Radio Free NH: Montreal is Lovely, Except When Silly Trump Is On TV

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Michael Davidow

By MICHAEL DAVIDOW,  Radio Free New Hampshire

Roving columnist, international version: we hopped into the car last week and five hours later we arrived in Montreal.

First, though, we stopped in Montpelier, Vermont, to give ourselves a break from the road. That lovely little town is still flat on its back from the recent floods. I saw it in the news, I felt appropriately bad about it, and I filed it away for future reference under the general category of global warming. But being there made it real. Shop after shop and building after building had been simply rubbed out. There was nothing subtle about it. And these are Vermonters, for god’s sake, who never jaywalk, who have no sense of humor, and who are probably Yankee fans to boot. I do not look forward to the flooding of New Hampshire.

Montreal, anyway, is always new to me. I like to believe that I go regularly, because it’s one of my favorite cities, but years seem to pass by before I return. As a result, I always see it from a different vantagepoint, and I have also never been able to learn it well. I turn left instead of right; I waste valuable time walking in wrong directions. But this time I figured it out. The old port is over there, Sherbrooke Street is the opposite, and Mile End is up in a corner.

I can report that the people were friendly, all colors, all languages. While the natives surely have their own issues, and I won’t pretend to know what they are, as a tourist I was struck by the welcome we found in every neighborhood.

We also found lemon poppyseed ice cream, the iced lemonade at Tim Horton’s, terrific coffee everywhere, and approximately fifteen million decent pizza places. The subway was immaculate. The parks were a pleasure. Big and busy streets had random works of art scattered around. And in those subways, there were often television screens, and on those television screens, there was often Donald Trump.

He seemed far away, with us surrounded by people speaking French, and that was a nice change. We didn’t even know what he was doing, to merit being televised. It was his arraignment in Washington, of course, but I only learned that later on. What struck me at the distance of Canada had nothing to do with his actions or his statements. What struck me instead was his appearance. The floppy hair, the red tie, the over-sized suit. He has become an American icon, as instantly recognizable, as two-dimensional, and as silly as Mickey Mouse.

Other successful politicians have developed trademark looks too, of course. We think of FDR and we remember his jaunty cigarette holder; we think of Lincoln and we remember his stovepipe hat. But Roosevelt and Lincoln remained full and complicated personalities at all times. They were responsive, thoughtful, and creative souls, and they appeared as such in public. Not so Donald Trump. In altering his appearance and distilling it down to flatness, in transforming himself artfully and consciously into a walking avatar of bad taste and pointless advertising, Trump has managed to lose his own sense of self, too. He has dimmed the divine spark. He has become a mechanical thing.  

The groove inside of him has gotten cut too deep. It has become visible on the outside.

Life is fragile and subject to the seasons. There is an arc to it. Babies have a highly limited consciousness. They watch and they react. Children grow into their personalities, partly from nature and partly from nurture; I’ve never seen the sense in forcing one or the other of those determining factors to play the deciding role. Adults inhabit their personalities. Then there is a long slow slide back to a second infancy; back to passive watching, back to reaction. When that happens in the fullness of time, it can be a thing of awesome beauty and a reminder of our ultimate place in the universe. But sometimes there’s a hitch. Sometimes we lose our self-possession too early. Drugs can do it, alcohol can do it. Rage and anger can do it. The effect is the same, regardless of the cause. Our souls take a short cut to oblivion.

And watching this man’s performance while on vacation in Canada, alongside those who can only view him from afar, part of an entire world of people who might be stuck with him wielding power again through no fault of their own, who can only wait and watch and hope…

We drove back and there was a long line at the border. “Going home,” we told the man at the gate. He waved us through. So here we are again.

Davidow writes Radio Free New Hampshire for He is also the author of Gate City, Split Thirty, and The Rocketdyne Commission, three novels about politics and advertising which, taken together, form The Henry Bell Project,  The Book of Order, and The Hunter of Talyashevka . They are available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Davidow’s Chanukah Land can be found here.

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