigrants or a betrayal of America’s founding values. I write these words simply to put on record that I and millions of my fellow immigrants seek to make our home in the United States (legally or illegally) because we believe this to be a good country and a shining city on a hill, not the newly-opened fascist hellmouth which many decent Americans have been wrongly deceived into viewing their own country.

One thing which conservatives seem to “get” instinctively while those on the Left struggle to understand is that America is and always has been greater than the sum of her contemporary government. We see the same phenomenon in my native Britain, where many on the Left denigrate their homeland endlessly and are confounded that anyone might admire the United Kingdom, simply because they themselves take exception to the present Conservative government, or to the 2016 referendum’s decision to leave the European Union. And here in America I hear from many people, including some of my own left-leaning friends, that they see little good about the United States at present. When attempting to justify this statement, most point to the Trump administration’s perceived treatment of minorities and immigrants. More than one have confessed to me that they feel unable to celebrate their country’s Independence Day as a consequence.

To them and all those who feel similarly, I can only say: not in my name. Do not think less of your country or refuse to celebrate her independence thinking that you are acting in solidarity with me or any other immigrant, legal or illegal. We choose to come to this country believing it to be inherently good, not fundamentally bad. Ignore the buzzword-laden screeds of academics and activists steeped in toxic and divisive identity politics, who never tire of claiming that contemporary America is built on white supremacy and that systemic racism is a feature, not a bug, in this country’s basic source code. They could not be more wrong.

We immigrants understand that America is flawed like every other country, but is also a work in progress toward a noble goal which few other countries even bother to write down and set as a target, let alone strive to achieve – the creation of a country whose government is predicated on the belief that all men are created equal, and free. We immigrants understand that perhaps unique among nations, America is rooted in an idea, not an ethnicity or landmass, and that this idea will persevere and survive a demagogic authoritarian president just as it has survived the suave technocrats and neoconservative nation-builders who came before.

For the record: I opposed Donald Trump during his presidential campaign and have long realised the danger posed by an authoritarian executive branch aided by a supine Republican Congress. These dangers are not to be underestimated, and indeed are the very reason why the Founding Fathers sought to build separation of powers and the checks and balances of strong, rival institutions into the fabric of American government. I am also on record opposing Donald Trump’s often racism-tinged rhetoric, his grievous temperamental flaws and the harsh manner of his administration’s crackdown on illegal immigration and asylum processing. I have frequently written that at a time when advanced Western countries must adapt to the future, a leader who explicitly promises to make America great *again* and roll the clock back economically is a huge step in the wrong direction. Indeed, there are few people I would want to see in the Oval Office less than Donald J. Trump.

And yet here I am, a newly-minted green card holder and immigrant to the United States, because I know that this country is far bigger than the shrinking moral and intellectual footprint of the American presidency. I mourned Donald Trump’s election victory and fear for some of the near-term consequences of electing such a man as leader, but not for a second did I question my desire to emigrate and leave Britain, my beloved home, for the United States.

Shortly after having left London back in March, I wrote a piece attempting to explain why this is the case:

America may not be the country it once was in terms of the richness and profundity of its civic life (though this is not to dismiss the great and necessary advances in civil rights and equality) since many of its greatest thinkers left the stage, but it is a darn sight healthier than contemporary Britain.

Interventionism versus non-interventionism? That debate burns more brightly in America because it is the United States which must do the bulk of intervening in an age of parsimonious European retrenchment. Healthcare reform? The American system may exist primarily to make Britain’s NHS look good by comparison, but at least radical healthcare reform is possible in the United States, unlike Britain where NHS worship is a mandatory religion for those in power. Education? The federal system and greater role for local government in America means that far more experimentation with new policies and technologies can take place than in Britain, where “postcode lotteries” are feared and policy competition is severely limited. The benefits and costs of laissez-faire social liberalism? Nearly all of the most thoughtful writing can be found in American journals, not the incestuous British publications.

And in conclusion:

I will never stop following or writing about British politics, and this blog continues. Britain is my homeland, a place towards which I will always retain a deep attachment and where I will undoubtedly spend some future years raising a family – and indeed, one of the unique selling points of this blog – I hope – is my ability to provide a familiar Brit’s perspective on American politics and a (nearly) American perspective on British politics, which would make unplugging from the debate quite counterproductive to my work.

