I was in America in 2008 when Obama was elected president. I was there on a university lecture tour, in Lexington Kentucky, a deep-red city in a deep-red state, so not a very sympathetic milieu. But my academic hosts were nearly all Democrats, of course; as was the manager of the main bookstore in Lexington, though we had to whisper together in case we put her other customers off. On polling day I walked around the town, marvelling at the long lines of voters queuing for hours outside the polling stations; and visited the Democratic Committee rooms – if that’s what they’re called there – staffed almost entirely by young black women. They were surprised that I could be in any way interested in ‘their’ election. They couldn’t have realized its global significance. In the evening I was invited to an election night TV party, Democrats only: but as a European, it was explained to me, I counted as an ‘honorary Democrat’. We had beer, bourbon and toasted marshmallows in the garden – it was still warm enough. I left when it was obvious Obama was going to win – the Pennsylvania result, I think.
The next day I flew to O’Hare to catch my transatlantic flight back. As we flew over south Chicago a holy glow seemed to appear on the ground. It was only afterwards that I learned that Obama had just flown back there – his home – from Washington.
This time will be different, watching it all night from a sofa in icy Stockholm. No marshmallows in the garden, for a start. And no holy glows anywhere. Only the flames of Hell, if Trump gets in. And a luke-warm feeling of relief, if he doesn’t.
American academia is the last civilised refuge in the country, but so totally unrepresentative of America at large
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