PASS THE SOAP
I spent election night in Tijuana, Mexico, in a loft a stone’s throw from the border. Walking over to my favorite cafe the following morning to confront the results, I ran into a young Mexican acquaintance who was running off to do an interview with the BBC. “You haven’t heard?” he asked incredulously. “It’s terrible. The stock markets are all collapsing.”
He was smiling.
The past several days, I have spent most of my time in the country that is supposed to be terrified of Trump, that will supposedly collapse under the weight of his supposedly xenophobic and racist policies. And I have learned a few things that we all should have known already.
One, Mexicans are not afraid of Trump.
Two, Mexicans love drama.
Three, America is officially the world’s telenovela.
On November 9th, while Mexicans were going about their day, working and taking care of their families, Americans were apparently “soul-searching.” Like the season finale of any good soap opera, there were lots of sobbing young women, there were nefarious villains lurking in the shadows, there was the unlikely anti-hero who conquered against all odds (his steamily glamorous wife by his side) and, most important, there was endless talk of betrayal. Even ISIS managed to get in on the act in the most cartoonish way. It is as though the election of a reality television star who may very well appoint the head of the WWE to his cabinet has been misconstrued as an invitation to the most depraved mass murderers to join a histrionic (and hysterical) punditocracy.
Hopefully, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi will have less success as an “influencer” and Trump analyst than as a merchant of death, but we shall see. Certainly he has a lot more competition in his new role of commentator.
The point is that our election was spectacle above all else. America is less than five percent of the world’s population, yet we believe that we are everyone and everything. While we emote and mope and berate and worry and throw tantrums, the world goes on spinning. Brexit should have taught us that we are no longer the world’s collective “influencer.” It’s no accident that the number one movie the past two weeks has the wisest character admonish a pretentious New Yorker that “it’s not about you.”
Last night I had dinner with a Mexican friend, and the topic of Trump barely came up. When it did, we both agreed that he would probably end up deporting fewer Mexicans than Obama, and assumedly in a more deliberate and targeted manner. The truth that America needs Mexicans more than Mexico need Americans should be self-evident but if it’s not, I have one word for you: labor. Houses are not built and cars are not assembled and social security taxes are not paid by college-educated millennials checking their Facebook feed at Starbucks every ten minutes. Yes, we can impose tariffs to justify the price of our labor and thus nobly try to bring manufacturing back but I don’t see most millennials moving back to the Midwest (where they could actually influence a presidential election) to work in a factory.
The 2016 election was quite a show, but now the show is over and reality is setting in — for the world, at least, and eventually maybe for us as well.