We are living in a time of heartbreak. It was in Taos, New Mexico, when I listened through the i-phone, voices thin, metallic and far away, to the results of the Brexit vote and felt a weight in my stomach as if Britain was under attack and being invaded, but not by Aliens or Nazi’s but by the foolish and gullible, an enemy within and therefore near impossible to defeat. We were staying in the Mabel Dodge Lewen house, an adobe building, now a bed and breakfast, discovered of course by Mary and in a town which has come to be special for us, and me in particular as I think of it almost as a spiritual place. We were staying in a room surrounded completely by small glass panes, giving us a view of the town and back towards the desert. It has different meanings us, Mary who is steeped in pop culture knows that Dennis Hopper was married on the terrace outside our window, but for me it is all about my first hero, DH Lawrence who also lived here. That evening the moon was full and improbably large and throughout the night a pack of Coyotes howled, echoing my disquiet. From time to time, Mary would wake from her shallow dream and ask “what news” at which I would say, Sunderland has fallen, lost to a mob whose motives I couldn’t understand. I walked to the bathroom which was also surrounded by glass, each pane painted by hand by DH Lawance, someone so famously open and articulate about sensuality, but prudish, afraid of his hostess seeing him naked in the bathtub. Days later we took the pilgrimage out of town, up a gravel mountain road where the stones were loose and the back of the rental car slid sideways and I also had a sense of losing control, this was an unexpected place to find the grave of a gritty novelist from the North of England, surrounded by evergreens offering rare tantalizing wide views of the surrounding landscape. To live in this place must have been deeply unsettling at first, the silence, the blackness of the night and the profound sense of slow time. He would have known the intensity of the weather changes and seen the stark light from the moon and the vitality of the stars in the night sky along with his neighbors; black bears, mountain lions and prairie dogs. We can still feel some of it a hundred years later, gone is the constant fog of neon, the anxious hum of traffic and the angry horns, the neurotic wail of an ambulance and the nonescense of blue light flashing and bouncing off the buildings on 2nd avenue.
It was a memorable day, and we were allowed into the small lodge with its humble furnishings, I ran my finger tips across the course grain the desk where he wrote. It was these most prosaic objects that carry the most weight, the tea kettle, a simple sink, his small bed and the sound of water from a nearby stream. The walk to the grave was thick with pine needles under foot and felt as if we were waking on a thick carpet to the grave where Mary and I laughed to see the letters DHL above his grave, a private joke, and I had the conceit see it as a posthumous message from one Englishman to another in this landscape, foreign in so many ways.
But Brexit was just a harbinger to a greater tragic event, several months later, when we watched the scene, of Donald Trump making his acceptance speech live on television. Worse, it was in our friends east Village apartment, a lucky place of hope and optimism for us as we had celebrated Obama’s two victories here and it was still full of those ghosts of civility and progress. A political commentator looked weary and stunned and said that this is the greatest self-inflicted wound in the history of America since the civil war, worse than 911, and I had to agree. Over a year later and he has occupied too much of my fears and anger already, its disproportional to his talents and I feel we are falling into the egotists trap. I’ve been involved in so many conversations about Trump that they now seem to weave and funnel into one in my mind, none are satisfactory and all are characterized by rising heat and emotions to the extent where logic is overruled. The Democrats are supposed to be the smart ones. The participants are the usual crowd mainly Mary’s friends; a Republicans nightmare of dancers, artists, single mothers and some who have followed the rivers and tributaries of their sexual imagination to arrive in un-expected and un-conventional relationships. My point, as I step on the metaphorical podium, is that it’s just three things that have led us here, the first is the movement to Cities, the second incomplete adolescence and the third, which has already been discussed too much, the internet’s erosion of facts. At which time the conversation starts to thin, wine is poured and counter conversations take place about more mundane topics and we are all grateful I suppose as there is a collective exhaustion now; our passionately desired outcome is slow and far from certain.
