Garrison Keillor is an author and radio personality.
After Tuesday’s voting, several folks I know are talking about leaving the country if and when the Great White Snapping Turtle is elected president, and of course Canada is the favored destination: English-language predominant, handsome young progressive prime minister, socialized medicine, nonstop air connections — plus parallel geography of rockbound East, Midwestern prairies and Western mountain ranges. Well, I’m not up for it. For one thing, I’m lazy. And also there is no South up north — no New Orleans, no Delta blues, no high lonesome tenor singing “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” and no strip-mall evangelists proclaiming that Justin Trudeau is the Antichrist and was born in the Bronx — and so Canadian culture is of limited range. A nation of bookkeepers. It is missing the apocalyptic.
Our great-grandparents boarded ships in Oslo and Hamburg and Naples and Odessa and sailed away with high hopes to a vast land with a strange language where they were extensively scorned and exploited, but they had worse problems than the election of a cruel narcissist: They were accustomed to that, to rulers who dwelt in gilded palaces amid fawning courtiers and servants to fan them and scratch their bedbug bites, but their rulers were not only narcissists; they also were murderers. The Great Turtle would not have Cossacks to go riding into Schenectady and bayonet people in the streets; he would just sit in his tower and twitter.
When I lived in Copenhagen long ago, I knew some Americans who had gone there years before to escape being drafted and sent to Vietnam. They did okay. Copenhagen is fairly Anglophonic, so you needn’t go to school for months to learn how to order coffee and a sandwich. They came to appreciate the egalitarianism, the fried herring, the cobblestone squares, the secularity. They learned to say rodgrod med flode. They fell in love with Danish women, which is the best way to learn Danish, since you will likely beget children, who will speak their mother’s tongue, and children are excellent teachers because they’re not aware they’re doing it, so by the time your child is 15, you’ll know the right Danish to be cool. Totally. But still there were gaps that couldn’t be filled: Danish rock-and-roll is too studied, and politics is way sedate, and in football, you can’t pick up the ball and carry it — you must push it around with your feet or bounce it off your head, which is ridiculous. One night you find yourself in a bar in Osterbro and you hear that Harmon Killebrew died and you’re the only one who could care.
Exile is no bed of roses. If you go to a foreign country to escape the Big Snapper, you will run into him wherever you go. Foreigners hear your voice, and it’s like you’re wearing a big red A around your neck — they’ll ask you about the Snapper, and how could America be so hopelessly stupid as to elect this blowhard ignoramus to lead the Free World? In Boise or Tampa or Kansas City, you’re not a spokesperson for America, you’re just a great lover, a cool dude, and a smart cookie — let de Tocqueville figure out what it means to be American, you go pursue life and liberty and have a cheeseburger — but when you go abroad, suddenly you’re hauling a knapsack full of nationality. I spent time in Europe during the George W. Bush era; I know.
On the other hand, I spent time around Houston in 2006 and 2007, and the word “Bush” was never spoken aloud. The economy started tanking and Iraq was a horror and Texans studiously looked the other way and talked of the weather and fishing and their upcoming dental hygiene appointment.
If you want to escape from the Great White Turtle, you could move to New York. New Yorkers saw through this guy 20 years ago, a living, breathing cartoon of a tycoon, vulgarity on wheels, a man who was very lucky that his father was born before he was, and they have closed the book. So he takes his show on the road, and it did okay in Florida, Illinois and North Carolina, and so the intelligentsia is working ever harder, trying to figure him out. It’s like psychoanalyzing a toasted bagel. The guy paid $29 million for a 282-foot yacht, sailed on it once, got seasick, and never sailed again. He likes tall models with foreign accents. He dyes his hair. He likes to read about himself. What else do you want to know?