Visiting the Anglo half of my family in London for Christmas, I encountered two chief categories of questions about the Land of the Free, from the natives of the Land Where Queen, Archbishops and Prime Minister are constitutionally entangled:
What about Donald Trump? And why all the guns?
These queries proved equally difficult to address satisfactorily. But it was instructive to learn what’s occupying the U.K. mind as it contemplates its American cousins. From the 60-ish man selling me a railway ticket, to my long-unseen cousin (as in, weren’t you the baby at that wedding 38 years ago?), to the early-20-something friends of my nieces, all sprang to these two hotspot touchstones of “America,” as they always call us.
Trump has indeed gained the London eye. A recent petition to exclude him from England’s green and pleasant land because of his pronouncements about Muslims attracted 150,000 signatures.
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The man at the railway station’s comment, in South London argot – “That Donald Trump, ’e’s really strange, innee? I fink ’e’s goin’ to get ’imself shot or somefink” – neatly combines the two salient features of American culture, in British eyes. Donald Trump is weird (but rich): What can he be thinking? Will he (really) be president? But, also, he’s probably not long for this world – or at least for the bullet-laced world of the USA.
Some of my relatives have heard, too, the idea floated by various U.S. pundits that school teachers should be armed to better protect their students against mass murder. This notion led to a rather hysterical riff, during which my big sister and I speculated on what would have happened if our terrifying high school Latin teacher – already prone to hurling board erasers to the back of the room when particularly exasperated with our stupidity – had been armed. Conclusions: We’d both be dead because of our failures to decline and conjugate those tricky nouns and verbs as fluently as he required, and the number of pupils taking the Latin AP exam would have been dramatically diminished.
As to our Dragon Lady Math(s) teacher, we hardly dared to imagine the consequences of her packing heat.
Moving on to our chief executive, the Brits I know rather like Barack Obama – he’s clever, he’s calm, he’s not hasty in sending in the troops to Syria. But why, O why, is he as melancholy and defeated-seeming as Eeyore in A.A. Milne’s “Winnie the Pooh”? Does our leader inhabit a sad and boggy place near the Hundred Acre Wood? Or does Foggy Bottom spread State Department miasma to the Oval Office?
We agreed, over the Christmas pudding, that Obama might have gone too early into lame-duckdom. We wished he would buck up and act – as he now shows signs of doing, edging toward executive action over gun safety.
Friends and family were sad to hear that nobody stateside cares much about their own dear leader, Prime Minister David Cameron. I soothed their wounded feelings: The new lefty-leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, got a bit of media attention in the United States because he resembles Bernie Sanders, in looks and values. Of course, if Cameron could get a cameo in Downton Abbey, his U.S. star would rise.
What about climate change? Well, a good 75 percent of my family are in the “we’re all doomed” category, and given the devastating December floods in Northern England, it’s hard not to sympathize with that view. To keep up the deniers’ end of the boat, however, I would periodically murmur: “We’re having an exceptional El Niño winter, that’s all.”
Certainly, the strong westerly gales that brought stormy floods to York, Leeds and Lancaster – whether routine El Niño features or sinister signs of climate catastrophe, or both – kept my plane in the air for far too long en route from Heathrow to Raleigh-Durham. But, from my window seat, I had viewed something like Greenland’s icy mountains as we made our turn over the northern Atlantic reaches. Those frozen peaks looked pretty solid from 30,000 feet.
And, hastening back in the taxi to Chapel Hill, I heard from the Moroccan-immigrant taxi driver the welcome news that floodwaters had receded from the streets of Blue Heaven. Home sweet home.
Rosemary Haskell of Chapel Hill teaches English at Elon University.