I arrived for lunch a bit late and was led to the dining table. Our hostess disappeared back into the house to bring out the food, leaving me to acquaint myself with the other guests, an Englishwoman and an American. The Englishwoman said that yesterday she had fallen off the wagon after eight weeks and today she was terribly hung over. She didn’t feel guilty, however, because she had enjoyed herself very much. The American man’s eyes were hidden behind sunglasses but he had a warm smile and great teeth and an easy, open manner. He introduced himself by saying that this was his first time in France, and that he was checking out Italy and France as possible places of refuge in the not-so-far-fetched event that he had to flee America. ‘Trump?’ I said. He nodded ruefully, as one of the faithful to another.
My heart sank. This summer I have met several of his compatriots at the lunch or dinner table, and at the first opportunity they have cast a virtue-signalling aspersion on their president. It is a ploy to separate the sheep from the goats, the elect from the damned. It’s a bit like an evangelical chapel Christian asking, ‘And are you saved, brother?’ and noting whether you shrivel or bloom.
Over the summer I have learned to keep my mouth shut and my face expressionless when the subject of the Beloved Leader comes up. If pressed, I might test the boundaries of their hatred by wondering whether, if President Trump is as evil as all that, he shouldn’t be assassinated. They sort of blush and say, well, they know they shouldn’t think it, but that yes, they would be jumping for joy.
If the subject endures, however, and I have to say something else, I then ask in all innocence how it is that such an evil man could be democratically elected in a free and fair contest. The answer is invariably the same: the people who voted for him are stupid. They are rednecks. They are racists. They are stupid racist rednecks. Of course, I want to say that my sympathies lie entirely with these morons because I think national borders are a Good Thing. And I want to follow that by saying that, so far, the most obvious result of multiculturalism, as far as I can see, has been the end of freedom of speech, thought and conscience.
But over the summer, as I say, I’ve learned to keep quiet.
The depth of their hatred unsettles me. On discovering that you are dwelling among the tents of wickedness, the evangelical chapel Christian won’t despise you. But these Trump haters’ hatred is so absolute and genocidal, I can’t fathom it. Am I missing something, I wonder? Am I a Nazi? Is this hatred of Donald Trump perhaps a complex that I can look up in a textbook of psychological disorders? A modern equivalent of valetudinarianism, perhaps? Certainly, the Trump haters I met this summer were wealthy. The wealthier they were, the greater the hatred. They also hated their own white working class, especially those born in the former Confederate states. It’s so strange.
This American chap had Trump on the brain. Later on, he tried again during lunch to draw me out about the president. I deflected the probe by asking him whether he liked my hat. It was a straw hat with an orange ribbon and a brim badly torn in two places. I’d found it in a skip, I told him, which was perfectly true. Everyone laughed uproariously and said how much they loved my hat. The American chap’s hat was a baseball cap that said FACTS in capital letters.
After lunch we swam in the pool. And then the American led us in half an hour’s meditation. It’s what he does for a living. He teaches business executives and convicts how to meditate. He is a Buddhist, in fact, though not a very doctrinaire one, as he was quick to point out. We went inside the house, sat facing him in comfortable chairs, closed our eyes, and he talked to us. Meditation was about observing each passing thought objectively and dispassionately instead of being subject to it. We tried this for a while in silence. He suggested that it sometimes helped beginners if they mentally labelled each thought with a Post-it note as it went by. We might label one thought ‘appetite’, for example, and the next ‘insecurity’, and the next ‘grief’. The category that best applied to my thoughts, I noticed, was ‘hats’. After a while, ‘hats’ gave way to ‘bigotry’ and the train of bigoted thoughts was so long that the station ought to have been closed over the bank holiday weekend for a platform extension.