It is a grave, and probably unwise thing, for a citizen of one country to say too much about the politics of another, particularly when that latter country is facing an election. I’m not sure how much I would like it if my friends abroad said too much about Scottish independence or even about Boris, though there is certainly much to say about him. I remember, in 1979, when I first went to the USA a taxi driver lecturing me on the wonders of Margaret Thatcher…so it is with some trepidation that I contribute what my mother would have called ‘my tuppenceworth’ to the debate about President Trump.
I do so because I have always loved America. I was brought up to love the USA. During the Second World War my mother, Janet, had an American penfriend – Lillian Levine from Wilmington, Delaware and Lillian, whose letters I still have, was very, very kind to my mother, lifting her heart from the grim and dreich centre of Scotland and exciting her with an American vision of light and colour. Hence my mother, for much of my childhood, played with being American. The room in the house where my brother and I kept our stuff was ‘the den’; we all devoured Dick Van Dyke and I Love Lucy and Dr Kildare and later Dallas and Hill Street Blues and ER (which I watch still, every Monday night). My father, whose childhood was altogether happier, was fascinated by American politics – he had an eye for the honest and good man, liking Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, but not the Kennedys or the Bushes. I grew up steeped in America. My degree is in US Literature. Sitting here in my office, I have three American books for every British one and a library of US film on DVD. When I was a wee boy I waited every month to buy the new Superman comics as they trickled into Harold’s shop in the little village in which I lived. And the soundtrack of my adolescence, of my life, has been American music – in January I went to see Judy Collins in concert in Edinburgh and Iris Dement and the Felice Brothers in Glasgow. For a long time I wanted to be a Beach Boy.
I have travelled to the USA seventeen times. I am hungry for more. I have friends in New Mexico, in Mississippi, in New York City, in Pittsburgh, in Massachusetts, in California, in Indiana, in New Jersey and in Vermont, perhaps particularly there. I have met hundreds and hundreds of Americans in my professional and personal life and I like Americans, and am happy to tell those who criticise the USA and its people that I love that country and its people. It is, in truth, the only other country in the world that I would really consider living in.
But still I suppose, none of this is enough to excuse me for thinking I have anything to say about this election in November. For, after all, what is it that I can add?
Everything has been said: the President isn’t up to the job; he is too stupid, too narcissistic, too racist, too misogynist. He is a coward, a felon, a personality-disordered, entitled and uncaring foul-mouthed xenophobe. He is dangerous, surrounded by sycophants as if he was running a for-profit cult. He even looks ridiculous. He has told 20,000 lies (that we know of). He is anti-American, a threat to democracy and the Constitution. He holds up a bible and tear-gasses priests. Here, in my little country, our young people in particular cannot understand why a single person could have voted for him in 2016, far less the 63 million people who did (only 3 million less than the woman he beat….) And so many, many things have happened since then – I won’t even bother to start the list, but it ends with a virus – and yet, and yet, he could still win again.
So what have I got to say? Just this. Two weeks ago, I was watching President Trump on TV, lying and exaggerating to an interviewer about something, and I had the oddest feeling that I knew him personally and moreover that I felt sorry for him. And then I realised why that was – it was because his shifty, belligerent, blank face reminded me of a boy I taught years back, a boy whom I had to expel from school, a boy who was an insecure schoolyard bully who one day went too far and really hurt somebody; and President Trump had his face. Poor soul – to be trapped with that personality, someone who feels entitled to hurt and who treats women like animals. That kid, of course, was just young, 15 at the time – the President doesn’t have that excuse.
My best friend, a man who is a historian and an intellectual, a caring and sympathetic person, was reflecting on the forthcoming election. He said to me that Trump winning twice would suggest a definite change in the way the USA thinks about itself and the way the world regards it, but as he neatly put it, if Trump won only once, the USA and the world would come to see it as ‘a blip in history’.
So, please, friends in the USA, and all your friends and all their friends, find all these people who didn’t vote last time, and one by one, rally them to the polls to vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. This blip, this…blimp, really must not, please, happen twice. Please.