Damien Black

Old Nick's Letters

Welcome to Old Nick's Letters, a series of blogs and occasional videos compiled by the writer whenever he feels the constellations are propitious.

The American fairy tale just got ugly

Today I want to talk about faerie tales.

And so the next president of the United States promises a revamp of the Great American Dream… The UK voted for Brexit on similarly Utopian visions…

The problem with the West is that around about the 1700s we started to tell ourselves faerie stories – about ideal governments ushering in ages of peace and prosperity for all, an end to monarchy and oligarchy, the abolition of slavery, intolerance, bigotry… These are noble ideals, but can be contradictory and therefore extremely difficult to achieve in tandem.

And therein lies the problem. Prosperity seems always to come at the expense of others; America is a nation built on slavery and oppression; the United Kingdom founded an empire on such.

Now we have a new president in the White House, and the faerie tale is about to turn ugly. The Victorian whitewashed story of happy kings and beauteous princesses is set to turn all medieval on us, and blood and tears will follow… The Emperor’s New Clothes, anyone? Lies are contagious and beget yet more lies; the bigger they are the more people will believe them. Hitler said that, and raked Europe over fire and brimstone when the lies started working for him.

To Trump supporters I’d say this. I want to be wrong. I want to believe that some good will come of this – that jobs will be created in areas that have been neglected for far too long, that some of the Utopian ideals we’ve come to cherish can still be realised and those at the bottom of all creeds and colours can get the chance to thrive.

But, after everything he has said on campaign I find it impossible to believe billionaire tax-dodgy Trump will be the man to do it. Not that I liked Hillary ‘Wall Street Dynasty’ Clinton all that much – an unsavoury candidate if ever there was one and this victory says as much about her lack of moral credentials as it does about Trump’s.

So what will Mr Trump’s renewed American Dream be founded on? Same as the original one I think: racism, intolerance, divisiveness and injustice. A man who has shown naked contempt and revulsion for women, ethnic minorities, the disabled and Muslims and played on the resentments of blue-collar white Americans can be counted on to conjure a political illusion Thomas Jefferson would have been proud of.

Faerie tales were only ever meant to be just that: tales, not necessarily exclusively for children, but fiction nonetheless, with a parable or two thrown in at most. For decades now Hollywood movies, pulp novels, popular music and TV shows have duped us into thinking the perfect shiny life is not only obtainable, but a given. Take it away and replace it with grim reality (yes, life is hard!) and what follows? Resentment and disillusionment that give rise to anger, spawning blame, intolerance and bigotry.

To be content with less, to be thankful for what we have, to seek to help others less fortunate than ourselves… these happiness-creating ideas don’t seem to exist in the faerie-tale world of dreamland. Instead we get permanent disappointment. Always to want more. Rarely if ever to get enough. Never to be contented.

If only we in the West would realise that looking at The Other with compassion, seeking to help in some way and being thankful we aren’t in their predicament would make us happier than lusting after a second house or a fourth holiday or a better car or the ideal partner(s). But no, Trump’s dreamers will be encouraged instead to despise The Other – for doing as they do and daring to ask for more.

The dream is not for everyone it seems, only those whose faces fit.

So welcome all, to the Great American Nightmare: it began long ago but never before have we had an opportunity to see it so nakedly as we do now.

The rest of the West would do well to heed this warning from history in the making. There may not be many more before it’s too late.