Over the weekend while I watched what I knew was coming on the season finale “Downton Abbey” – and no, there will be no spoilers for those few of you who don’t know yet – I was struck by how a costume drama from the Mother County could so enthrall American audiences. There has always been that so-called “special relationship” between Britain and America despite what they might term the unpleasantness of the Revolution and the War of 1812. However I wonder how much of that affinity remains at present, or whether we are simply mutually basking in the reflected glow of something now past.
Watching as the current British Prime Minister stumbles his way along through one misguided policy after another, it is hard for an American conservative to fathom that Mr. Cameron happens to be the head of Britain’s Conservative Party. As recently as the Thatcher, Major, and Blair years, there seemed to be a greater affinity between the two nations with respect to a number of policy issues, regardless of whether it was a Conservative or Labour government. Yet increasingly under Gordon Brown and now under David Cameron, there is a sense that Britain is going irreversibly in one direction and America in another.
Others of course would argue that Britain is simply ahead of the curve, and that eventually here in the US we will end up something like the UK writ large. One certainly hopes that this is not the case, and I say that as a life-long Anglophile who has had the good fortune to live in Britain twice. Though once senses that the mutual values we held of how to achieve mutual prosperity seem to have been eroding rather dramatically.
When we look back to the first half of the previous century, such as the time in which the fictional Crawley family are operating, we notice that there was a healthy fusion of British belief in hard work with an American sense of getting the job done creatively. British aristocrats married American money to save their houses, and British businessmen went into partnerships with American firms, recognizing that there were natural affinities and mutual needs that could be met through adaptation and change. After all, what saves Downton Abbey financially is putting a middle-class young man in charge of things, once he gets the backing of his American mother-in-law to persuade her husband. And lest we forget, like Ladies Mary, Edith, and Sybil Crawley, Sir Winston Churchill himself was half-American.
Yet it must be said that among the Britons whom I regularly interact with, as much as they may love their country, privately they recognize that there are not as many opportunities left for them there, and many of them want to move here. They see fewer chances of really succeeding on merit in a country which has become so increasingly dependent on government subsidy, and merely surviving rather than thriving. What Napoleon once referred to as a “nation of shopkeepers”, seems to be increasingly a “nation of victims”.
Now before any of us over on this side of the Atlantic start patting ourselves on the back, or contentedly saying to ourselves, “There but for the grace of God…”, we, too continue to see more and more dependence upon centralized government taking over even the most basic aspects of our lives. Fortunately our federal system allows for a greater deal of fight-back than we see in Britain, though that requires eternal vigilance, and more often than not the use of the courts, as we see in the current fight over the present Administration’s HHS Mandate.
For all of our complaints about divided government in our unusual American system of government, there is something very good indeed about a weakened Executive Branch in particular. Among other things, it makes it much harder for any one person or philosophy to absolutely dominate domestic policy. Thus while he was able to pass Obamcare thanks to his party controlling both the White House and Congress, today Mr. Obama could huff and puff all he wants, but if he were to introduce a bill that Republicans could not support, it simply would not pass.
What the future holds we do not know. We can be sure that it will be a less prosperous one for both nations, thanks to factors such as short-sighted budget policies more focused on present consumption than future growth, or promoting population control as a way to reign in costs while simultaneously gutting future benefits. In the end one does not fear for America so much, since she changes regularly throughout her history, but one wonders what will become of dear old Blighty once it is little more than a cog in the European socialist machine. And that is something which the British will have to answer for themselves.
Cousin Matthew out for a spin on “Downton Abbey”