Opinion A letter from the new United States of America

A letter from the new United States of America

For many Donald Trump's ascendency is a democratic calamity. Photo: Getty
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A week after the election, people here in New York City are still struggling to get their heads around this nonsensical notion that has somehow become a fact: The President of the United States, Donald Trump? Why not Donald Duck?

What you hear most often is that it feels like a dream.

“Don’t be discouraged,” late-night comedy host and lacerating Trump observer Steven Colbert urged his national television audience. “There’s still a chance you’ll wake up.”

The only comparable calamity I can recall was the assassination of President John F Kennedy – a lightning bolt that blasted you into another world completely different from the one you thought you were living in.

A friend of mine posted overseas in the US diplomatic corps wrote to me on November 9: “The entire Embassy community is in mourning, in shock, numb and full of national shame. Though my profession is to represent the United States, today I feel I don’t know my country at all. Standing at the edge of the precipice, looking down into the abyss, wondering, what now?”

What now? Some say the apocalypse – the end of democracy, a dictatorship.

One relatively restrained essay going around online begins: “America died on November 8, 2016, not with a bang or a whimper, but at its own hand via electoral suicide.”

Others, myself included, are more optimistic.

We hold out hope that Trump may just be one more terrible, right-wing Republican president.

He already seems to be walking back some of his alarming campaign promises. His signature pledge, to build a wall along the Mexican border, the oft-chanted resolve to lock up Hillary Clinton and his promise to “repeal and replace” the only source of medical insurance for 20 million Americans.

And, in what may be a big step away from the radical edge, Trump has named Reince Preibus, the head of the Republican National Committee, to be his chief of staff, while consigning radical-right publisher and Trump campaign chairman Stephen Bannon to the role of “strategic counsellor”, which isn’t even a thing.

donald trump
Americans are concerned about which Donald Trump will run the country.

I’m thinking Bannon and his racist, anti-Semitic crowd have bought themselves an expensive Trump University course, good for one first-class ticket out the door.

Having delivered the white-nationalist vote, they’ve served their purpose.

But whichever Trump is coming – a dictator or, if such a thing can be imagined, a more petulant and ignorant George W Bush – people are alarmed, worried, and determined to resist.

Thousands of millennials hit the streets chanting, “We reject the president-elect”, holding up signs reading “He’s not my president”. But you know what?

He is – because insufficient numbers of millennials voted for Hillary Clinton. Dudes, if you knew you would be this upset if Trump won, why didn’t you vote for the only candidate who could stop him? Because she was just a lesser evil? News flash: A lesser evil is less evil than the greater evil. In this case, way less.

More millennials should have voted for the ‘lesser of two evils’. Photo: Getty

Others take quieter but maybe more consequential steps. In answer to the post-election spike in attacks against minorities, immigrants, and LGBT people, a friend’s daughter is helping to organise a group called SafeWalk, to ensure that no one who feels threatened has to walk alone.

My son’s girlfriend, a teacher, tells her class that the way to respond to ignorance is to learn; the way to respond to cruelty is to be kind. Make the space around you a kind and peaceful place. We can use more of that.

Myself, I teach English to immigrants at one of the City University of New York’s community colleges. Some of my students are here legally, some not. We don’t ask.

But they all looked very upset when they came to class the morning after election day. Would they or their family or friends be deported? Trying to offer some reassurance, I said: “New York City has a lot of freedom. Donald Trump cannot tell New York City what to do.”

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio says his city will fight to protect its values and protect Muslim residents. Photo: Getty

I was saying this on the fly, hoping it was true. So I’m relieved to learn Mayor Bill de Blasio declared that New York City will refuse to turn over any identifying information about immigrants to the federal government.

“I want everyone in New York City to know that we are standing by our values and we will fight to protect our values,” de Blasio said.

Asked what he would tell New York City’s Muslim residents, he replied: “We have your back.”

And everyone keeps talking, trying to figure out what to do. My neighbour’s wife says that what Trump craves is to be loved. He needs the cheers of the crowd.

Maybe he can be coaxed to protect wilderness lands from drilling if he can put up a huge sign: Donald Trump National Park.

Maybe he’ll lead the fight against global warming if we’ll put his likeness on Mt Rushmore, alongside Washington, Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt and Lincoln.

Or maybe put his face on the $3 bill.

James S. Kunen is the author of several books, including The Strawberry Statement and, most recently, Diary of a Company Man.

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