The nightmare is real

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There’s a joke that goes “I want to die quietly, in my sleep, just like my uncle — and not like the passengers in his car, who all died screaming in terror.”

I went to sleep early last night after doing what I could to avoid hearing election results. Whatever happened that night in the race for America’s 45th president, like the passengers in the uncle’s car, nothing I could say or do would change the results. Rather than watch as the car careened into a brick wall, I chose to shut my eyes, hoping to wake up to news that we’d somehow managed to avoid becoming characters in a Stephen King novel.

Of course, you can only push a nightmare back for so long. I woke up at 4:15 a.m. and discovered that voters in the United States of America had elected a bigot, a misogynist, a serial liar, a fraud and a petty narcissist to lead their country into one of the most critical periods of human history. With fascists Putin and le Pen leading the charge to congratulate Donald Trump on his victory, the picture was complete.

There is no going back to sleep for any of us after that.

***

There was such a massive crush of visitors to Canada’s immigration website yesterday that it crashed. Even as far away as New Zealand, U.S. visitors to the immigration website were up by 80 per cent in the days leading up to the election. But neither a short hop over the Canadian border nor the long flight to New Zealand will protect Trump-Dodgers from the impact of policies that will ripple around the world.

“Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant,” Pierre Trudeau told the Washington Press Club nearly half a century ago. “No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.”

With a man who personifies both twitches and grunts as leading behemoth starting Jan. 20, we better get used to feeling a constant rumble underneath our feet.

***

What led Americans to this point? There are plenty of pundits weighing that question this morning, but certainly the arrogance of the Democratic Party — and the Republican Party leadership wasn’t much better — helped create a populist underdog who tapped into the same resentment that led British voters to embrace Brexit. No matter how many lies he told, no matter how vulgar his behaviour, Donald Trump never apologized, never backed down and that, ultimately, was his appeal to voters who preferred his bald-faced lies to the institutionalized whoppers propagated by neoliberal western democracies.

Americans wanted change. That was clear in poll after poll that showed that Democratic underdog Bernie Sanders stood a much better chance of defeating Trump than Hillary Clinton. But there’s nothing that frightens the establishment more than change they can’t control; Clinton was a guarantee of continuity. Someone who had spent so much time helping steer the ship of state wasn’t about to rock the boat.

So the Democratic Party establishment gambled that Americans would choose an experienced hand steering the same steady course over an erratic pilot with the attention span of a five-year-old on amphetamines.

What they hadn’t considered was that millions of Americans were so disillusioned by the path set by generations of Republican and Democrat leaders that they were ready to hand the wheel to the first person who promised to drive it off the road.

***

The U.S. is in crisis, but we need to remember that this crisis has been a long time coming. In the last 35 years alone, we have gone from the trickle-down economic theories of the Reagan era to neoliberal policies under Clinton and Obama that have diverted the rewards of our destructive obsession with economic growth to a shrinking pool of über-rich predators. Trump is a symptom of a society that conflates greed with growth; despite trumpeting change, he is more likely to accentuate the divide.

Much has been said about this race being a choice between “the lesser of two evils.” Unfortunately, the two-party American system has rarely been anything else.

So it’s time to wake up. The nightmare will never end until a corrupt system collapses in bankruptcy.

As the man who managed the impossible by bankrupting a casino, Trump is perhaps the ideal candidate to drive Americans to that final destination. ■

Peter Wheeland is a Montreal journalist. His sardonic observations about the city and province appear on Cult MTL every week. You can contact him by Email or follow him on Twitter.

See Cult MTL‘s election-night report from Washington, D.C. here.

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