I realise this is an embarrassing confession, but it’s about time I made it. I have never been to the United States. I have been all over the globe, but, so far, have never been to North America at all.
Whereas most of my contemporaries as I was growing up could think of nothing more exciting than going to the USA, the Land of the Free (unless you are poor, of course), I was always more interested in going to more … er … interesting places where the cultures were markedly different, strange languages were spoken and strange complexions matched unusual customs. So, the seemingly infinite variety offered by Europe, Africa and Asia did it for me.
Don’t get me wrong: I would go to the USA if there was some point in doing so – visit friends, do some work, promote books, etc. – but other wise I don’t feel much urge. I am just being honest. There is much about American culture I admire (blind optimism, celebration of success and aspects of the work ethic as well as a creative ability to tell stories in film); but there is much that evokes suspicion and incredulity. And the current healthcare debate has brought it all to a head.
There is much that can be criticised about British society. The British do a pretty good job at needling self-criticism without needing help from outside, but we get plenty from outside anyway. I guess much is justified. Reading foreign newspapers, journals and websites (wherever possible in their own languages) can be very illuminating when it comes to being seen as we are seen. But there are certain things that command pride and self-defence. Health is one of them; integrity might be another.
How do those journalists and politicians in the USA sleep at night when they have perpetrated such inaccurate and false representations of the National Health Service in the UK? Are they ignorant (which can possibly be forgiven) or deliberately disregarding of truth? How can lies be perpetuated without any shred of shame?
American currency proclaims, without a hint of irony, ‘In God we trust’. For around 50 million Americans that’s the best they can hope for. No insurance means no care. Is it not surprising as well as shocking that those Americans denouncing the NHS (on spurious and shallow ideological grounds) in contrast with their own wonderful system are precisely those who aren’t excluded by their system?
The NHS might not be perfect, but it is based on principles that demonstrate a greater ‘trust in God’ – that is the God of the Bible whose constant and consistent appeal to the poor and marginalised is embarrassing to any culture that sees such marginalisation as just – and love of humanity than one that serves only those who are wealthy enough to afford it. Which Bible do Republicans read?
Criticise the NHS by all means, America, but don’t do it on the basis of lies, misrepresentation, wilful ignorance or ideological stupidity.