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.

More in Opinion

This screenshot of an Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation map of PFAS sites in Alaska shows that contamination from so-called “forever chemicals” is observable throughout the state. (Screenshot | Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation)
Opinion: More action must be taken on PFAS

Toxic forever chemicals present in high concentrations in Nikishka Bay Utility Water Supply

Logo courtesy of League of Women Voters.
League of Women Voters of Alaska: Join us in calling for campaign finance limits

The involvement of money in our elections is a huge barrier for everyday Alaskans who run for public office

Promise garden flowers are assembled for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska, on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Opinion: Let’s keep momentum in the fight against Alzheimer’s

It’s time to reauthorize these bills to keep up our momentum in the fight to end Alzheimer’s and all other types of Dementia.

Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press
Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., questions Navy Adm. Lisa Franchetti during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Sept. 14 on Capitol Hill.
Opinion: Music to the ears of America’s adversaries

Russia and China have interest in seeing America’s democracy and standing in the world weakened

Dr. Sarah Spencer. (Photo by Maureen Todd and courtesy of Dr. Sarah Spencer)
Opinion: Alaskans needs better access to addiction treatment. Telehealth can help.

I have witnessed firsthand the struggles patients face in accessing addiction care

Former Gov. Frank Murkowski speaks on a range of subjects during an interview with the Juneau Empire in May 2019. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Need for accounting and legislative oversight of the permanent fund

There is a growing threat to the permanent fund, and it is coming from the trustees themselves

(Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Imagine the cost of health and happiness if set by prescription drug companies

If you didn’t have heartburn before seeing the price, you will soon — and that requires another prescription

Mike Arnold testifies in opposition to the use of calcium chloride by the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities on Kenai Peninsula roads during a Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2023, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai Peninsula Votes: Civic actions that carried weight

Watching an impressive display of testimony, going to an event, or one post, can help so many people learn about something they were not even aware of

The Kasilof River is seen from the Kasilof River Recreation Area, July 30, 2019, in Kasilof, Alaska. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)
Opinion: Helicopter fishing a detriment to fish and fishers

Proposal would prohibit helicopter transport for anglers on southern peninsula

The cover of the October 2023 edition of Alaska Economic Trends magazine, a product of the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development. (Image via department website)
Dunleavy administration’s muzzling of teacher pay report is troubling

Alaska Economic Trends is recognized both in Alaska and nationally as an essential tool for understanding Alaska’s unique economy

Image via weseeyou.community
5 tips for creating a culture of caring in our high schools

Our message: No matter what challenges you’re facing, we see you. We support you. And we’re here for you.

The Alaska State Capitol is photographed in Juneau, Alaska. (Clarise Larson/Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Vance’s bill misguided approach to Middle East crisis

In arguing for her legislation, Vance offers a simplistic, one-dimensional understanding of the conflict