In 1934, Ogden Nash, the well-known humorist and poet, exploited a saying, zapping the United States, attributed to Clémenceau but probably the creation of James Agate – reviewing in 1926 a Russian play, “Katerina” by Andreyev – who used it originally to pan the play and to denigrate . . . Russia :
“Once there was one of those witty Frenchmen whose name I cannot for the moment recall,
Who wittingly remarked that America is the only country in history that has passed directly from barbarism to decadence without passing through civilization at all.
A remark which is wittily repeated with enthusiasm frantic,
In the lands on the other side of the Atlantic,
And is, I suppose, more or less true,
Depending on the point of view.”
We should have seen Donald Trump coming. Non-Americans, unfamiliar with his flamboyant public appearances, his frequent presence on television and its apotheosis in his outrageous reality show “The Apprentice”, were caught off-guard when they found this arrogant, narcissistic, abrasive, abusive, anti-intellectual, embarrassing, super-rich childish clown … running for President ! We are all still reeling from the fact that Americans could be stupid enough (with or without Russia’s help) to vote for him and thereby impose him not only on their own country but on the whole world.
It is easy to ridicule the Donald and in the process denigrate the U.S. for electing him. Anti-Americanism has had a field day over the last two years. Every day CNN and even the BBC reinforce the conviction that Trump is the epitome, the incarnation, of the barbarism become decadence of a nation that has never know civilization.
Such a condemnation is patently unfair. The U.S. – or at least half of it – has an undeniable track-record of courage, intelligence, generosity, innovation, invention and leadership, in spite of its original sin of slavery and the racism from which it still suffers, along with its penchant for violence, self-satisfaction and a religiously motivated sense of both superiority and messianism vis-à-vis other countries. Trump, however, has succeeded not only in widening the gap between liberals and conservatives within the “Union” (?), but in reinforcing the increasing geopolitical isolation of America.
It is clearly absurd to respond to this challenge with a Trumpian ” We’ll see what happens”. But the U.S. has too much wisdom born of experience to allow itself to be destroyed by Donald Destructor. Then again, as Ogden Nash said, this is “I suppose, more of less true, Depending on your point of view”. Mine is that God will not – for obvious reasons – either bless or save America. But Americans can – and will.