There are many, many reasons for rational, humane people to be dismayed at the election of Donald Trump as the next president of the United States. I won’t rehearse them all in any detail — the horrible lesson that outright lying wins elections, the normalisation of racism, the appalling role-model he presents, the very real threat that he’ll start a nuclear war just because he can, and so much more.
But none of that is what dismays me most.
The bit that really hurts my gut is this: people that we know and love and respect voted for him. People we interact with daily looked at a racist, serial sexual-abusing, self-aggrandising, tax-dodging, bill-welching man-child and said “Yes, I’ll have some of that”.
I’ve grown resigned to Brexiters. Some who voted Leave are actively racist, sure; but most Leave voters were just misled by a campaign of lies, and now feel they can’t back down because of their pride. It’s infantile, but easy to understand and forgive.
But Trumpers: those are a different matter. They are people who knew exactly what Trump is, and what he always has been — and voted for him anyway. Either they knew what he was and they didn’t care; or, even more frightening, they knew what he was and actively wanted someone like that as president. Those are the only two options — because there’s surely no-one out there who didn’t know what Trump was.
So here I am, safely over in the UK where our own political act of self-harm threatens only us rather than directly threatening world peace. Should I shut up and let Americans do their own whining?
It’s not that easy, and here’s why. After church on Sunday I was chatting with someone who I think of as a friend, who has a position of some responsibility in the church, who I’ve worked with and who does fine work that truly helps people in vulnerable situations — and he mentioned in passing that if he’d been American he’d have voted for Trump.
I am forty-eight years old. I think it is literally true that in those 48 years I had never previously been speechless. But on Sunday I realised I had literally nothing I could say in response to my friend. All I could do was walk away, walk right out of the building and sit in the car until the rest of the family eventually joined me.
My path has not yet crossed again with the friend in question, but I dread the day when they do. I have no idea how I am going to be civil with him. Again: this is someone who looked at a serial sexual abuser and thought “That’s the kind of president America needs”. How can I respect my friend again? How can I take seriously anything he says? How can I hear his thoughts on any subject and not internally reply “Yeah, well you chose Trump so what do you know?”
Who would have believed such ignorance or malice (and those are the only two options) could exist here, in our nice, cosy church in its pleasant village?
The Trumpers are here. They’re not just strange, illiterate, obviously hostile rednecks; they’re right here among us. They look just like us; they talk like us. They could be our friends and maybe even our family.
That doesn’t just scare me, it makes me feel sick.