Going to The Donald…
We’re visiting an American friend first met in Halifax – our first trip to Great Barrington, Mass. – in the Berkshires – in the heart of the Shire – also known as New England – or, the American upper north-east – that wonderfully bucolic enclave of communities nestled amongst the old worn mountains – a world of American flags and miles of bunting – a place where white, educated, urbane, learned, wealthy, progressive, organic liberals listen to Wendell Berry wax poetic about the love of rural living on a Saturday night at the Mahaiwe Theatre, followed by locally grown and smoked lamb sausage, swished down with local craft beer at $15 a glass.
Walking GB’s Main Street, I peruse real estate properties in a window that range from $1.8mil through to $8.5mil. Old plantation-style 8 bedroom mansions perfectly restored on riverside acreage in the very communities Norman Rockwell painted (he lived one town over and is revered).
Yesterday we drove into Cambridge, walked the grounds of Harvard, felt smarter and more successful just by being there, ate in Harvard Square, watched beautiful Ralph Lauren university boys regatta on the Charles River, admire the quiet American confidence that comes with old money and an Ivy League education.
Historic pride seeps through these communities like an everlasting spring rain.
But to get to Great Barrington we had to drive through the back roads of upper New York state, a place decidedly not entirely upper middle class – in many instances more akin to Appalachia hard living, our worst stereotypes of American trailer park ignorance and poverty.
That world is a foreign to GB as were we, coming from “Canada” (almost always noted as if in quotations).
Still we saw American flags hanging everywhere, hundreds of them passing us by as we drove. It is here too that we saw numerous lawn signs supporting Donald Trump.
So, while there is that deep sense of American pride here similar to what one finds in many regions of America (Americans really do love to display their flag), there is also a deep separateness found here, born of economics, history, and what universities now call White Privilege.
It is not surprising that the populism of Donald Trump completely mystifies the people of places like Great Barrington. America is already great. The Declaration of Independence says so. Few seem to have any clue about the deep class divide that is fueling this populism. (According to the World Bank, the United States has the widest wealth divide in the modern world.)
It is the myth of opportunity and wealth achievement that has been at the heart of American national rhetoric in the 20th century. And it will be this myth that will be at the heart of its 21st century demise, should ignorant and/or cynical politicians continue to allow the top 1% to accrue 95% of the American wealth.
Donald Trump intuits this growing political and economic reactionary restlessness amongst the impoverished masses (60 million Americans live in poverty), and expoits it for his own narcissistic ends.
The polls suggest that the masses will dismiss him at the election, but a smarter more political astute fascist is right now watching and learning in the wings somewhere in America – and that will be the great American democratic challenge of this century.
For fascism follows poverty the way fall follows summer.
This simple truth was noted as far back as Plato and Lao Tzu.
It was at the heart of the French Revolution, and it gave birth to the Nazi’s in Germany.
The Shire People continue to do their best to ignore the drums of Mordor beating beyond the mountain range, they do so at their own peril.