But since Britain has repeatedly shown itself to be disinterested in domestic or global leadership of any kind, my focus will naturally gravitate more toward the politics of my new adopted home, a country which despite its many dysfunctions still retains that optimism and self-belief that matters debated and decisions made in America can shape the world for the better.

Coming from another economically advanced country, it was not the prospect of a higher standard of living which led me to America – it was the kaleidoscopic culture, the endless variety, the sheer vastness of geography and opportunity, the freedom and (as someone interested in public policy) the fact that ideas and policies debated in America still matter and have the potential to shape the world for the better. How much more of an incentive is it then to come from a poorer country, where in addition to gaining the civil liberties and rights guaranteed under the Constitution one also stands to become immeasurably wealthier? And we immigrants are supposed to lose sight of these blessings and require additional support and encouragement because of an intemperate tweet or malicious statement from the temporary custodian of one of the three branches of American government?

I remember the interview for my green card at the US embassy in London like it was yesterday. Overprepared and unreasonably nervous, carrying far more supporting documentation and evidence than the already-onerous consular list required, I arrived early and sat on a park bench with my rosary in hand, under the statue of President Eisenhower, waiting to be admitted to the stentorious Eero Saarinen-designed embassy building (now replaced with a nondescript glass cube south of the River Thames). After a short wait I was called to hand in my documents, have my fingerprints taken and pay the remaining (significant) fees which legal immigrants are required to pay, and then waited again for the interview itself. The interview took place at a counter window much like a bank, and was over within five minutes and the answering of a few basic questions. I seem to remember asking the consular officer more than once to confirm that my application had been approved after he told me that I was “good to go”, so elated was I to be in possession of the immigrant visa I have wanted for well over half my life.

Of course, going through the process also made me very aware that it is not so easy or straightforward for everyone who wants to come to the United States. I applied for and received my green card through marriage to a US citizen; others without existing family ties, capital to invest or lucrative high-skilled jobs lined up often find it much harder, even impossible, to immigrate legally. I have sympathy for many of those who come to the United States illegally or overstay their time-limited visas, and can certainly envision myself in a similar position were my own circumstances different. Furthermore, some people now in the United States illegally live lives of otherwise-model citizenship which put many natural-born Americans and legal immigrants to shame.

That being said, the rule of law must be defended if it is to have meaning and authority, and a nation without borders is no nation at all. Uncontrolled flows of human migration can be economically disruptive and culturally destabilising, and it is in no way extremist to point out that not everybody who wants to emigrate to America can be allowed to do so. I would love to see sensible immigration form enacted, with protected status given to the many millions presently here illegally (all of whom cannot be deported without enormous economic damage and social unrest) in exchange for serious improvements in border security and enforcement, and a genuine effort to have a democratically responsive immigration policy reflective of the balance of public opinion. I abhor the ideologues on both sides, the open borders fanatics who seem to be taking over the Democratic Party and the unrealistic zero-tolerance hardline conservatives who scupper any effort at compromise.

To those who see the election of Donald Trump as some kind of negative turning point in America’s attitude toward immigration or immigrants, I would counsel that this belief stems largely from the arrogance of having assumed that there was a prior consensus when in reality there were a multitude of voices and opinions, ranging from genuine racists and xenophobes at one extreme through those opposed to uncontrolled mass immigration or those who simply believe that the rule of law and national borders ought to mean something in the reasonable center. One can perhaps argue that it is a shame that these more cautious or negative voices are now being heard and getting a hearing from the White House, but they are not new and they did not begin with Donald Trump. Opposition to illegal immigration is rooted in the successive failure of politicians to reform a broken immigration system – Donald Trump’s demagoguery on the subject is little more than the political cowardice and lack of ambition of past administrations personified.

Here in McAllen, Texas there are lessons to be learned for Trump supporters and devout open borders leftists alike. Here is a thriving town and region strongly shaped by immigration from Mexico and central Americas, which frequently displays the full richness of that cultural inheritance, but which at the same time remains resolutely and unashamedly American. Here you may well hear Mariachi music at Sunday Mass or read bilingual or Spanish language advertisements in the newspaper, hear Tejano music on the local radio or see clothes stores selling Quinceañera dresses, but the same people who consume these services also recite the Pledge of Allegiance at school, stand for the national anthem at sports games, serve in the US military or local police force and gather with family and friends to barbecue, watch fireworks and celebrate their country’s Independence Day.

