I’m currently absorbed in Another Fine Mess, British motorist Tim Moore’s account of crossing the continental USA in a Model T Ford via Trump-voting areas ($1.99 on Kindle) and it’s worth it for this passage alone:
‘...Obviously Trump is a jackass, but, you know–we’re Republicans.’ Paul shrugged helplessly: his preference, one he had bolstered with campaign donations, had been the inestimably less appalling Ohio governor, John Kasich. I could only sympathise. This must be how it feels when the football club you’ve supported all your life appoints a manager you find it very difficult to warm to, on the grounds that he’s an absolutely colossal anus. And who then wins the league, but does it by playing with seventeen Russians up front.
‘So, Tim, you think we’ve had our day as number one?’
The question seemed an obvious follow-on, and the catch in Paul’s voice suggested he already knew my answer. Putting Donald Trump in the White House was hardly the act of a confident, optimistic nation, comfortable in its own skin. I hadn’t been alone in seeing his election as an end-of-era event, a superpower on the wane raging against the dying of its light. When had that light shone brightest?
Since setting off I’d been routinely struck by the anachronistic trappings of daily life, the fixtures and fittings that dated America’s high-water mark to somewhere around 1962. The weedy 110-volt power supply that struggled to boil my bedroom kettles. The crappy, wobbly two-pin plugs. The cumbersome top-load washers in the motel laundry, like props from a monochrome sitcom. The speed-stick deodorant that I’d bought by default in a West Virginian pharmacy, a real blast from the personal-care past which harvested short and curlies while pasting my pits in mentholated lard.
However poorly all these accoutrements had aged, half a century back they were the trailblazing future. Domestic appliances and hot showers for all! America was a proving ground for the modern way of first-world living. It proudly invented all these home comforts, then popularised and standardised them, while the rest of the benighted, unwashed, steam-powered world looked on in awe. For more than half a century, they led and we followed. They were number one by a million miles.
I remember when my American cousin Patricia, Miles’s partner, first visited us in London in 1976, and left her toiletries laid out in the family bathroom. I was agog. A bottle of strawberry hair conditioner held particular fascination. I’d never even heard of hair conditioner–I’m pretty sure it didn’t exist in Britain back then, except perhaps as some harshly medicated slurry that stank like Vicks VapoRub and made your scalp shriek. This stuff was a creamy pale rose and (sorry, Patricia) smelled good enough to drink. It was also graced with a runic robot tattoo–the first barcode I had ever seen. Patricia had bottled the future and brought it over.
But that was about as far as they got. Europe and the Far East stealthily reeled them in, and because Americans never leave their country–Patricia was the exception that proved this rule–they didn’t notice. When my wife and I first watched Friends back in the mid-1990s, we were amazed to see Chandler dispense high-end Manhattanite sarcasm into a house-phone the size of a wine box, the sort of hulking embarrassment even my parents had long since chucked out. And because Americans are so cocksure and headstrong, even when they belatedly did notice, they took forever to react. The fossil-fuelled, eight-track American Way was the original and best...