The Disunited States of America

It was a beautiful November day in Topanga Canyon, California. Driving down the twisting canyon road to the Pacific Highway we passed a 25-year old silver BMW parked on the verge: the registration plate read BAN NUX: a slogan that had a more sharply nuanced edge this morning.

Down by the ocean we passed numerous pickups piled with gardening equipment heading off to keep the gardens of Beverly Hills groomed to within an inch of their lives. Old RVs sat beside the interstate whilst their owners pulled on wetsuits so that they could dash into the sparkling water to ride the waves. You could almost hear California Dreamin’ playing in the ether.

On Wilshire Boulevard everybody seemed to be going about their business as usual. It was almost eerie in the light of the events of the previous night. After many months and billions of dollars America had a new president elect. Although the popular vote was won by the losing Democratic Party candidate the peculiarity that is the US electoral college system had put the outsider Republican party candidate in first place.

We had watched the election in the company of a dozen Liberal to the core Californians. Tears had flowed as they watched their country split pretty much down the middle after a hate-fuelled media circus of a campaign in which to be honest neither candidate was hugely popular or morally unblemished.

The Trumpist rabid rabble-rousing election rhetoric had exposed the dark soul of America and it had howled its anger and frustration, but as is often the case, a large part of their fury was directed towards the wrong people. The sleight of hand with which they had been misdirected was the saddest outcome of this process and will be the shame of America for a long time to come. Combine that with a civic ignorance and historical amnesia that is ‘awesome’ in its scope and you have the perfect conditions to elect a true demagogue.

But not everyone who voted for Trump was a racist, sexist, evangelical xenophobe. Amongst his often garbled rants were truisms that had seized the zeitgeist of many on Main Street: disenfranchised working class people have seen their standard of living hollowed out by an elite who seem not to care. The gravitational pull of aspiration, central to new-liberalism, has faded as trickle down economics has betrayed many people. Both Brexit and Trumpism are the very, very wrong answers to legitimate questions that urban elites have refused to ask for 30-years. Since the 1980s these same elites have overplayed their hand, taken all the gains and covered their ears when anyone else talks: and now they are shuddering in horror as the voters revolt. The tragedy for the voters is that in electing a sociopathic con artist obsessed with personal enrichment they have hardly chosen a good protagonist for the downtrodden.

I watched a truck pull out onto the street: The Mission Linen & Uniform Service was driven by a serious looking middle-aged Latino. What was he and millions of other people thinking about the political earthquake that shook so profoundly the night before? To try and process all the implications was impossible and deeply upsetting. Immigrants both legal and illegal would be feeling a lot less secure about their future. American Muslims would be particularly anxious. The LGBT community would be considering the loss of recent legislation that had revolutionised their lives. Women would see the obsessive pro-life movement try even harder to deny them full control over their own bodies. America could head back into the past.

I found myself looking at everyone walking past and thinking “which way did you vote?” Did you choose the neo-fascist catastrophe calling to pull up the drawbridge and kick the house down or the neoliberal disaster who would usher in more of the same rampant inequality. Truth is America would grind to a halt if huge numbers of immigrant workers are deported. There would be no wine industry in California, the playground that is Las Vegas would not function, fruit and vegetable production in the Central Valley would cease and all those beautifully tended properties in Beverly Hills and beyond would soon be falling into disrepair, surrounded by gardens filled with weeds.

The noxious phrase ‘We’re taking back America’ will doubtless resound in many a bar as the far right element amongst the victorious voters look forward to a return to the good old days, days when phrases such as ‘we make our own laws down here’ were common parlance. In the first 24-hours there was a spike of racist incidents as white supremacists, racists and xenophobes felt legitimised much as they did post-Brexit: the most common phrase reported being ‘Get the fuck outta ma country’. America, a country founded by immigrants, has lost sight of its own roots.

But although hate has been given hope by this election result there is also an upsurge in a feeling that although dark days are ahead this could lead to something better as people mobilise to fight endemic racism, xenophobia and misogyny. There is also much discussion on the fact that as elite institutions are so hopelessly self-interested, toxic and destructive and have proven so resilient to being reformed then now is the time for their destruction. Economic inequality globally is distorting the quality of life for many and unless it is addressed we are looking into a future where there will inevitably be more Brexits and more Trumps. Scary times for us all. I recalled a line from the excellent film LBJ “Any jackass can kick a barn down but it takes a carpenter to build one”.

Driving back up the Topanga Canyon road later that day there was a new piece of graffiti painted on one of the concrete dividers by some roadworks: CALXIT NOW!

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