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In California, yearning for the socialist hell hole
By Laura Pekonen
I seem to have invented an interactive perpetual motion machine.
A couple of weeks ago my e-mail inbox started to fill up with angry messages from American Republicans. They were in a tizzy because I had interviewed some Americans living in Finland who were supporters of John Kerry. One supporter of George W. Bush was so incensed that he urged the Kerry supporters to stay in Finland, this "God-forsaken socialist hell hole".
When I wrote about the angry feedback from the Bush supporters (HS 18.11.) I got 33 more e-mails from across the Atlantic. However, this time the tone was quite different.
"Please don’t forget about those of us that would jump at the chance to live in your ‘God forsaken socialist hell hole’ in a New York minute!" wrote one woman from Oregon. "It is an awful heart-sickening feeling to be ashamed of where you are from, to cringe every time the President opens his mouth."
A message from Minnesota reads: "I just wanted to make sure you understand that more than 50% of Americans DIDN’T vote for Bush, and we are pretty upset too."
One correspondent from Virginia said that she would exchange her US passport for a Finnish one if the Finnish government would have her.
"I have seen my country change into [the] Germany of 1935, and my hate-mongering government scares the hell out of me."
She goes on to ask for a response if there would be work in Finland for a 40-year-old American woman with experience as a notary public and an English teacher. "I’m serious".
Most of these apologetic Americans come from the "blue" states - where the majority voted for Kerry. There is both hostility and disdain for the "red" states, where most people go to church and voted for Bush.
One anonymous writer assures me that not all Americans hate Europeans or support Bush. "Only the ones who think that the Grand Canyon was carved by the Great Flood."
The divisions between urban and rural America, between the coasts and the Midwest, between supporters of Kerry and Bush, are so deep that even Democrats who have never even been to Europe imagine themselves to be closer to the Europeans than to the Republicans of their own country.
A couple of writers complained that they constantly hear the same kind of rhetoric at barbecue parties and in checkout lines that I got via e-mail.
The disputes are bitter, because they are not only about the economy, foreign policy, or the war in Iraq - they are about values.
Both camps feel that their way of life - one secular or liberal, the other religious or conservative - represents the true America. The "you are either for us or against us" mentality now operates inside the United States.
"We used to agree that we could disagree. We thought that in spite of opposing opinions, the other side means well. I no longer think so - our common ground has eroded from beneath us", lamented one Kerry supporter from Washington.
If there seems to be no common ground, then it is easiest to stay among like-minded people.
"I’m lucky to be living in the San Francisco Bay Area, which is something of a haven for humane and democratic thought", wrote one Californian whose parents came from Finland early in the last century.
"Maybe the California Coast should secede and affiliate with Finland?"
Just as a somewhat unexpected solution to the problems resulting from Finland’s declining population seemed imminent, came an e-mail from a Bush supporter in Texas.
The writer apologised for the e-mails that I had received from other Bush supporters, saying that they do not reflect what most Americans think.
He assured me that Americans are a tolerant and flexible people, but that like in other places, those on the far right and far left are most eager to offer feedback.
"We, the great, silent majority, want to enjoy the rights that our civil liberties and our Constitution guarantee us."
Feedback from the United States. A few more people like him would do good for both camps.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 28.11.2004
LAURA PEKONEN / Helsingin Sanomat