Cities can be divisive, they require commitment, both to move into and to walk away from. Neighborhoods breath, shift and adapt, one can grow old in a neighborhood, while others are re-born around you. They are the place where cultural ideas are exchanged, where you are forced to circulate with different people with different beliefs and faiths, eat their food, see their art. More than anything, living in a city is a state of mind, where it’s incomprehensible that there could be another place that could seduce you away. Trump came from this city, but abused it twice, first for the obvious vulgarity of his buildings and second when he saw that cities would reject his racism and crassness. Those around him , dared him on, knowing he had a chance to win the electoral college and talking up what the non-city dwellers wanted; guns, religion, keeping foreigners away, coal jobs. He deferred to this minority spectacularly. The consequence is that as more and more move to cities, the more unrepresentative the government will be.
And adolescence, a time to fight back against all the decent lessons about being a part of society, not lying and cheating, being empathetic, not bragging about your privileges, showing kindness to those not so fortunate. In other words the bridge between childhood and adulthood we must cross. Trump brags and behaves like a child and there are others (also stuck in a state of permanent adolescence) who lives through him. Is it really a surprise that his most adoring audience was the boy scouts of America? When you hear his mob say “Make America Great Again” at Trump rallies what they mean is remember what it was like when you were fourteen years old. Its reached a point that we ask yourself whether democracy is such a good idea. England was no better, a reporter from NPR found someone inarticulate and not weighed down by facts or intellect, who talked about making Britain ‘Great’ again, the reporter simply left a pregnant pause closing the interview, the scent of xenophobia radiated from my Radio, and I stared at it in a burning fury for quite a while, and wondered if we are returning to the 1930’s.
There is nothing new in populism. Politicians have always recognized the need to get the masses behind them in order to run an agenda that favors themselves and a handful of their friends, but the way Trump did this reaches historical and offensive new low’s. Trump’s mission is the destruction of Obama’s legacy, if he had the capability of self-reflection he might understand that the central tragedy of his life is knowing how inadequate a man he is compared to his predecessor. It makes us realize that we need to examine our own anger and anxieties in order to recognize that what we hate in others are the characteristics we fear in ourselves, there is a little Trump in all of us, it’s that ugly side of our nature that we have learnt to reject when we became adults.
There are worse places to sit and consider the circuitous historical path of the USA than from the Indian Pueblo in Taos. It may seem like an unlikely choice as we think of the East Coast being the nations birthplace (because we are so steeped in the doctrine of the Mayflower) and because history is always written by the victor’s. The Pueblo is an ancient place and it is found in one of the most serene and gorgeous settings, surrounded by snowcapped mountains and with a healthy, vigorously cold river running through it, a magical place.
I badly want to write that Mary and I bonded with some of the inhabitants, direct descendants of the tribes that walked over the Bering Strait from Asia seventeen thousand years ago to make their home here, but we didn’t. We had unwisely decided to walk from our hotel to the Pueblo, three miles away under a fierce midday sun. Entering the grounds we photographed the horned skulls of cattle, the charming downtrodden adobe houses but just as we were about to arrive at the Pueblo itself a pickup truck with a stern Native American elder arrived and told us that we could not walk here. At first it seemed a mild warning, a recommendation, but he was stoic, humorless and with absolute authority told us we had to walk three miles back to get our car to drive if we wanted to return. I felt that he was a repository of the anger of his people and held a deep resentment still as if all the battles were lost yesterday. The irony was as vast as the landscape, now only available by motor vehicle, and I could hear my little inner Trump waking, and it took all my resources to be civil and compliant. We were both a little afraid, not of the person, but of his certainty.
When we did arrive back in the car, already irritated, we took a tour lead by a frail young man who spoke his script of woe like an understudy struggling with the lines, never has there been such a terrible actor on such a magnificent stage. If it was uncomfortable for us, that was nothing compared to the guide whose statements sounded inauthentic; the words were never his, they belonged to someone more righteous, it was group therapy with one patient and twenty analysts. But we wont give up trying to understand, to put ourselves in the shoes of others and will be back here as many times as to takes to uncover the layers of time and gain a deeper understanding.