Magazine article The Spectator

The Least Worst Hope

Magazine article The Spectator

The Least Worst Hope

Article excerpt

Yes, yes, says Mark Steyn, Americans are fat and ugly, but they live in a dynamic society that knows when not to change

New Hampshire

A YEAR or two back, the esteemed editor of the Literary Review, Auberon Waugh, called up to talk me into reviewing a book. Business having been successfully concluded, he then murmured, `I do so admire you for sticking it out over there' - as one might to a long-serving stringer in, say, Sierra Leone.

I let it go. Bron's a busy fellow. No doubt he had to dash back to Somerset to interrupt another burglary in progress by whichever lovable rogues were favouring him with a house call that week. Given the amount of property he's lost and the cost of his state-of-the-art laser security system, it would almost certainly have been cheaper for him to have bought a plot of rural Maine in 1975 and moved Combe Florey out here brick by brick. But I can understand his reluctance. Even the most Atlanticist Briton is uneasy about the United States. For all the rest of Britain's defeatist elite, the self-evident awfulness of America is the main reason you guys are now stuck in the EU. And it's no good pointing out that the average Brit has far more in common with the Yanks than with the Krauts or Eyeties. The enthusiasm of the masses for American movies, American soda, American cheeseburgers and all the rest only stiffens their betters' resolve to bind them to the Spaniards, Dutch, Slovenes, God knows what.

Let us stipulate certain things. Washington, DC, has the worst-looking citizenry of any G7 capital. And if you head out of town things get even worse. After many years in rural America, I hardly notice the 3001b women any more, unless some cadaverous tourist like Bernard Manning happens to be standing near. But, when I do notice them, they look pretty good to me: the familiar lumpy double-decker-breast effect from the folds of flesh bursting over the brassiere; the vast prairie of a stretchpants-encased butt you could park your pick-up on; every gal her own monument to untrammelled democratic capitalism, where the double-cheeseburgers are 79 cents, there are no small fries, every triplethick shake is supersized and, thanks to the drive-thru lane, you don't even have to get out of your truck to chow down.

I happen to divide my time, as the book jackets say, between the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada, and, if I had to construct a dream jurisdiction, the first two items on the list would be New Hampshire tax rates and Quebec women. Conversely, if you were building a nightmare state, Quebec tax rates and New Hampshire women would be a pretty unbeatable start. In 1981, the Centers for Disease Control classified 25 per cent of Americans as obese; by 1991, it was nearly 33 per cent; today, it's pushing 40 per cent. On current trends, 75 per cent of Americans will be obese by 2050. Dr John Foreyt of the Baylor College of Medicine in Texas has calculated that by the year 2230 every American will be. The only really important economic question of our time is whether the European Union can hold off collapsing under the weight of its social programmes until the United States has collapsed under the weight of its weight.

So I can understand why many Europeans are aesthetically affronted by the New World. To the discriminating foreigner America is a land of ever more arrested development, where 50-year-old guys waddle down Main Street in oversize T-shirts with silly slogans, shapeless diaper-like pants and huge bouncy oversized sneakers. When Europeans complain that they find it almost physically nauseating to walk around US shopping malls because everyone looks so . . . infantile, its hard to disagree.

This is the paradox of American democracy: the only nation to treat its citizens as adults has found that, when you do, they just want to behave like children. In Britain and Europe, by contrast, the thinking seems to be that, if you treat the populace like children and make them do what's good for them, it may just be possible to regulate them into developing the outward characteristics of adults. …

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