At some point during the onset of this year’s interminable heatwave, I was invited by a relatively new acquaintance to an impromptu picnic at Hampstead Heath. As a rule, I tend to shy away from large gatherings with people I barely know for fear that the Molotov cocktail of social tedium combined with my own culturally conservative streak will produce a combustive, albeit entertaining, affray. Nevertheless, I relented, gambling on the prospect that a dose of nature would prove a calming panacea to a feverish mind. Not to mention, a picnic might also serve as the ideal venue for an old-school romantic such as myself to cross paths with some available female.
Alas, this latter proposition, owing to an extreme lack of foresight on my behalf, was not to be realised. My acquaintance being a young gay male meant the greater part of the invitees – excepting myself and another conservative friend I had coerced into attending – were likewise young gay males. Thus, as I sat upon the beautiful heath, gazing over the ponds below, my heart sank each time a new guest approached our spot with a breathy “Oh, hello!” as if channelling the late Charles Hawtrey.
“I think,” I muttered sotto voce to my friend, “this is a gay picnic.”
The prospect of female companionship being thereupon cruelly thwarted, I refocused my efforts on seeing how many gourmet olives and breadsticks I might successfully devour before being branded an uncivilised swine. Arriving from the East End, I had brought two ham and cheese sandwiches and a packet of Quavers. Therefore, the culinary offerings of the other attendees were a tantalising diversion for my working-class palate.
Suddenly, as I was ensconced in a tub of someone else’s chicken liver pate, another ejaculation of “Oh, hello!” hit my eardrums. Although this one was especially jarring in that it was not delivered in the silken-smooth accent of the middle-class Londoner. Rather, it was American.
As an Anglophilic ex-pat, I tend to look askance at Yankee visitors to these Isles, snobbishly setting the cultural bar extremely high. For instance, if they profess ignorance of John Milton or appear confused as to why Alfred deserves the moniker “The Great”, I generally prefer they leave the country forthwith. Englishmen have a difficult enough time appreciating their own history without the intrusion of stateside interlopers. Nevertheless, I had to acknowledge that by this point I had ploughed through a considerable portion of the food that others had kindly brought to the grassy table, and so, following an introduction from our host, I summoned up the social decency to inquire from which part of America he hailed.
“Los Angeles,” he responded with staccato camp.
Heaven forfend! I thought. That bastion of unthinking liberal excess, that sun-drenched dystopia of moral equivalence, whose very denizens were the first to erupt in unbridled violence following the last election! That maddened populace, smashing up Hollywood streets, yawping “He’s not my president!” like overgrown children in the thrall of some epidemic tantrum!
(Myself, I come from Missouri, a region decidedly Trump Country. And though many years have elapsed since leaving the United States, the cultural divide within the former colony between citizens of the heartland and our coastal cousins I still very much palpably feel to this day.)
Yet perhaps, I surmised, I was being too hasty in my assumptions. Conscious that the glass of overpriced cordial I was about to imbibe had not been purchased with my own money, I attempted, despite my misgivings, to prolong the conversation.
“I’ve not been back to America in six years. How are things over there?”
In an instant, his spritely levity abandoned him. He cast his eyes downwards, shoulders hunching forward simultaneously, reducing in stature an already diminutive frame. In this guise, he seemed more like a dispossessed gipsy grandmother and less an energetic California club kid freshly arrived to tackle the debauchery of Soho nightlife. With a sigh heavy enough to cut with a knife and spread prodigiously over the expensive savoury biscuits on display, he whimpered with an abject pathos, “How are things in America? Not very good right now.”
“Oh really?” I returned between chews, beaming mischievously, somehow knowing in advance the answer to the question I was next to ask, “Why is that?”
“Well,” he deliciously groaned again, “they elected this asshole. . .”
Suddenly, I found myself overcome with an uncontainable joy, almost meteorological in significance. Across his countenance I perceived looming storm clouds, whilst my own spirit was now as sunny and warm as the day’s weather. Yes, Trump had been elected. It was morning in the West again. And as the cannons of the 1812 Overture shot glorious fireworks throughout my brain, I knew little else but the maudlin score to Schindler’s List could be heard within his.
Pausing only to swallow a healthy dollop of fair-trade hummus, I interrupted his lamentation with a countervailing proclamation of mirth, boisterous enough for all within earshot to hear. “I know!” I exclaimed in Napoleonic triumph, “And I voted for him!”
Our parallel strains of Tchaikovsky and Perlman were immediately terminated by the imagined sound of a needle scratching against vinyl. In the silence that ensued, the rest of the party stared up at me in shock and disbelief. Had this American with the insatiable appetite just admitted voting for Trump?
Indeed, he had. And from the arguments – nay, accusations – that followed, I might as well have been a Nazi collaborator. Little could they understand I was instead emulating Christ Jesus from the Gospel according to St. John: Rise, take up thy bed, and walk. (5:8)
For there is an illness spreading across the free world of which this anecdote is but one microcosmic case study. Colloquially, it is known as TDS: Trump Derangement Syndrome. And, as observed as recently as the president’s first official visit to the UK, it is transnational in scope. Amongst its numerous victims, symptoms vary from handwringing pessimism to preening sanctimony to irrepressible fits of hypocrisy. Certain subjects may also experience spatiotemporal delusions, believing the current year to be 1939 and the democratic West to be Hitler’s Germany. In fact, the disease has even incited some frothing sufferers to enact mob violence upon both property and people. A macabre diagnosis, without question.
But the good news is this: It is completely psychosomatic.
Like all collectivist pandemics, this one, too, is transmitted solely through uniformity of thought. The ailments of which its victims complain are but mere phantasms. To acknowledge this, howsoever initially discomforting that may be, is to expose the disorder as nothing more than a momentary fad. After all, today’s dour victims, casting Trump as the harbinger of all evil in the world, were yesterday’s sunny acolytes, praising Obama as the omnibenevolent giver of light. In the previous administration, the admonition was “Please don’t rain on our parade.” Whereas today, the refrain might well be “Please don’t bring any sunshine to our rained-out picnic.”
Of course, there is another adage which is equally appropriate here: Misery loves company.
Which is why, after a final sampling of high-priced Waitrose delicacies, along with my more anonymously conservative friend, we happily subtracted ourselves from the gloomy gathering.[pullquote]