Sleep­walk­ing to apoc­a­lypse

Wak­ing up to Trumpville

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Carla Carlisle

Pres­i­den­tial hope­ful Don­ald Trump re­minds Carla Carlisle of pol­i­tics she thought had been con­signed to the past

I’VE al­ways loved the quote from Pauline Kael, film critic on The New Yorker, who said: ‘I live in a rather special world. I only know one per­son who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don’t know. They’re out­side my ken.’ I’ve hauled out her re­mark a lot lately, be­cause, in my rar­efied ru­ral uni­verse, I don’t per­son­ally know any­one who would vote for Don­ald Trump. At least, I didn’t un­til a lunch party at which I met an Amer­i­can mar­ried to an English­woman. Although he’s lived in Suf­folk for 40 years, he still has a vote in the USA and he’s a pas­sion­ate sup­porter of Trump. Good grief.

I tuned into the World Ser­vice for Trump’s ac­cep­tance speech, but slept right through it and woke up to To­day’s bonechilling ex­cerpts from Apoc­a­lypse Now, a preen­ing, pro­fane Trump telling his gullible fol­low­ers: ‘I am your voice!’ He warns that America faces dooms­day and ‘only I can fix it’.

My first thought was straight from the King James ver­sion: ‘By the wa­ters of Baby­lon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we re­mem­bered Zion.’

I don’t come from Repub­li­can stock, although my par­ents twice voted for Eisen­hower. I don’t con­sider the Repub­li­can Party America’s Zion, but when I think that the party of Lin­coln has fallen for a thrice­mar­ried, self-pro­mot­ing dem­a­gogue with hair that looks like road­kill, I want to sit down and weep.

In­stead of turn­ing to Psalm 137, how­ever, I went to All the King’s Men. Set in the 1930s, the novel tells the story of the dra­matic rise of Wil­lie Stark, a cyn­i­cal pop­ulist who, by sheer force of will, be­comes gover­nor of a name­less South­ern state. Its au­thor, Robert Penn War­ren, de­nied that it was based on the real-life Huey Long, Louisiana gover­nor and Amer­i­can sen­a­tor, but any­body born and raised in the shadow of Long coun­try knew bet­ter.

It’s hard to be­lieve that the mes­sianic Trump isn’t from the Deep South. Apoc­a­lyp­tic vi­sions, Calvin­ist the­ol­ogy, racism and once-upon-a-time vi­sions of a bet­ter world (be­fore the Civil War) are in the al­lu­vial soil. The out­side world may have thought old Pop­ulist evan­ge­lism died out with Ge­orge Wal­lace, but they were wrong.

When Ed­win Ed­wards, a born-again New Deal Demo­crat, was run­ning for a third term as gover­nor of Louisiana in 1983, he promised his fol­low­ers that he would ‘Win! Win! And Win Again!’. ‘The only way I can lose this elec­tion is if I’m caught in bed with ei­ther a dead girl or a live boy,’ he said. Ed­wards won four terms, then served eight years in prison—some lit­tle thang to do with cor­rup­tion—but, heck, he’s al­ready run for of­fice again.

The dif­fer­ence be­tween Trump and the can­ker­ous South­ern Pop­ulists is that Trump is a bil­lion­aire who was born in Queens, New York, the grand­son of Ger­man im­mi­grants and whose Scot­tish mother was born on the Isle of Lewis. When Trump says that his is the peo­ple’s voice, he is not a Pop­ulist, but a rich man im­per­son­at­ing a Pop­ulist. When he tells an­gry white Amer­i­cans that for­eign­ers are out to take their jobs, he leaves out the bit that his em­pire was built on the backs of mi­grant labour.

His mes­sage may pro­claim pen­te­costal egal­i­tar­i­an­ism, but that doesn’t mean ev­ery voter gets a Cadil­lac. His mes­sage is that America is sink­ing deep with the sin of for­eign­ers and ter­ror­ists and he alone can fix it, but, after build­ing the wall and declar­ing a mora­to­rium on Mus­lims, the well of mir­a­cles runs dry. I’m re­minded of Roo­sevelt’s Sec­re­tary of the In­te­rior Harold Ickes’s mem­o­rable ep­i­thet to Long: ‘The gen­tle­man from Louisiana suf­fers from “hal­i­to­sis of the in­tel­lect”.’

Com­pared to Trump, Long was as wor­thy as At­ti­cus Finch. Long pro­vided free text­books to school­child­ren, ini­ti­ated free night schools for adults, ploughed money into pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion, con­structed roads and bridges, cre­ated pub­lic hos­pi­tals and abol­ished the poll tax that pre­vented the blacks from vot­ing. He be­lieved that you had to keep re­li­gion and race out of pol­i­tics, but stuck to his be­lief that ‘you can’t help the poor whites with­out help­ing the Ne­groes’.

True, he turned Louisiana into an al­most to­tal­i­tar­ian so­ci­ety, cen­sored the press, passed laws de­ter­min­ing who could carry guns and scared Roo­sevelt to death with his plan to rein in mil­lion­aires.

When I think that the party of Lin­coln has fallen for a self­pro­mot­ing dem­a­gogue, I want to weep No one ever went broke un­der­es­ti­mat­ing the in­tel­li­gence of the Amer­i­can voter

Novem­ber in America is look­ing more like a ref­er­en­dum than an elec­tion. The Trumpers want to leave the big, bad glob­alised world and cling to the nearlyall-white Leave it to Beaver, a world with­out im­mi­grants, Mus­lims, Oba­macare and Made in China la­bels. The rest are the sup­pos­edly cul­ti­vated, lib­eral folks who were slow to re­alise that Trump is not an ego­ma­ni­a­cal clown, but some­one who got 13 mil­lion votes in the pri­maries and who could change Amer­i­can pol­i­tics for the rest of their lives. They are vot­ing to keep the lights on.

It’s hard to shake off the words of H. L. Menken, never over-con­fi­dent about Amer­i­can democ­racy, who wrote: ‘No one ever went broke un­der­es­ti­mat­ing the in­tel­li­gence of the Amer­i­can voter.’

Here, in the wheat fields of East Anglia, I watch a new Prime Min­is­ter who is in­tel­li­gent and sane. There are deep di­vi­sions in this land, but we can cel­e­brate the lux­ury of a leader with prin­ci­ples, dig­nity and good hair.

As for my Trump-lov­ing neigh­bour, what can I say? You can take a don­key trav­el­lin’, but it won’t come back a horse.

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