I HAVE been finding out recently that there’s a lot more to being a citizen of the USA than I had thought. Despite being in California for a week before polling, I still haven’t managed to read the whole of the textbook-sized voter information document issued to every household in advance of Tuesday’s vote.
As well as the presidential race, the citizens of California were voting on a whole range of propositions ranging from the legalisation of cannabis to making it mandatory for actors in pornographic movies to wear condoms.
At 6pm on polling day while walking through San Francisco’s vibrant Mission district, I stopped to listen to a group of opera singers in the street. In an effort to persuade drivers to vote for a proposition that increased funding for the arts, the tenor and three sopranos were serenading cars stuck in traffic with an elegant but powerful rendition of the popular classic, ‘Nessun Dorma’.
The beauty of their voices soaring over the car engines at dusk was to me as direct a political message as the much vaunted straight-talking of Donald Trump.
I came home to my pal’s apartment to find that the billionaire was likely to become the next president of the US. To say we were surprised was a gross understatement. Since my arrival in this traditionally progressive city, I had not seen one person that was supportive of Trump’s candidacy.
Souvenir shops were selling baseball caps with messages of “Make America Think Again” and “America IS Great”, merchandise that parodied Trump’s campaign. It’s hard to imagine a more democratic part of the country. Naively I thought that Hillary Clinton, surely, had it in the bag.
The only sense of a different viewpoint came from the media, in particular the right-wing Fox News. Correspondents diligently characterised Clinton as a duplicitous and moral bankrupt egomaniac. Even the revelation from FBI director Stephen Comey that the agency had found nothing incriminating in the recent haul of emails from her private server was presented to us as further evidence of her deviousness.
I hadn’t exposed myself to this bizarro news world for such a sustained period of time before. Up is down and down is up for these guys.
As I checked my emails on Tuesday morning, I had received a couple of messages from friends in the UK asking what my feeling was about who would win. My contacts in Europe seemed far more jittery about the outcome of the race than those on this side of the Atlantic who were actually going to have to live with the result.
“Don’t fuck this up America” was the general tone of the tweets I saw from Ireland and the UK. There was a glibness to the tone that unnerved me. The presumption seemed to be the choice was an obvious and simple one.
I still didn’t think Trump would win, though. My disbelief sustained the whole evening, or at least as long as it took to eat three large bowls of popcorn on my own. One by one the states on the map turned red and with them, the chance for the women of the US to be served by their first female president disappeared.
It was devastating. With all of the accusations about Trump’s conduct towards women, his proposed Muslim bans, his characterisation of Mexicans as rapists, and utter disrespect for those with disabilities, the fact of the security and wellbeing of those groups not mattering now is inescapable.
After we stand and gape at the result for a few more days, it will be time to take a stance on Trump — and the only one available to us will be to take America at its word.
America voted for Trump, they must now live with him. He and his supporters must be held accountable for the instability and fear they have created. I don’t mean we spend the next four years taking broad swipes at Americans and their stupid incoherent leader, like we did with George W Bush. We must become proactive about defining ourselves in opposition to intolerance and do so energetically and with precision.
If it’s any consolation, I was happy to learn the people of California did pass Proposition 55, the law being promoted by the opera singers. Taxes will increase to create funding for arts projects in schools. I do wonder, though, how such projects will fare under a Trump presidency.
I guess as long as they are not Muslim or foreign and don’t get sick they might hope to get through the next four years without too much pain.