I Explain Trump to Spain

Spain is interested in Donald Trump. Understandably. I ignored many European squabbles while hailing F cars on the other side of the planet, but paid attention when Britain voted itself out of the European Union. Iberian psychology may be similar. Spaniards have their own canoes to row, little time to fret about Citizens United, Merrick Garland, other Uncle Sam concerns.

Trump is special, different, unusual. I have fielded many questions. Some have expressed fear.

What follows is one lifelong American’s perspective on the Trump campaign. If I translate my trenchant prose into español, I’ll have a link for inquisitive Madrileños.

I am inexpert, write with no special authority. I am a Yankee with opinions. That’s all.


First, please remember that Americans live in relative isolation. Huge oceans separate the U.S. of the “New World” from Europe and Asia. Only 30% of Americans have passports. Americans popularized their own sports: baseball, rather than cricket, and American football.

Isolation may encourage a distorted world view. I grew up believing that Americans speak English without an accent, and that the U.S. deserved most of the credit for the Allies’ victory in Europe.

Intentionally or not, major news outlets may more easily deceive untraveled Americans than multilingual European urbanites. I remember the rage and shock expressed during the 1979 Iran hostage taking, but think few of my countrymen knew that the CIA had directed the overthrow of Iran’s democratically elected leader decades earlier.


A former drug addict once told me wistfully that he squandered twenty years chasing the remembered pleasure of a first high. I believe that the U.S. has spent seventy years chasing its own mythologized memory of its role in the great “good” World War II. