Saturday, 1 April 2017

The Centre Left goes to…Dallas

It’s been over a decade since my last trip to the States. I used to go at least once a year or so but…young kids, you don’t do long-haul very often (and the experience of 26 hours to Australia with a one year-old in a cot vomiting, well, I was a bit more sensible after that).

Imagine now the shock of the change: to start with, 11 years means a jump from the era of Bush to the era of Trump. And the last time was cosmopolitan, liberal New York, not Republican heartland Texas, where Trump won clearly (although, interestingly with a significantly smaller margin than Romney did four years previously). It’s a bit different out here.

I am surely not the first to observe that Texas is big. Texans, relative to us skinny Europeans at least, are big. Everything is big.

On the way from the airport I see a great number of houses, and my first thought is that they are multi-flat blocks. But thinking about it, they may well have been individual homes. That bigness again. The cars. Everything is far apart, spaced out in a sprawling landscape of greenery, dotted with malls. No-one walks.

And then there is Fox News. I watch it one morning at breakfast-time. The headline: “Illegal Immigrant Killed My Son”. Cue interview with tearful mother. The clear implication being that you couldn’t really expect much more of an immigrant but that she or he be a murderer. We have to stop these “illegals” – it has become a noun, rather than an adjective. It is dog-whistle politics, but one where the racism is not latent, but blatant.

It is theatre, it is perhaps highly effective in influencing some people but it is not broadcast news, not in any form that we would recognise. This is Trump’s 24-hour propaganda channel, where he is never criticised, not once.

One honestly wonders what the difference is between this and Putin’s sycophantic, puppet news stations, so beautifully exemplified by the truth-twisting, English-speaking Russia Today that you can catch on European satellite TV.

Today the news items on all channels cover former the desire of Trump’s former National Security Adviser, Mike Flynn, to testify (against Trump, we presume, in the small matter of his team’s links to Putin’s regime) in return for immunity. These kind of shenanigans do not exactly represent politics-as-usual, especially not a mere 70 days into an administration which has notched up during that time not one political success.

This is not the America I know and love. But it is surely a temporary aberration, it must be. This fine country cannot long sustain the incompetence, corruption and downright treachery of its current administration.

As I fly home, I am reminded – thanks to Pablo Larrain’s rather well-made film, which is showing on the plane – of Dallas’ accidental, tragic place in America’s story; the site of the most famous assassination in post-war history.

In the film, Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy asks exhaustively about Lincoln’s funeral, concerned to ensure her husband is presented and remembered as a great man. 

One wonders who, exactly, will think of the vain, corrupt and ridiculous Trump at the end of his term as a “great man”.


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