I live in a peaceful historic town in rolling downland in southern England – a far cry from the misery of Mosul or Freetown, or now Charlottesville in the USA. But a news item, just reported today, of Trump’s personal lawyer forwarding an email listing the similarities between General Lee and Washington, in a ham-fisted attempt to defend his toxic client, reminds me of the way in which, if we don’t learn from them, the ghosts of the past continue to haunt us.
A few miles away from our town there are two villages, Firle and Glynde, separated by the A27 road that runs from east to west, but lying less than two miles apart. Up until the 1950’s the children in both villages would apparently never dare play in the playground or fields beside the other village. Why? Because in the Civil War (1642–1651) one village supported the king, the other the Roundheads. I’m not sure what changed by the 50’s, but you see where I’m going with this…google civil war and I get only the US Civil War now, with the media asking “Why is the US still fighting the Civil War?”. The English Civil War was over 300 years ago in the 1950’s and yet the echoes of its misery persisted, and now in the US, this strange, unbelievably crass buffoon of a man Trump has stirred up the ghosts of America’s past like some evil wizard conjuring the spirits of the departed to return to Earth to be avenged.
When I was writing a novel about Brittany in the Second World War, I found myself writing the closing words of the book: “Stories shift and change, are forgotten. But they give birth to other stories, or reappear unexpectedly out of the darkness of time. They never seem to finish.” I spent a long time thinking about that last sentence. It seemed so gloomy, so pessimistic. Surely we can put paid, once and for all, to racism, hate and bigotry? But while I think it is possible, one individual at a time, through a long journey which is essentially spiritual – of confrontation and reconciliation – how much harder it seems to do this at a collective level. The European Initiative was one attempt to heal old wounds which seemed to be working, despite many setbacks, which is why Brexit seems such a regressive step to many of us.
And across the pond, a deeply strange story is being played out in America, with leading characters who would be laughed out of court if they were not in such positions of power. The Washington Post put it simply yesterday:
Some of us have long been urging people to see that the Trump presidency was “not normal.” But we are past such discussions now. There is only one conclusion that any American patriot of either party can draw. Trump must go.