Close-Up | Land of the brave, land of the slave

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On Wednesday September 1, 2021, a law in the southern US state of Texas banning abortion providers from carrying out terminations after fetal cardiac activity is detected came into force after the Supreme Court declined to intervene. Photo: Reuters
On Wednesday September 1, 2021, a law in the southern US state of Texas banning abortion providers from carrying out terminations after fetal cardiac activity is detected came into force after the Supreme Court declined to intervene. Photo: Reuters

CLOSE-UP


I love the United States of America. I enjoyed living there for a while and, given the chance, I could do it all over again.

But that country can sometimes be “so ghetto”, to use my daughters’ slang. And by “ghetto”, I don’t mean crime and grime (even though there’s lots of that in some cities); I am talking about the ridiculousness of some laws.

That each state has its own laws that tend to militate against the democratic ethos and open-minded spirit of the federation can be problematic, if not downright ridiculous and farcical.

In 2004 I covered the US elections for the rag I was working for at the time. George Bush was up against John Kerry. As soon as I landed in the US, I was on the trail of the two gentlemen.

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I tried to go to most of the towns and cities in which they were campaigning. Armed with their schedules, I sometimes flew ahead of them, other times after them. As a result, I covered many of the states, and got exposed to their various laws and ordinances.

At one stage I spent a few days in Bush’s own home town of Crawford, Texas.

The town had a population of 700. Not seven thousand, seven hundred. Count your zeroes properly.

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It had a sports ground, some shops, a petrol station (or gas station, as they would have it), a restaurant and schools. And three churches. The First Baptist Church, the First United Methodist Church and the St Paul’s Lutheran Church.

When I went to the local restaurant, ordered food and declared my desire for that thirst-quenching beverage made from barley and hops, the waitress looked scandalised.

In a polite but firm voice, she declared:

We don’t serve alcohol in this town!

The proliferation of churches – and the absence of the more tolerant Catholic church – should have warned me.

I apologised to the waitress for having sullied the air of Crawford, Texas, with the mention of the word ‘alcohol’. She forgave me. Leaning forward and speaking in a conspiratorial whisper, she said:

I can see you’ve travelled long distances, and if you really want alcohol, you can get it from the next town, Waco.

Now, my friends, taking a cab to Waco would have cost me $40 (R570) each way. I would have spent $80 to get a drink (excluding the cost of the drink), so I dumped the idea and went back to my B&B. I watched TV and drank lots of water, pretending I was in Saudi Arabia.

I’m telling you this story to illustrate just how ridiculous some legal edicts can be in the US. In one town alcohol is banned, in the next it’s available.

Some states still uphold the death penalty, while others got rid of that barbarism a long time ago.

Some states encourage same-sex marriages, while others think such a union is an abomination.

In some states, you can grow and smoke marijuana, in others, being found in possession of a single zol will earn you a spell in prison.

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This week something sad and ridiculous happened. And, yes, it happened in Texas, which is governed by a Republican-led legislature.

This week Texas banned all abortions as early as six weeks into pregnancy.

The law does not make exceptions for rape or incest. Just to make sure that their message was loud and clear, and to encourage compliance, the lawmakers then offered a generous bounty.

They said: every citizen in Texas has the right to sue anyone who might be caught aiding or abetting an abortion. Citizens who win such lawsuits would be entitled to about $10 000.

I think I heard the Taliban chaps in Afghanistan laughing and clapping, and their cousins in Saudi Arabia choked on their coffee with laughter.

AUSTIN, TX - SEPT 1: Pro-choice protesters march o
Pro-choice protesters march outside the Texas State Capitol.

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In the US, you cannot rent a car until you are age 23, but you can buy a gun as soon as you turn 18.

Buying a gun there is as simple as going to your local Walmart – the equivalent of our own Makro.

In fact, when we lived in the land of Uncle Sam eight years ago, my children went to school with kids who, at the age of 13, already owned licensed guns.

I got to understand that a kid as young as 12 could, with the assistance of a parent, teacher or a scoutmaster, buy his or her own gun.

Our house was in Belmont, Massachusetts, a state governed by the Democrats. So you can’t say madness only happens in states governed by the Republicans – the party of Trump and Bush – which is always the butt of jokes.

But I still love the US, contradictions and all. As Prince sings in his posthumously released song:

Land of the free, home of the brave/ Oops, I mean land of the free, home of the slave.


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