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The View from Abroad

Baffler correspondents in Paris, Hong Kong, Penang, and London write in with their reactions to Trump’s election

Mr. Trump and Mr. Creosote, by Jake Lamar in Paris

It was in October, during the third and final debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, that the memory came to me. Watching Trump spew a wild and often incoherent stream of invective on Clinton—culminating in his interjection “Such a nasty woman”—I suddenly had a flashback to the 1980s, when I saw, for the first time, the Monty Python film The Meaning of Life.

In a classic sketch toward the end of the film, a gigantic, grotesquely obese man in a tuxedo enters a restaurant where other well-dressed aristocrats are dining. Mr. Creosote—played by Terry Jones—proceeds to order everything on the menu while occasionally pausing to spew streams of projectile vomit over everything: the carpet, the table, the cleaning woman.

Watching Trump in debate, I felt as if I’d been hosed down in the vomit of his insane rants. I could only imagine how disgusting it must have felt for Hillary Clinton. I was certain that such a vulgar monster could never be elected President of the United States.

Throughout the Python sketch, an excruciatingly obsequious French waiter, played by John Cleese, encourages Mr. Creosote to consume more and more, even as he continues to puke. Like Mr. Creosote, Donald Trump is a man of uncontrollable appetite. In Trump’s case, it’s not fine food and liquor he desires: it’s an appetite for money, for fame, for women, for power.

Watching the sketch today, after Trump’s victory, I see all of the American establishment—the Republicans, the media, the policy experts who wish to “normalize” Trump—as versions of the waiter who continues to feed him, or the well-dressed customers who politely try to continue their meals, or flee apologetically.

Finally, after consuming one wafer-thin chocolate after dessert, Mr. Creosote explodes in a shower of vomit. He is still alive. He looks bewildered as his heart continues to beat in his exposed carcass and the other diners retch and wail.

I think that someday, Mr. Trump, the ultimate monster of consumption will, like Mr. Creosote, go a wafer too far. But, as President of the United States, his explosion could leave us all in a critical state.

Trump = Duterte. / Keith Bacongco

Join the Club, by Thomas Meaney in Hong Kong and Penang

I hardly met anyone in Asia who was not all in for Trump. Hard to hear the word “Trump” without it eliciting a smile. Hard to meet anyone who is afraid of him. I didn’t meet end-of-the-American-century types, or apocalypticians of any kind. But then I avoided the universities and places of worship. In Hong Kong, it was more a kind of bemusement in the chatter around me, when the chatter was intelligible. Trump was probably a foolish choice, on that Hong Kongers agreed, but the USA has made many foolish choices before and could probably afford it. One man rhapsodized near me about American “undecided voters” like he was discussing an uncontacted tribe: “You have these people . . . these people who just don’t know who they will vote for. It’s like shopping or something for them, enh? They wait to the last moment, enh? They say there are a lot of these people, enh? Well you can’t keep saying you democracy and we not, enh? You can’t say you’re different from us now, ok? Xi, Putin, Trump, ok? No difference, ok?”

In the Philippines, people compared Trump to Duterte, which made good sense. But Duterte is widely beloved. His face swings in the place of Christ’s on rear view mirrors. Yes, he has supported the high volume of extra-judicial killings of alleged drug pushers, but he has also gotten people to wear helmets on motorcycles and reduced speed limits.  That is how the repartees begin about Duterte: “Yes, but.” “But we have so many vices, man,” a kiosk vendor in Cebu City confessed to me. And so if Trump = Duterte, then it follows that Trump is widely beloved in this appendage of the empire. And there is even the satisfaction of being ahead of the United States in history, for once, or of having the United States join the club of no-nonsense strongmen. 

In Penang, the Malaysian Chinese I met were almost cool in their satisfaction of a Trump presidency. They saw in him the wheeler-and-dealer they take themselves to be. Trump is good at tackling problems they said. “We see him here as a man who gets things done quickly,” the owner of a Baba Nyonya restaurant told me. He declared everyone thought about it this way. I got wrong-footed when I tried to get a Muslim Tamil Malaysian to give me some anti-Trump vitriol. “Do you really think he could be worse for Muslims than Bush or Obama? Not possible,” he said smiling. “Trump is a loose cannon,” he smiled.

Could it be that the only high concentrations of anti-Trump rage are in the edges of the Anglosphere, Western Europe, bits of the Americas, and universities just about everywhere? Elsewhere are excitement, satisfaction, wry smiling, confusion, and Schadenfreude the norm?

Yukiko Matsuoka
Enthusiastic Europhiles were in short supply during the Brexit debate. / Yukiko Matsuoka

Brexit and Low Expectations, by Abi Wilkinson in London

On the night of the U.S. election I was at a small London bar owned by a friend, helping out by collecting glasses while chatting to customers and drinking steadily. CNN was on a screen at the front of the room and at the back, speakers blared out a cheesy American-themed Spotify playlist. Early suggestions that Clinton had exceeded expectations in Georgia, and that turnout had been higher amongst women, gave some reason for optimism, and I remember tipsily dancing my way across the venue to Miley Cyrus’s “Party in the U.S.A.”

Once it became clear voters had gone for Trump, it felt like we should already have known. The fact that I’d seemed to experience something approaching bizarre enthusiasm for Clinton was down to the booze. Nobody was actually enthusiastic about Clinton, right? Nobody I knew, anyway. She was seen as the best of the bad set of options. The lesser evil in a contest that pushed that concept close to the limit. Various columnists tried to persuade us that electing a female president was symbolically important and should be celebrated—but in a country that produced Margaret Thatcher that argument holds less weight.

Most people I knew in the United States were voting for Clinton, grudgingly, because Bernie wasn’t on the ballot. In states like New York, which were sure to stay blue, many were opting to go third party or avoiding the ballot box entirely. While my own predominantly young and left-leaning friends are hardly a representative sample, the lack of enthusiasm reminded me of the mood during our own Brexit vote a few months before. Staying in the EU was presented as the least bad available option by advocates on both the left and the right. Enthusiastic Europhiles were in short supply. Even though it was a straight majority vote—no electoral college to confuse things—turnout in many Remain-voting strongholds (Hackney, for example, which is basically the UK’s Bushwick) was extremely low.

A few years ago I might have felt like the collapse of the liberal center was something to celebrate, naively assuming that it would be the left which was able to capitalize on waning trust in a system that hasn’t delivered for everyone in the way that was always promised around election season. Turns out, we’re not the ones who’re getting people excited. Though both the Bernie and Corbyn surges have been impressive in some sense of the word, it’s xenophobic, rightwing populism that seems to actually get people to the polls. Many people seem to just want some sort of change; those of us on the left need to persuade them it’s our politics that can actually improve their lives.

Right now it feels like Brexit and Trump are the first two dominoes in a chain, with the rest all lined up ready to fall. Hofer just lost the Austrian presidency by a narrow margin, thank God, but 47 percent of the population voting for an outright fascist should hardly make us feel at ease. On the night of the French presidential election I’ll start my drinking earlier and keep my expectations lower. With hardline economic rightwinger and Islamophobe François Fillon the more moderate option, whatever happens the country’s future looks bleak.