In these times of renewed nationalism, it is notable that three cultural and political icons – all in flux – also claim the same choices in their national flags: red, white and blue. But the trio of colors share a far deeper narrative than just positions on the chromatic spectrum. Red Republicans have taken dubious control of all three branches of the US government, white ultra-nationalists are threatening to overwhelm the rationale of the French Revolution, and Britons have become increasingly blue after digging themselves the virtual grave of Brexit.
That said as prelude, I have seldom seen the pub-frequenting public as disturbed and upended as it has been since the vote. Lager sales are up as the UK tumbles down the emotional and political slope of leaving the once-safe haven of the EU confederation. This already frightening scenario seems amplified tied to the nightmare vision of a heavily-coiffed loose cannon in the US White House. And the possibility of an even more overt racist in the French capital. But while all three situations are being manipulated by similar fears, they are set in place by very different world views.
The Republican president was an ever-present magnifier during my last UK visit. All week, as soon as I opened my States-accented mouth and betrayed myself as an American, the Trump Burden was immediately voiced, before any other introduction was offered. An example: I was looking forward to a late-evening nightcap in the venerable Duke of Hamilton pub in Hampstead on a Friday eve, but as I ordered a pint, I heard from beside me, without prelude: “What’s wrong with you Yanks, bringing this crazed jackal into politics? Don’t we have enough problems as it is?”
I started about just as the gentleman dismissed me without a further word, turning his back and returning to a conversation with his friends, as if he had now given his lecture to America and was finally and ultimately vindicated. I was relieved, as I really had no desire to enter the discussion.
Oddly, even though most Britons are expressing horror at the tangle created by the nuclear-mouthed Donald in office, many of the same people are voicing a message very much in line with what he continues preaching to his mesmerized “deplorable” throngs in America.
Like my vocal gentleman.
After offering his evaluation of the new Republican real estate Roi des Fous, my interrogator joined three other gents listening to a well-dressed middle-aged matron holding forth on Matters of State. However, early on as she launched ever-louder and more vehement political pronouncements, I watched her entourage of male suitors begin to slink away . As a central theme, she was lauding the various benefits of exiting the European Union, and reached her last crescendoed conclusion just as I myself was considering taking my leave.
I paused in my passage toward the door as her voice rose once again, proclaiming, quite loudly, to everyone in the pub: “IMMIGRATION! THAT’S the problem! I can’t even get into the National Health Service for an appointment, because there are so many IMMIGRANTS waiting in line!”
“I didn’t know you were ill, Lizzie,” said the earlier Trump denigrator, who was now the lady’s sole remaining companion.
“I’m not,” she replied gruffly, caught a bit off-message. “But if I WAS sick, there would be too many IMMIGRANTS already in there for my doctor to see me!”
On that definitive pronouncement, she ordered yet another vodka-tonic, swiveled down with a spin onto a barstool, and allowed her last suitor some glimmer of hope for more intimate conversation, happily at a much more demure volume level.
When last I viewed the couple, the gent in question had his right hand firmly ensconced between her left buttock and the barstool, and she was nibbling covertly at his right ear lobe. Transferring romantic crisp fragments, formerly lodged in her thick red lipstick, to the gent. A now altogether apolitical and philosophical diversion that created a much more pleasant human bubble. So much so that while opening the outer door I heard a muted suggestion that Lizzie visit a certain bachelor’s nearby flat, where there was no waiting line whatsoever.
In just the few days I was in country, I witnessed this phenomenon repeatedly. Where complex economic arguments had failed to convince the voting public, the ongoing bugaboo tales of swarthy hoards overwhelming the country had taken hold. Even though most of those “dark sorts” were actually coming from Eastern Europe and the remnants of the faded Empire. The UK – and the French -- immigration scare is packaged in the exact same verbiage that is currently flowing from the White House to sustain its supporters in the economically and philosophically-deprived Rust Belt of America. 96% of the same people who voted for him say they would still, after 100 miserable and unsuccessful days, vote for him again. And yet at this point in his presidency, overall he is also the most unpopular president since polls began in 1945.
I will voice no opinion on Teresa May’s Brexit maneuvers, as I believe the people who make and live by the decision will, in any case, solidify their own fate without my flimsy input. Even those who did not take the time to go to the polls and say “No.” Somehow, though, as I experienced first-hand in the pub that night, some of the same people who consider Trump as a dangerous fool still believe in much of what he has said as primary truths. What I heard in the barroom echoed The Donald’s spiel on his way to the presidency, repeated over and over again, in situation after situation. Remember:
When (fill in a country) sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
I can never apologize for the truth. I don’t mind apologizing for things. But I can’t apologize for the truth. I said tremendous crime is coming across. Everybody knows that’s true. And it’s happening all the time. So, why, when I mention, all of a sudden I’m a racist. I’m not a racist. I don’t have a racist bone in my body.”
Le Pen has echoed this exact sentiment:
Would you accept 12 illegal immigrants moving into your flat? You would not! On top of that, they start to remove the wallpaper! Some of them would steal your wallet and brutalise your wife. You would not accept that!
I do not have the slightest bit of racism in me. I do not judge people with regards to the colour of their skin, their origin, or their religion. I defend them all, because I defend French people. And, of course, I defend the interests of France, the interests of French people.
But Boris Johnson, he of the trimly-banged, swept-forward, half-Donald ‘do, reports that he is not of the same mind. Even though he still wants Britain to leave the EU, he says out one side of his mouth that he doesn’t factor in immigration as one of the reasons. Boris claims that he is of an entirely different mind-set, but there is serious doubt:
The Tory candidate has apologised for articles he had written in which he referred to black children as "piccaninnies" and to the "watermelon smiles" of Africans greeting foreign visitors. Mr Johnson insisted he "loathed and despised" racism and said his words, written more than five years ago, had been taken out of context. . . He told New Nation last week that he had been on holiday when an article in the Spectator claimed that Caribbeans were "multiplying like flies".
But once again, as with Trump and Le Pen:
... I am pro-immigration, my friends. I am the proud descendent of Turkish immigrants. . . And I will tell you why: because it is the humane thing to do. It is the economically rational thing do to. And it means taking back control of a system that is at the moment completely out of control.
This is a surprise to me, an admittedly uninformed para-pundit, as I have long considered Johnson only a slightly smarter and marginally more diabolical version of Trump. But “humane” and “economically rational” are not words contained in the new US president’s limited vocabulary. This, remember, is The Donald who might yet at any moment advocate building a Wall between England and his golf course in Scotland in one of his off-the-cuff bits of logic, presumably to keep fish-and-chips-smuggling riffraff out of virgin haggis territory.
But, as Trump has shown, when logic is too unwieldy, it is all too easy to either lie or blame the Outsiders. Or both. These two dismissive schools of thought have become completely intertwined, while at the same time each denies the connection.
When the French have their say on 7 MAY, one way or other, life will be different, but one thing will remain the same.
The threat that just won’t go away, the Donald and Le Pen, and Lizzie, will tell you, is still those immigrants. We must all protect ourselves.
By waving the old red, white and blue.