Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Friendship 'trumps' politics

Many of us will remember where we were last Wednesday. The day a borderline racist and a man who thinks nothing of mocking the disabled became the leader of the free world. I actually cried in my kitchen when I heard that Donald J. Trump would become the next president of the United States.

Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with our American friends
These seismic events were all the more poignant because one of my dearest friends - an American - happened to be staying with us at the time, along with her two children. We all struggled to comprehend that Trump was to succeed President Obama, a man who by contrast exemplifies everything that is great about America.

There is much talk of the UK's 'special relationship' with US, more so from our side than their's. Like anyone who wants to be friends with the coolest kid in school, we Brits show our insecurity. But the fact that we now have to cosy up to a man that MPs once considered banning from entering the UK has flummoxed us. Words have become cheap. Once our Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, described Trump as unfit to become president. Now he thinks there is "a lot to be positive about".

Over the last few days, I have also tried to stay positive. Perhaps Trump's bark is worse than his bite, suggested a dog-walker we got talking to down by the river on the last morning my American friends were here. We can only hope, particularly as Trump and his Republicans will wield extraordinary power over US policy-making with working majorities in both Houses of Congress.

I worked in New York during the late 1990s, meeting all sorts of urbane, liberal-thinking Americans, many of whom will be horrified by Trump's ascendency. My friend who visited last week was one of the best things to come out of that period in my life. With everything going on in the world at the moment, I have come to realise that friendship could be the highest prize.

Brexit taught me that I have more in common with friends from Sweden, Poland, Belgium and Germany than with some of my fellow country(wo)men. While populist politicians strive to put up walls between nations, I want to fly my own flag for cross-border relationships at a grassroots level. Whatever the demagogues say and do, they can't stop us choosing who we are friends with. And, in the days ahead, we may need those friendships more than ever.