By Ryan Hiles–
I’m writing this on the flight home from Manchester, in the hope memories of my trip to England will lead to imagery effortlessly rolling out onto the page like gravy pouring out of an English meat pie. But as I reach back through the smoky, drunken haze of the last 10 days, I’m finding my memories are instead dripping out like a considerably less delicious traditional English marmalade.
The purpose of the trip was to visit a friend, drink Guinness and do obligatory English things. I quickly discovered that, upon hearing my American accent, people were insatiably curious as to what “the American” thought of Donald Trump. They were not shy about these questions either. Apparently, in England, any opportunity is a good opportunity to ask foreign travelers about their deeply held ideological beliefs, because four out of every five people led off by giving me their name, quickly followed by some variation of “So what do you think of that Trump fella?”
Once I made clear I was appropriately horrified at the prospect of a Trump presidency, fascinating conversations occurred. Every European talked about Trump like he was a war criminal. Some were astonished he hasn’t been detained yet for inciting violence at his rallies, and several more believed his entire candidacy is a practical joke being pulled on the American electorate.
An almost startling percentage of those who denounced Trump would go on to express much of the same kind of galling white nationalist sentiment propelling Trump. There was something so shockingly casual about the way they dismissed immigrants as lazy succubi leaching off of generous government benefits, or the offhand remarks about the “Paki” (slur for Pakistani people) part of town. “Coon” was a word I heard in a few different situations, and I couldn’t decide weather to chalk that up to cultural difference or if that was as detestable a slur in England as it is here.
I walked away from a lot those conversations confused. They seemed to hate Trump and everything he stands for, but I suspected they didn’t exactly hate his underlying tone of xenophobia, but rather hated the bravado with which he presents it. Generally, English people are more emotionally buttoned-up, not quite so quick to wild displays of emotional exhibitionism and flights of fancy. So I suppose it makes sense that a brash New York native with a hideous fake tan like Trump wouldn’t play so well there.
Once the pints and the talk began to flow, I found these same people sounded like Trump supporters. Some of the things I heard: “It was better before that lot (insert ethnic group) got here,” “This used to be a great country,” “I just think we should send them all back.” Sounding familiar?
On one hand, it alarmed me that Trump’s message may be more globally relevant then we give it credit for. On other hand, it was oddly reassuring to be reminded racial prejudice is not an uniquely American phenomenon. It gave me perspective on the universal attention being paid to our country right now. When I turned on BBC at night, and ate my toast with that horrible, acerbic marmalade, it was Trump’s leathery face that I saw.
Photo by Ryan Hiles / The Louisville Cardinal