Op-ed: Both sides of the pond

  • By Bob Franken
  • Wednesday, December 13, 2017 1:16pm
  • Opinion

LONDON — “Come in. We love Americans.” It was a restauranteur hustling customers outside his establishment here in London. My wife and I are here for our anniversary. I was ready with my retort: “I must say I admire how you can keep a straight face while claiming to love Americans.”

“Don’t worry,” he replied. “It’ll get better.”

Obviously, he’s not a Donald Trump fan. He assumed I wasn’t either. Safe assumption, although he didn’t know that when it comes to U.S. politics, I’m not an anybody fan.

I was too polite to utter that one-word response that would have ended our conversation. No, not that retort. Besides, that’s two words. This one word is “Brexit.” The Brits also have voted with the same self-destructive tendency that seized us in electing Donald Trump. In their case, they chose to leave the European Union. They, too, were inspired to commit national suicide by heeding the xenophobic siren song of those who promised to lead their countrymen and -women out of the darkness of economic displacement and bureaucracy, and safely away from the dangerous riffraff immigrants of differing religions and/or darker skin that were threatening their white Christian dominance.

Unfortunately, on both sides of the Atlantic, these promises came from liars whose falsehoods were made believable because of the deplorable memories of a national greatness that never really existed.

Of course, we do have much in common. The U.S. legal system is rooted in British common law; our fundamental document, the Constitution, was modeled to a large degree after the Magna Carta. Never mind that the colonies’ chief executive would like to suspend large chunks of it, turning POTUS (President of the United States) into AOTUS (Authoritarian of the United States). But he’s foundering. The people over here would call him a blithering idiot, or more accurately, a twittering idiot. They similarly disparage Theresa May, their prime minister, who also dwells at the bottom in the various polls.

Besides everyone talking funny here — and the fact that they have young royals with tremendous image consultants — England has lost a lot of her national character. It is depressingly similar to us in the U.S. in so many ways. Walk down any street in London and look at the deja vu shops. There are Gaps and McDonald’s everywhere; you name the chain, and it’s on any block.

Sex scandal? The British invented sex scandals. Their history is replete with famous politicians and aristocrats who, no matter how proper they appeared to be, had really kinky backstories.

As far as the media are concerned, they run the range, just like ours do. Rupert Murdoch is a huge factor here, just as he is in America. TV news plays it a little straighter in the U.K. The stories are more substantive and, might I add, oftentimes more boring than they are on the U.S. news channels with our reports and sound bites that are on and off in an instant.

What are amazingly similar are the various social media, even though the Brits have much more stringent libel laws along with restrictions on what journalists cover. That would be the envy of Donald Trump, who has had to come up with his own tactics for neutralizing the “Fake News” outlets. Of course that’s when we’re not discrediting ourselves with sloppy reporting. For every careful, thorough expose by a Washington Post, New York Times or other responsible outlet, there is a careless mistake by desperately ambitious correspondents who wanted to get the momentary scoop fix. One can assume, though, that American media don’t wiretap newsmakers like they do in jolly old England. Not that we know of.

Here’s the simple point: Corruption and foolishness cannot be walled off by boundaries any more than immigrants can. The optimistic spin is that we’re all human beings, on both sides of any ocean. That’s also the pessimistic spin: We’re fallible human beings.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.

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