Evenings in Boulder settle into a pattern eventually. It’s warm and bright till quite late, unless it rains. By the time we shut down the stall and return home, there’s ample time to break out a bottle or two of beer and talk till the stars are out. Generally one or two of the neighbours joins in to chew the fat, and I can’t recall an evening that hasn’t been pleasant. Topics tend to be local and generic, controversies are avoided, and with the deft, bland politeness that so characterises small-town America, we end up declaring we have had a good time though I don’t think anyone could remember what was discussed a day later, I am sure.
Yesterday was different. Abhijeet, a PhD student (chemistry, I think), kicked it off.
“Donald Trump might just be a genius.”
Emilio Guiterrez, the ridiculously handsome gym rat from Bogota, grimaced as he put his bottle to his lips.
“He’s an evil man. A bigot, a crude fascist!”
“What are you complaining about? He said those horrible things about Mexicans, not your people!” said Megan, a skinny blonde who fit all conventional definitions of beauty.
“My people? I’m sure if he spoke about Colombia he would be even more disgusting.”
“He probably is a bigot, but that doesn’t make him any less a genius,” pointed out Abhijeet.
“You might want to clarify that point of view,” I said, stretching my legs. “Personally I rather think he’s a buffoon.”
“He’s ensuring he’s ideologically consistent. The more outrageous he is, the more people he alienates, the more he ensures his base is not diluted. The ten or twelve per cent of the people who support him – they are not going to support anyone else. And they will support him no matter what he does. The more he rails against Mexicans, immigrants and socialists, the more he filters out those who might have any lingering sympathy for them. It’s an elimination process. The stupid ‘solutions’ he offers to America’s problems – only an idiot could consider these to be actual solutions – but he’s courting precisely those idiots.”
“What you’re saying is that he’s filtering out anyone of average intelligence from following him,” I ventured.
“Precisely,” said Abhijeet.
“That won’t win him an election. Not in the USA,” said Emilio.
“It might win him a primary if the field continues to be so divided for the Republicans,” pointed out Ana, fingering her baseball cap gingerly.
“It might, at that. And that’s the road to a lot of funding and who-knows-what-else. Maybe he’ll put up another building in Chicago,” Abhijeet said.
“Or a casino in Vegas,” I chuckled. “Where more poor idiots can go spend their hard-earned money.”
“I seem to recall we lost money in Vegas too,” said Ana.
“We made it back in tips when you volunteered as a waitress at Viva Las Arepas,” I assured her.
“You did?” Emilio seemed roused from his beer-induced lethargy.
“I wore a really low-neck tee,” said Ana, indicating with her forefinger exactly how low.
“So the men who tipped you generously – are they intelligent, sexist, or what?” asked Megan.
“They are fair tippers, no more no less,” said Ana. “You should see me in a low-neck tee.”
“I have. Everyday at the gym,” said Megan.
Silence reigned for a while as Ana tried to figure out if she had been insulted or not, and the rest of us waited while Emilio went inside the house to get another six-pack of the brew.
“Has India already elected it’s Donald Trump?” asked Abhijeet, after he had returned.
I quickly glanced around, heart pounding. There was a Chinese family playing in the lawn a few feet from us, and a homeless man going through the trash. Not an Indian in sight apart from Abhijeet and myself.
“No,” I said, breathing easy. “We elected our George W Bush, is my best guess. Some of his cabinet would make Trump seem like a rational person, though.”
“Percy, you’re whispering,” said Abhijeet.
“I’m being cautious, which you are not,” I replied.
“Well, it shows the system can be played, at any rate.”
“All systems can be played,” said Megan. “It’s said there’s no such thing as a perfectly fool-proof system. Bush managed to win basis the loophole that allowed a panel of judges to decide an election – judges appointed by his father. What system did your man manipulate?”
“Short term memory loss?” suggested Abhijeet.
“We are a democracy, Abhijeet. Which means our elections reflect the will of the people. Combine that with a first-past-the-post system and thirty per cent of the voting population is enough to get a government in power. In any case, a lot of countries became complete anarchies in the years after the colonials left. India pulls along pretty well.”
“At least it isn’t Colombia,” said Megan, draining the dregs of her bottle, avoiding looking in the direction of Emilio and Ana.
“And won’t be,” I said hastily, before the provocation could be responded to. “I would say the ambitions of the ruling classes right now are towards an ideal much closer home – Pakistan. There seems to be a conscious effort to become the Hindu version of the Land of the Pure.”
Abhijeet snorted derisively.
“Don’t think it will happen so easily.”
“Neither do I.”
“Couldn’t live in the country if it did. All the more reason to try to settle down here. Trump or no trump,” said Abhijeet.
“It sounds like you’re playing a card game,” I grinned. “But I do see what you mean. It wouldn’t be easy to live in a right-wing majoritarian state, whether on this side of Europe or that.”
“If it does become like that, will you come back and stay here with me?”
I looked around in surprise. It was Ana who had spoken, in a voice that, unusually for her, was small and almost pleading.
“What? Where are you going?” Megan stopped in the middle of opening her second bottle of beer.
“But…when were you going to tell us?” said Abhijeet, holding out his hands.
“Soon,” I replied. “It’s not really a big deal guys, I have a business visa, I can come back in a while, but it isn’t really going to work out long-term, and…”
“But I thought the stall was doing well!” said Megan.
“It isn’t the stall he’s talking about,” said Ana. She was sitting at the end of the bench, and as she said this, she rose to her feet and began to walk away, towards the house. We watched as she closed the door behind her.
“Percy, what’s this about?” Abhijeet had risen to his feet too.
“It’s about a man unable to look beyond the traditional definition of a relationship,” said Emilio, the only person who had not moved.
“Like Donald Trump and most of the Republican field,” Abhijeet quipped.
“Pretty much,” I agreed. “This is good beer.”
“Is he changing the subject? I think he’s changing the subject,” said Megan, looking at Abhijeet.
“Yes, and sometimes you have to let a man do that,” he sighed.
I held up my just-opened bottle.
“To Trump!” I called out.
And then the Latin-American, the Caucasian woman and the two Indians toasted the man they knew they would never, ever, in a hundred years, vote for.