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Checking the U.S. mood: post-election

BY PAUL STRICKLAND

Columnist

RENO, NEV., and MEDFORD and SALEM, Ore. – In the Far West of the United States, the mood after the election of Donald Trump to the presidency is, for many, like the calm before a storm.

One walks into a desert mountain canyon as a dark thundercloud overhead grows  ever  more malevolent, and one wonders when the torrent of the likely flashflood will roar down and wash away everyone below a certain level.

A semi-retired classics professor from the University of Nevada who met me for breakfast in Reno last Thursday said he went to bed election night determined not to be upset about whatever the results might turn out to be the following morning. He was shocked by them nevertheless.

“This is a Marxist’s worst nightmare,” he said. He quoted the famous 1930s German playwright, Bertolt Brecht, who went into exile after Hitler took over in 1933, as saying, “In times like these, we have to hunker down, and await our next opportunity.”

The professor said he was most worried that,  the event of a future terrorist incident, Trump would impose repressive emergency measures and also use powerful weapons indiscriminately, even nuclear weapons.In the parking lot outside the Shoppers Square mall, which had been a middle-class shopping centre, I was constantly approached for spare change or money said to be needed to help a relative through a crisis. Every half block in the parking lot, I could see a bedraggled figure a shopping cart across the asphalt.

Later that same morning I visited a friend, Bill Hamma, in a retirement home in the university district. As a conservative Democrat, he had almost won a seat in the Nevada state senate in the late 1980s. He said, “People are having a hissy fit about Trump’s election.”

There is nothing to worry about, he assured me. Trump will merely apply a rational approach to trade and immigration policy.That afternoon and early evening I drove through Truckee and over the Sierras to the Gold Country of California and the historic mining town of Nevada City. I went to Cooper’s Beer and Ale Bar after supper. After a while  I heard Joni Mitchell’s “They Paved Paradise and Put Up a Parking Lot” from, I believe, the jukebox. I wasn’t the one who made the selection. Some Americans evidently have fond memories of that June 1970 hit. It was quickly followed by the Beatles’ ‘Revolution’ (1969), and someone threw open the door to the bar so that passers-by could hear that song. Some patrons of that bar, at least, were’t allowing themselves to be weighed down by the election results.

In Medford Saturday  I had coffee with a retired pediatrician and her friend from high school days in Los Angeles. They noted Trump’s admiration for Russia’s Vladimir Putin and believed he was studying Putin’s administrative methods for weakening democratic institutions. Trump has no respect for the American Constitution, the pediatrician said. He might eventually intimidate journalists through constant frivolous legal action and even strategic use of violence to discourage the most aggressive investigative reporters, she said.

The American Association of Pediatric has expressed alarm at the number of children killed or seriously injured because of improperly stored firearms. The organization has called for gun legislation similar to that in effect in Canada that would require guns be locked unloaded and stored in a locked case, with ammunition stored separately in a separate locked case elsewhere in the home. She went so far as to advocate there should not be any firearms in a home where children are being raised or are staying over. However, Congress, bowing to the excessive lobbying resources the National Rifle Association has at its disposal, has failed to enact any of the improvements in firearms legislation that President Obama has proposed, and chances of getting anything meaningful passed under a Trump administration are dismal, she noted.

Driving  through Salem, Oregon’s capital, Sunday, I saw a group holding signs over the railings of a freeway overpass and shouting encouragement to motorists passing underneath. I was travelling at about 90 kilometres per hour when I noticed them, and so I didn’t have a chance to read all their posters and banners. One said, “Honk if you value your freedom!” One prominent yellow-and-black flag depicted a coiled snake about to strike, and below that image was the slogan “Live Free Or Die!” That slogan dates back to the Revolutionary War period of the late 1700s, and is a motto for the state of New Hampshire. However, in modern American politics, it is used by libertarians, members of the remnants of the late Alabama Gov. George Wallace’s Independent American Party, and survivalist groups.

As a news junkie, I stopped in Seattle late Sunday afternoon and bought $27 of American and European newspapers and magazines at Bulldog News. On the way there  I drove by a number of stores closed for the day or the weekend where homeless people were in sleeping bags in the front entrance area. Walking to Bulldog News I saw a set of four young people sitting on sleeping bags in the entrance of a business that is closed They were perhaps in their early twenties, and they were  smoking a joint and were preparing to bed down there for the night.

What direction policies on homelessness will take under the new administration next year is as yet unclear.

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