Monday, August 15, 2016

Janey Siley / On Donald Trump

 Jane Smiley
Photograph by Peter Dasilva

Jane Smiley


Friday 12 August 2016 15.00 BST

For me, the most informative book about the fix we are in is Colin Woodard’s American Nations. Woodard explores the US as a cluster of 11 different cultures, some of which we share with our neighbours, Canada and Mexico. In order to understand Trump and his appeal, I think we can focus on Appalachian culture, which was exported from the Scottish borders in the 18th century, and was marked by an affinity for conflict and evangelical protestantism. These people had been trained to do battle in the Scottish wars, were later put to work in the coal mines, and are now out of work (the most evocative portrait of the lives these immigrants left behind and what they did when they got to America is in David Hackett Fischer’s Albion’s Seed). Another intransigent American culture is that of the deep south, slaveholders who came to the US from the sugar plantations of Barbados and were much more hierarchical and ruthless than the slaveholders in Virginia.
Perhaps the most interesting and relevant nation, though, is New Netherland, founded in 1624, a partly Dutch nation, very diverse, not religious, but authoritarian and corporate (run by the Dutch West Indies Corporation). Now New York City, it is the extreme capitalist nation, which has never minded making a buck from no matter what, including the slave trade. Woodard writes, “Indeed, full on slavery was introduced to what is now the United States not by the gentlemen planters of Virginia or South Carolina but by the merchants of Manhattan.”
Three hundred slaves were imported by the Dutch West Indies corporation in 1655 and auctioned – “In the last decade before the [1685] English conquest, New Amsterdam was rapidly evolving into North America’s greatest slave market.” Woodard says that our 11 nations are only partly integrated with one another and have always been that way. I would say that the resistance to having a black man as president, which laid the groundwork for the current fix we are in, comes from the deep southern and Appalachian nations; but the mercenary and ruthless lack of conscience (hello, Donald Trump!) comes from the Manhattan nation.
 Jane Smiley’s most recent novel is Early Warning (Picador).

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