I have been to Trumpland, and have returned safely to the bosom of my own country.
It was relatively painless. America is much the same, in many ways, as when I lived there 50 years ago. Back then, of course, it was a different war (Vietnam), a different president (LBJ), and draft dodgers rather than Third World refugees who were fleeing across the border into Canada.
Americans are still friendly, though not necessarily polite (they do not say “excuse me” when they squeeze by you in a theatre, they don’t say “sorry” when they bump into you, and they don’t say “my fault” when you say “sorry” back to them. See my March 15 editorial for more on politeness).
They are not angry, bitter or paranoid, however. But then, when you live in California, where the skies are blue (as in, 90 degrees-plus Fahrenheit in March), and the roads have no frost heaves, how bad can it get?
“We don’t even like to talk about him anymore,” the cabbie explained when I observed that Canadians seem a lot more fixated on Donald Trump than Americans are.
Trump is not a popular man in California, where Hillary Clinton clobbered him by 4.3 million votes. The newspapers take satisfaction in running front-page headlines about his latest travel ban getting the heave ho by the courts, and his claims about widespread voting fraud by illegal immigrants proving to be ridiculous. (A few dozen cases of voter fraud are under investigation there, exactly zero of which involve illegal immigrants.)
“It’s crazy,” said the cabbie as we passed a road-repair crew sweating under the 99-degree sun. “Who’s going to do the work when Trump kicks them out? They do the work nobody else wants to do.”
Then he described a recent case in which a farmer lost millions because he couldn’t get the laborers he needed to harvest his crops.
To some, like the farmer, Trump is a disaster that’s already happening. To the rest, he’s an irritant not worth talking about, unless you press the point.
Life goes on in spite of him. We decided just to enjoy our stay and not bring it up.
Departure, however, brought with it a sharp reminder that being a Canadian doesn’t score you points the way it used to at border crossings.
The most intensive part of training for becoming a U.S. airport security screener is the course on Advanced Rudeness, I think it’s called. There must be many hours of classes on this, for the natural friendliness that comes with being an American has to be drilled out of hopeful candidates. The boot camp drill sergeants do it particularly well.
This was about to be demonstrated. Clutching our boarding passes, we passed a sign telling us to be respectful toward border agents and entered a gauntlet of very large people in uniforms yelling orders. I decided to avoid eye contact. These people smell fear.
“Everything out of your pockets, including lint!” bellowed an over-sized version of Nurse Ratched.
There is a sense of panicky haste going through security, wanting to get it over with just as soon as possible, and fearing that if you move too slowly, giant robot arms will reach down and yank you away. This leads to some fumbling as one divests oneself of phone, belt, shoes, coins, and lint, dumping it all into a tray.
I obediently took my hybrid tablet-laptop out of its case and put it in the tray along with the rest.
This did not go over well. One of the seven-foot guardians of the ramparts snatched it up, waved it over his head, and shouted, “This IS a laptop, people! All laptops MUST be placed in a separate tray!”
A little further along, the next tormentor asked, “Have you had a hip or knee replacement?!”
“No,” I said.
“Are you sure?” he asked.
I stared at him blankly. Clearly, he thought he was dealing with either a brain challenged or deaf Canadian. In hindsight, I realize this was border agent humor. Those crazy kids.
I fully expected to next be ushered into a concrete cell where I would be stripped naked and blasted with a high-pressure fire hose like they do in those prison movies when the new inmates arrive.
Instead, I was waved through a metal detector as my belongings were X-rayed, and allowed to gather up my stuff. Whoever designs airports really should consider all those people at the end of the line hopping around with one shoe on while trying to stuff laptops into their cases, putting their phones, coins, keys and lint back in their pockets, and belts back in their pants.
In truth, however, I didn’t mind it — thorough screening is quite OK with me, considering the alternative. Other than two delayed flights, the rest of the trip home was uneventful, and whether or not my faith in America is restored, some parts of it are good places to be in March.