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Jon Snow's American Journey

Broadcast: Sunday 26 October 2008 07:10 PM

As Obama and McCain's gladiatorial showdown enters its final week, Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow goes in search of the new America.

Jon Snow's American Journey

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As Obama and McCain's gladiatorial showdown enters its final week, Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow goes in search of the new America. Starting at the border with Mexico, Snow takes a road trip up the Pacific highway linking San Diego to Seattle, travelling though areas of great affluence, deprivation, innovation and tradition to find out about the new Americans, new economy and new directions that are shaping the next America.

As the States becomes swept up in economic turmoil and embroiled in controversial and bloody wars abroad, Snow investigates whether the age of America's unchallenged dominance is now over and the country set for decline or whether the superpower is ready to revitalise and re-invent itself. The film examines the key issues being fiercely debated in the presidential election: immigration, education, religion, the role of the military and the economy.

Just north of the Mexican border, Snow meets the Hispanic immigrants that some people in the US fear are a threat to their nationhood. But with the ageing population in Europe likely to become an enormous economic burden, Snow discovers immigration to be America's secret weapon, providing fresh blood and drive and securing the country's future.

He travels to the violent Watts district of Los Angeles to meet 17-year-old Joseph Sherlock, who lives among the country's growing underclass in sprawling, urban decay. Joseph attends one of the worst schools in the country. Set in the middle of seven of LA's most notorious ganglands, the school has its own police station, and of every 1,000 children, at best only 200 complete their education. Snow discovers that Joseph's school experience is one that is repeated across the country, part of a public education system that is failing millions of children and the next generation of new Americans. Snow asks whether the United States can stay on top if its education system continues to fail so many of its kids, who will not be able to compete in the new world economy.

San Diego is one of the many regional economies that have reaped the huge financial rewards of America's enormous military firepower - power that has long allowed America to flex her muscles in international affairs. But coffins continually returning from Afghanistan and Iraq have provoked a lot of soul searching about the role of the country's armed forces. Paul Weaver, a former US Marine who suffered post-traumatic stress after returning from Iraq, warns that America faces huge social and economic costs as a result of its recent wars in dealing with a new generation of Americans traumatised by the experience of the battlefield. Snow travels to Stanford University to hear from Professor Donald Abenheim, who is teaching the next wave of America's military leaders. He tells Jon that there will be "no more Iraqs", and talks of a growing mood of isolationism that will diminish the influence of the country's military. Jon questions whether America can continue to afford the state-of-the-art equipment that defines its military strength.

But despite a terrible economic crisis, Snow finds signs that the country may once again be able to re-invent itself, and goes in search of the new economy. In Silicon Valley he discovers a series of technological revolutions that might help to turn the country around. In an area of unrivalled invention, Snow road tests an eco-friendly battery car that can go from 0 to 60 in just under four seconds and visits a lab that is attempting to revolutionise solar power. He meets Vinod Khosla, the founder of Sun-Micro Systems, one of the country's top venture capitalists, who is now investing in green technology, not computers. Khosla believes America remains at the top of the world in its powers of innovation and entrepreneurship; the US will, he says, reinvent itself successfully again.

In the final part of his journey, Snow investigates new directions and beliefs taking hold in America. In Portland, Oregon, he meets Libertarians, who are demanding a smaller government. He visits a commune leading the drive for Americans to lead sustainable lives. In one of Portland's new churches, Snow finds that the view of America as God's chosen nation is waning. He asks whether a more moderate, less political US church is emerging.

Ending his journey in Seattle, birthplace of Boeing, Starbucks and Microsoft, Snow sees first-hand America's shift in focus from the Atlantic to the Pacific. He meets Gary Locke, America's first governor of Chinese descent. He and others say the emergence of Asia has shifted America's centre of gravity from the Atlantic to the Pacific. But at a Boeing factory, Snow meets some of the victims of globalisation - the workers who are striking over pay, conditions and the outsourcing of work to China and abroad. For them and many other Americans the search for the American dream is transforming into the American nightmare.

Snow concludes that America has the talent and capacity to reinvent itself and that immigration will help, rather than hinder, its quest to maintain its leadership position in the world. However, the United States faces dire problems if it cannot bridge the gap between the 'haves' and 'have nots' and use all its people's talents to help keep the American dream alive.

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