09 March 2023, The Tablet

In the US the geographical divides are harsh, and so are the human ones


America is disgusting. It was the first thing I noticed when I landed there last month. A vast, trackless desert of concrete parking lots met me as I limped out of Newark airport. Driving through New Jersey, I saw motorways, chemical plants gouting flame, industrial parks sprawling across the skyline. None of it disabused me of my first impression. America is disgusting. 


Part of it is a simple question of scale. Everything is bigger than it needs to be in the U.S; lots of it bigger than it should be, if anyone is asking (no one in America is asking). Part of it is about artificiality; the cities laid out in precise grids; the endless, empty countryside you move through but never in; the cars, the cars, the cars. 


The geographical divides are harsh. So are the human ones. One friend I stayed with told me this story. Years ago Joe Biden was in his hometown for Ash Wednesday. He goes to my friend’s parish. The pastor ashes Biden. Afterwards, he takes a picture, posts it online. This prompts civil war amongst parishoners, then a schism. Here’s the punchline: the priest was a conservative. If Biden went up for communion, he’d have been turned away. 



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