In this town I have heard white girls singing along to Selena, watched people of all ethnicities gorge themselves on some of the best Tex-Mex and Mexican food to be had, and witnessed an elderly Hispanic veteran point to Donald Trump’s autobiography in the bargain bin at Sam’s Club and tell me with fervor in his voice that “this man is going to save America”. People do not fit into the neat, pure little categories created by the partisan extremists fuelling our ongoing, self-destructive culture war. America contains multitudes, and so do individual Americans.

These are not contradictions for most people here. The cognitive dissonance only exists for Trumpian hardliners who struggle to accept any Hispanic influence or cultural accommodation on the one hand, and open borders extremists who tend to hate the very idea of the nation state (or at least the United States) and who think that assimilation into the host culture is some kind of betrayal or prima facie evidence of white supremacist oppression. And on and on these two sides go, the ugly extremes dominating our politics and cultural discourse, while the broad mass of ordinary Americans simply want to get on with their lives.

I have spent this Fourth of July celebrating the independence of the country I now call home, and I have done so in a border town which is happy, prosperous and (from everything my inquisitive eye has observed) largely at ease with itself. Some 84 percent of McAllen’s residents have Hispanic or Latino heritage. Many on the progressive Left assume that all such people presently feel under siege with their American-ness called into question (or at least believe that such people should feel this way based on their own reaction to the Trump presidency), while some on the Trumpian Right would perhaps rather these people not be here at all. Yet here they are, getting on with their lives, attending the Fourth of July Parade and watching the municipal firework display. Here we all are, all of us legal immigrants, happy and grateful to be in this wonderful country, and in zero need of liberal saviors from the Democratic Party or anywhere else.

Many of us would rather that Donald Trump were not president, just as many natural-born Americans would doubtless also prefer. But none of the things which attracted us immigrants to this great land died when Donald Trump took the presidential oath of office, and with diligence and appropriately deployed Constitutional checks on executive power, all of those wonderful blessings will remain when President Trump’s successor eventually takes over.

If anywhere ought logically to be riven asunder by the Trump presidency, it would be border towns like McAllen, Texas. Yet it is not so – the town continues to prosper and people remain civil toward one another, as you would expect from well-raised Texans. The lesson I have learned from the past seven weeks living here is that we are nowhere near as divided as politicians and the agenda-driven media, with their cynical motivations, would have us believe. Partisan differences may be everything to politicians, television journalists and cable news talking heads, but they do not form an impermeable wall of cultural separation among the people in this town.

Yes, there is a culture war in progress with significant social stakes for both sides. Yes, Trump’s proposed border wall is incredibly unpopular here, and Texan Senator Ted Cruz was (with some justification) made to feel quite unpopular when he stopped in town for a rare campaign visit last Fourth of July. But if it was his goal, Donald Trump has not yet succeeded in bringing about a dystopian future where brown-skinned, Latino heritage or immigrant people feel generally unwelcome or less American. The divisive efforts of the Alt-Right and the Identity Politics Left, while dominating our cultural discourse, have not succeeded in driving people apart in communities like McAllen, Texas.

And this I find to be incredibly heartening. Today I witnessed a crowd of people which appeared to be majority Hispanic or Latino happily and proudly taking part in the town’s Fourth of July parade, celebrating their country as though it were the most natural and unremarkable thing in the world – which of course it is. I waited in line at the grocery store in front of a family who had immigrated from India and were buying patriotic cakes decorated with red, white and blue frosting. And my American family didn’t kick me out when I cheekily played “God Save the Queen” and King George III’s song “You’ll Be Back” (from the musical “Hamilton”) on my iPhone at our barbecue.

Lord knows that America has its flaws – every country does, most of them far graver than the problems which exist here. But while Donald Trump’s presidency is a justifiable concern for many people, America has not suddenly become newly hostile to immigrants. This country was built by immigrants, and many first and recent-generation immigrants number among its most engaged citizens and loyal defenders.

From Washington state and California through Colorado, Kansas, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri to Illinois, Ohio and New York, I have seen the soul of the country I now call home, and here in Texas I have been carefully taking America’s pulse these past weeks. And I simply do not find the unwelcoming dystopian nightmare that many on the Left insist now prevails.

And so today I give heartfelt thanks for the United States of America and celebrate her independence, even if some pessimistic, misguided people who had the great fortune to be born and grow up with the great blessing of American citizenship sadly feel unable to join me.

 

US Flag - Fourth Of July Cake - Independence Day - Baking - Let Freedom Ring

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Deep In The Heart Of Texas

british-airways-boeing-747-london-heathrow-airport-terminal-5

Back to the ‘Heart of the Rio Grande’

Well okay, way down at the southern tip of Texas, a few miles from the Mexican border, to be more precise.

