New Leader of the Free World

Letter to my American Family

18.11.2016

Ever since that awful night last week, it’s been on my mind to send my condolences to my American family.  I stayed up till almost 2am to watch history in the making – a woman leading the free world – but sadly it was not to be.  By then, Florida was heading for the finish line despite the pundits’ mantra ‘wait for the Clinton surge’.   My gut instinct was sharper and could sense the prevailing  treacherous wind.  Because it would be unbearably depressing to watch, I figured the best place was under the duvet, ideally for the next four years. Perhaps Trump may burn out well before then.

I am reminded of that oft-quoted phrase “all will be well and all manner of things will be well” often erroneously cited as a Bible extract but actually is by Julian of Norwich, a woman no less, and written more than six hundred years ago. When I looked it up recently I was surprised to find just how rich it is, ……

“And so when the final judgment comes, … we shall clearly see in God all the secrets that are hidden from us now.

Then none of us will be moved in any way to say, ‘Lord, if only things had been different, all would have been well.’

Instead, we all proclaim in one voice, ‘Beloved One, may you be blessed, because it is so: ALL IS WELL.”  Extract from The Showings

Stuck to my kitchen cupboard is a wisdom which greets me every day as I make my morning cuppa and it’s by the American poet James Russell Lowell (1819-1891) “Let us be of good cheer; remembering that the misfortunes hardest to bear are those which never happen”.  Although Trump may have won the Presidency, wait and see if he crashes and burns, since the chasm between winning and serving is likely to be greater than he ever imagined.

I know that many Americans must be broken-hearted and I wanted you to know that we are all thinking of our cousins and friends at this time. Much as I hate raising the birthing question, maybe it should be asked in this case: ask for that passport and don’t be surprised if he’s from another planet. What’s to say Trump won’t bail out within the next four years in a fit of pique and throw all his toys out of the pram?  He just doesn’t seem to have the temperament or the character for the big job as leader of the free world, and all the hard graft it will entail. Sometimes when he talks, it’s as though he’s still on The Apprentice, but there is so much more at stake here than a TV reality programme.  Who would have imagined the White House becoming the Big Brother house?  Is that life imitating art?  Naturally dictatorial and used to getting his own way, every moment in such a tough political environment for him at this stage in his life may well be a stretch too far.  The challenges of dealing with America’s domestic problems –  never mind – the Middle East, Russia and its neighbours and NATO clashes and bearing in mind he’s starting from a position of relative ignorance with no great urgency to learn about the world’s complexities and difficulties may prove irresolvable (or so it would seem).  Several times in Britain, we have had highly successful businessman being ‘promoted’ to government, late in their careers, but it almost never works.  Love or loathe him, Nigel Farage is the one who broke the mould, leading a successful Brexit campaign after years working in the city – but he would be the exception not the rule.

Tonight when I was watching Channel 4 news (better than the BBC news by the way – since my New York cousins always groan about the dearth of quality news coverage in the U.S.), the poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling came to mind.

“If you can keep your head while all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you.”

At the risk of sinking further into dismay,  it does look as though the western world has lost its head, at least for the time being. Austria is perhaps on the brink of choosing a divisive right-wing president; France may be heading towards a Le Pen victory in the spring when the French go to the polls.  And can you blame them for wanting a right wing hard-liner when they have been under siege by Islamic terrorists. The Right in Holland have been gaining momentum over the last four years or so and the political challenger, Gert Wilders, was banned from the UK not long ago for his hateful views. In the UK we have laws against inciting racial hatred.

The citizens of Eastern Europe – especially those bordering Russia – must be some of the most frightened right now.   It’s evident that the Left in Britain have abandoned their natural constituents and perhaps the same is true in Clinton’s case in that her rhetoric didn’t reflect their worries and insecurities, or that they didn’t come out in sufficient numbers to kill off Trump’s ambitions, so to speak.  Most successful democratic western governments, by which I mean those that are re-elected, are Centre or Centre-Right and at the moment in Britain our Left has not only abandoned any notion of governing again, they are irrelevant.  Just when the country needs a strong opposition, they have no voice, nothing to contribute.  The consequence of this is that the Centre ground is collapsing.  In WB Yeats poem, The Second Coming, he addresses just this problem in the wake of the Great War, the turmoil in Europe and the 1916 Rising in Ireland.  Yeats had a sense of foreboding and believed that history was cyclical, predicting that 2000 years after the birth of Christ, the world would descend into anarchy.

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world. 

The blood dimmed tide is loosed and everywhere

the ceremony of innocence is drowned.

The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” 

It doesn’t get any more comforting:

“The darkness drops again; but now I know

that twenty centuries of stony sleep

Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle”. 

Then last night I was reminded of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  Perhaps Trump’s supporters aren’t delusional at all as some admittedly think, merely desperate and are projecting their needs onto this at best comic, at worst catastrophic figure,  in the hope that he will transform their lives for the better.  At the base of the Maslow’s pyramid is the overwhelming need to be self-supporting, hold down a job or have job security, a roof over one’s head and the ability to feed and care for oneself and one’s family. As you go further up the pyramid, arguably the ‘ niceties’ of life, such as morals, meaning and culture, as well as the ability to withstand the mudslinging in the case of Trump’s female/migrant supporters, is a ‘nicety’ that they can ignore for now since their basic needs remain steadfastly unfulfilled.  There is a case to be made in the future for ensuring any potential Presidents goes through rigorous mental health screening before taking office.

The fact that Trump hasn’t paid taxes for 18 years is obviously not a deterrent in a Presidential race.  Perhaps he’s the modern-day Leonia Helmsley who once famously said “only the little people pay taxes.”

Sure, the after-effects of globalisation and the unintended consequences of letting manufacturing go south or east have finally bit hard. We rely perhaps unrealistically on our politicians to read the prevailing wind of change and help us as citizens prepare for the adverse effects of such a seismic shift.

And to the rest of Kipling’s first verse:

“If you can keep your head when all about you 

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, 

But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting 

Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:”

And the fourth stanza ends:

“Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, 

And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!”

Stay positive and patient everyone.  A  good and moral candidate will emerge from the ether, perhaps even Michelle Obama may change her mind and run next time and then the pendulum will swing so far against the ‘Alt-right’ the world will look a very different place than we can possibly visualize right now.  Today we just have to stay strong, pray harder and try to be more tolerant of those who think or look different from us.  It’s partly the arrogance of politicians that has created this unstable world but we are all culpable to some degree.

Naturally, there are comparisons between Trump’s win and Brexit, but I suggest they are limited to being anti-establishment. It’s not quite the French Revolution over here.  Don’t be mistaken that Brexit means Right wing and hate-filled, it’s much more nuanced than that, though for some admittedly that is sadly the case.  In Britain, we don’t want to leave the European continent – which we love – we just want to shake things up and dump the distant self-serving politicians, the bureaucrats and their ilk who have betrayed our trust.  We do not hate our neighbours or those who look or sound different from us. If I was in America today, I would go out of my way to greet those who look different from me.

P.S.  I’ve been trying to work out where I want to be on 20th January 2017.  Somewhere not too far away but sufficiently distant from any media intrusion …….. and then the lightbulb moment: Innisfree – back to Yeats and the pull of nature.  And in my “deep heart’s core”, I will be carrying the thoughts of those millions of fearful Americans who just want peace and freedom to live a good life.

18.11.2016

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