What started as an innocent but thoroughly good catch-up with a former colleague and dear friend has also provided me with a rather sobering snapshot of the United States of America.
In the short version of the story, a budding young journalist, born and raised in Manawatū, did what many young New Zealanders do and set off to see the world. A few years later, he settled in Hawaii, opening a yoga school with his soon-to-be-wife. They now have three children, the youngest of whom will fly the nest next year.
They have witnessed an extraordinary rate of change under presidents Bush, Obama, Trump and now Biden. While some might not see the state of Hawaii as middle, mainstream America, their observations, particularly of late, capture nationwide issues not that far removed from issues we have here.
Covid, for instance, is still very much a pain in the rear end of the economy. Inflation has caused considerable discomfort. From less than 2 per cent pre covid, it hit a high of 8 per cent in 2022 but is showing signs of settling at lower levels [about 4 per cent] in the last quarter of this year and into the first few months of next year. The labour market is tight. It’s hard to find staff. Many restaurants and hospitality sector businesses in Honolulu are desperate for workers. Sounds familiar.
Despite government financial assistance through lockdowns and the like for large chunks of 2022, many small and medium-sized businesses did not survive. The need to adapt and be quick on your feet is strongly linked to putting food on the table for many families.
The similarities continue.
There seems to be a growing divide across America on several social and political issues. Despite living in the US for almost all of this century, understanding the ins and outs of the US political environment or US politicians is much more challenging than it is here in New Zealand, prolonged post-election coalition talks notwithstanding.
The thought that a presidential candidate could be in court facing serious charges and still be leading the polls on the right-wing side of the spectrum is mind-boggling to a Kiwi who has always taken a straightforward outlook on life. I feel certain it has most of the world confused as well.
Of more immediate concern to my friend was what he described as “an alarming rise in anti-Semitism” in America as Israeli troops sought to eliminate any semblance of Hamas from Gazza and beyond.
Soon after saying that, he decided a more accurate description of recent events would be better characterised as the increase in “pro-Palestinian” protests. An important distinction to make.
He observed that these protests reminded many of the early protests against the Vietnam War more than 50 years ago. Like then, many of the protestors today look young and organised. Their youthful exuberance around college campuses makes for compelling news items and is a very effective tool in drawing attention to their cause.
The apparent differences today, he noted, were that the US isn’t directly involved in the skirmishes in the Middle East, and the youthful protestors might not have a deep and meaningful grasp of the centuries-old troubles in that region. But then, how many of us do?