I’m off to Texas to spend the Christmas and New Year celebrations with my American family. Blogging will continue (I hope to resurrect the Postcards from America series started last year and have the chance to write a few more reflective pieces) but will be at a slightly slower tempo, with occasional hiatuses on those days when we are either travelling or making merry.

I am currently seeking recommendations for good places to eat in Austin, Houston and Las Vegas – if you have any inspired ideas, please do get in touch!

Many thanks as always for reading, commenting, cheering and arguing with me here at Semi-Partisan Politics. Stay tuned!

 

texas-flag

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Happy Thanksgiving

O beautiful for glorious tale of liberating strife

Happy Thanksgiving to all of my American readers, as well as everyone in Britain preparing for the Black Friday sales which we seem to have greedily imported without the heartwarming national holiday which precedes them.

Here is James Taylor, performing “America The Beautiful” at the second inauguration of President Barack Obama on January 21, 2013.

And perhaps, at this rather fraught and contentious time, we might all do well to take particular inspiration from the oft-overlooked second verse, too:

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness.
America! America!
God mend thine ev’ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law.

 

Thanksgiving Proclamation - Abraham Lincoln

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Postcard From America: Adult Education Is Key To Future Prosperity

I’m currently back in the United States to celebrate Christmas in Texas. These short “Postcards from America” will document a few of my thoughts as I escape the political whirlwind of Westminster and look back at Britain from the vantage point of our closest ally

In America, not everyone waits passively for government to improve their life circumstances. Aided by a thriving community college sector, people take their futures into their own hands

While sitting in the cinema waiting for Star Wars: The Force Awakens to begin, I was struck by the number of local advertisements for regional schools, community colleges and universities which were shown.

By my reckoning, at least 40% of the commercials screened over a fifteen minute period were promoting some kind of educational service. Contrast this with the United Kingdom, where local commercials of any kind are a rarity, and most national commercials these days tend to be for banks, fast-moving consumer goods, the EE mobile phone network (featuring Kevin Bacon) or one of the limited number of other companies able to afford a national cinema campaign.

An example of the type of commercial screened at the south Texas cinema I attended is shown above. Typically, they feature personal testimonials from ordinary people who explain simply and positively how going back into education has helped them in their careers, how the various modes of study fitted in around their existing home and work commitments, and how easy/affordable it turned out to be.

These degrees and diplomas provide a springboard into skilled, middle class jobs, many of which are well paid and non-outsourceable. Dental nurses, IT engineers, electricians, car mechanics and many other such career opportunities. Recognising that not everybody can be – or wants to be – an elite lawyer or doctor, these institutions equip people with tangible skills which actively help them in the labour market, ensuring that their career options are far greater than the prospect of 40 years working at the 7-eleven, or some other minimum wage drudgery.

This emphasis on adult education is one sign of a more active and engaged citizenry, of a people who understand that their self advancement and personal destiny is in their own hands, not those of the government.

To be fair, some British politicians are also coming to realise the importance of adult education to keep our own workforce skilled, adaptable and capable of commanding high wages rather than minimum wages. During the Labour leadership campaign, Jeremy Corbyn floated his plan for a National Education Service to do for lifelong learning what the NHS did for healthcare.

From the Conservatives, however, there has been nothing. Not a squeak from Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, who supposedly has future leadership ambitions of her own and therefore might be expected to have a substantive policy or two up her sleeve. What are the Conservative government’s bright ideas for a more market-oriented, privately delivered solution to the adult education gap?

Banging on about apprenticeships is all very well, but what of adults over 25 who cannot take an apprenticeship under the current schemes, or who want to work in a field where none exist? What of the 55-year-old steelworker made redundant with few other transferable skills?

A conservative government worth its salt would look at Jeremy Corbyn’s proposal for a National Education Service, balk at the more nakedly socialist aspects, but then consider how a smaller and leaner government might be able to promote the education of the adult workforce in pursuance of the national interest. But of course our current Coke Zero Conservative government is not worth its salt.

If Britain is to prosper in this globalised age – and if our poorest, most disadvantaged fellow citizens are to be spared from a harsh life of minimum wage drudgery – we need a learning revolution in the United Kingdom, a British Apollo Program for education.

What party, what future leader will rise to the occasion and propose a solution equal to the task at hand?

Community College

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