Not since Vietnam or Nixon did I feel such relief when escaping last month from the manic madhouse that is my home country. Close friends, having organized a U.K. jaunt, had in-laws withdraw for medical concerns. So in we jumped, never having visited Scotland or our English friends living in Wales. So trip timing was more chance than calculation.
But what freedom from computers and cable news, what! my own scribbling. Plus, I enjoyed respite from painfully close encounters of the third, fourth, and fifth kinds – Trump’s mental pollution, moral corruption and political outrages. And even a sixth variety: refusal by the suckered “base” to admit their guy slavishly serves the worst predatory, rightwing elitism (whether here or Russia) – with crumbs for struggling common folks, right, left or middle.
How did the GOP tax rip-off enhance the bottom 90%? Or packing the courts with pro-Citizens United, status quo rightwing judges? Or the slimiest big-business, anti-healthcare. anti-work safety Cabinet hacks? Are knee-jerk Trumpers more gainfully employed, with zero jobs programs? Or boast more affordable healthcare coverage? Or greater job or pension security? How many small-fry benefit from Trump’s tariff tantrums or his petty abuses of critical allies? What do Tea Partiers gain from Putinesque smirks?
Small, but articulate sample
I admit my travel sample is modest, two dozen from England and Scotland. But only one (an aggressive, English land developer) thought “Trump was doing what he promised,” though froze up when I detailed his empty gestures as smoke and mirrors: the Wall, the Ban, merciless assaults on media, Dems, foes, judges or Hillary. He couldn’t list one newly-minted coin of American “greatness” – at home or abroad, admitting Trump’s foreign affairs “policy” a shambles. Even this marginal defender conceded that constant, vulgar mud-slinging diminished US prestige.
Every other to a one sympathized with our nightmare presidency, two jokingly commiserating that its former “colony” deserved better. Of course, since Brexit, with zero support in my chats, Brits and Scots understand how mass hysteria incites profound blunders. But more than one pointed out Brexit was one foolish travesty – not like, say, electing a four-year model of ignorant arrogance as “leader of the free world.” Got me there – since everyone but minority voters desperate for a messiah understood exactly who Trump was, is, and will be – even after a swath of coming indictments.
All but one offered not just amazement but heartfelt sympathy. Surprisingly, not many were overtly judgmental (vs. what I at times consider an obscenity), nor oblivious why Tea Party small-towners were so aggrieved (even deranged) to dream this master of thuggery better served them than an establishment Democratic agenda inclined to share the wealth. My contacts didn’t think Clinton all that different from standard politicians (with a greater skill-set than most), some revealing nostalgic feelings for the wizardry of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. I had no good answer, agreeing Democrats were their own worse enemy, not just pushing a compromised, discredited candidate in ’16 but elbowing aside Bernie Sanders, a superior, likely winner.
What checks and balances?
Almost all were astonished Trump had gotten (and was still getting) away with endless outrages. What about those “checks and balances” Yanks always brag about – let alone Don Corleone’s blatant profiteering from election? Many understood the election result more than they did the absence of loud protests, by Dems, the media and in the streets. They wondered about impeachment, but I said Senate conviction (were House leaders reversed in November) was unlikely – plus few would-be impeachers especially favored VP Pence – a more competent reactionary with even greater fundamentalist backing.
I quibbled, explaining how years of grievance, fed by FOX TV shills, made just enough voters so sick of the status quo (bad or no jobs, outsourcing, depression, drug deaths) they fell for a guy who talked, smirked and scoffed like no politician ever –with a dark entertainment style and hellish message. By hook and crook, Trump threaded a weird, narrow needle, utterly unelectable to the House or Senate from NY or Florida but not to the WH. Rage conquered reason, expertise and experience – the essence for me of national mass hysteria.
Many, without antagonism, worried how American could restore its standing, and how much permanent damage accrued to Trumpism. I agreed the longer he lasted, the worse the devastation, that he wasn’t just misguided or incompetent but a cancer on the presidency who blackened whatever remained of our beacon of democracy. When handcuffed by Congress and shredded by the Mueller results, he’s egocentric, paranoid and controlling enough to be driven out.
To say my contacts were mystified with Trump’s servile fandom for Putin would understate their head-shaking puzzlement. I mentioned Obama’s quip that primitive fellow-citizens, in love with “guns and religion,” deluded themselves by ignoring Trump’s life of sexual, media and business scandals. What’s now invisible isn’t just simple compassion for wounded (non-white) people, but the stunning banishment of their own immigrant background, let alone our renowned legacy as melting pot. Is it shocking, I asked, that a country in crisis and founded on ethnic diversity, lacked the relative cultural coherence of European countries?
The Scottish folks I encountered viewed our current perversity with greater detachment than the English. After all, they didn’t have a lunatic in charge – and they perpetually challenged centralized English authority. They rejected Brexit. They smiled when I corrected their jokes about “your president” coming to visit Scotland. “He’s not exactly my president,” I countered, “just a cruel joke fostered by dead Founders – the geniuses who installed our own House of Lords (the Electoral College) to offset popular excesses.” The joke now rebounds on itself, I added, as since 2000 twice was the popular voter loser inaugurated. Right, later the irony hit: the least informed, demagogued mob hijacked a “College” created as an elitist “check” on the feared masses. This College is now nearly as debased as Trump University.
In the end, I only had Lincoln’s truism to fall back on: the well-timed, slick hustler can fool just enough of the people enough of the time. Trump is the exploding time-bomb, capping a decade of FOX distortions: AlwaysTrumpers felt any disruptive defender of old time religious values, however coarse, sinful or ill-tempered, was magically better than any entrenched Republican or corrupt Democrat like Hillary. Fabricated defiance of the establishment, I concluded, was enough to justify the absurd hypocrisy of Trump’s harangues – all evidence to the contrary. Fortunately, I trusted a voting majority was coming together to make a very different correction two years after our most disgraceful national decision.