George Orwell once claimed that the English intelligentsia are thoroughly Europeanized since they “take their cookery from Paris and their opinions from Moscow.” Whilst I’d imagine their culinary inclinations are (rightly) largely unchanged, the end of the Cold War has brought a new source of intellectual delight for our commentator class – Washington.
Today’s headlines are a perfect illustration of this. From the editorial of The Times cautiously approving the abortion question being potentially handed back to the States, to pieces from The New Statesman informing the ‘birthing persons’ of North London of how to obtain an abortion in ‘post-Roe America’, yesterday’s leaked Supreme Court judgement reversing Roe v Wade has clearly excited that part of the cognoscenti minds most interested in affairs across the Pond.
There was a time, of course, where to be interested in American things was considered distinctly lowbrow. Whereas politicians grumbled in the 1920s that millions were becoming Americanised due to the newfound popularity of Hollywood movies, more recent snobbishness would prevent any self-respecting member of the literati from being seen dead in a KFC. The United States has been taken as everything wrong about decadent consumerism and intellectual petrification, a haven for the fat, the bigoted, and the stupid.
That element hasn’t entirely disappeared. When my fellow metropolitan liberal-types imagine the average Trump voter, they probably go for some pot-bellied, MAGA-hat wearing, rifle-toting redneck, with a fondness for Fascism, marrying his sister, and blaming Mexicans for stealing his job. His views on abortion, gun control, immigration, and the few other issues which he can comprehend are all directly opposite to those of any right-thinking, open-minded, decent person with a subscription to The Guardian and a penchant for Tuscan villa holidays.
The reason that our intelligentsia think like this, however, is because their social and intellectual equivalents across the Atlantic do so too. Of course, they may prefer The New York Times to The Guardian in the hip cafes of Manhattan, San Francisco, and Washington D.C. But that makes little difference (except, perhaps, that The New York Times loathes post-Brexit Britain even more), especially in the age of social media. The highly educated and self-consciously liberal in this country see their reflection in their American idols – and so download their opinions wholesale.
Hence why, despite this potential Supreme Court decision not changing the lives of anyone living 3,600 miles a way a jot, it can earn itself an Editorial in our paper of record, endless commentary on the BBC, and as much energy devoted to it on Twitter as the other vital question of whether the Prime Minister knows who Lorraine Kelly is or not. Like a chubby child stuffing in their umpteenth Chicken McNugget, we are hooked on America’s produce.
All of this comes at the expense of an interest in our neighbours. I imagine many of those of the most zealously #FBPE persuasion know more about the intricacies of the Supreme Court, voting infractions in Georgia, and what Kamala Harris likes for dinner than they do the names of most (far more impressive) female European leaders, or the structure of the European Council, or what the Customs Union actually is.
I am not innocent in all this. My Yanko-philia and Yanko-phobia have always worked against each other, with a childhood spent visiting Disneyland Florida – the English equivalent of the pilgrimage to Mecca – competing for precedence in my eight-year-old mind with Top Gear’s less-than-flattering portrait of the land of the free. And yet I have grown up (to an extent) to be both fascinated and repulsed by the United States, and have visited it much more than any European country.
So I am as much interested in yesterday’s leak as any Trump-hating Guardianista I hoped to lampoon. For one thing, I largely agree with the line The Times took this morning. The Roe v Wade ruling in 1973 was a clear act of judicial over-reach, stretching the Constitution to cover an issue beyond the comprehension of the Founding Fathers. In doing so, it has meant the issue has failed to be settled, and has caused endless political and legal wrangling for the last fifty years.
We have largely avoided this rancour and acrimony in Britain. Since the 1967 Abortion Act was passed, public opinion in Britain has settled into broad agreement on abortion’s status as a regrettable necessity. Although some debate exists over where time limits should be set – and it was adjusted down from 28 weeks to 24 in 1990 – the whole issue is largely free from controversy. Even if I occasionally wish it wasn’t.
Yet I wouldn’t go so far as The Times in offering advice to Americans in how to respond to the potential ruling. Remember The Guardian’s hilariously misguided mailing campaign in 2004 to the voters of Ohio? It was designed to prevent Bush Jr’s re-election. If I was an average member of that great state, I can’t imagine anything that would make me more likely to vote for the second-best President called George Bush. Or J. D. Vance, who last night took a step towards being the next U.S President but three.
Americans don’t care what we limey assholes think. That is the case now more than ever before. We may be doing sterling work leading the Western response to the Ukrainian crisis, but geography, economics, and plain common sense suggest that America’s future lies more towards the Pacific in the decades to come. The affection our commentariat have for their Yankee brethren only goes one way.
In which case, this is an excellent opportunity for them to educate themselves on our European friends and neighbours. In or out of the European Union, it is clearly Britain’s fate to be a leading force on the Continent. If we are to understand and flourish in that role, we should probably know what’s going on there. We could even discover that most European countries have abortion laws far more stringent than our own. Perish the thought.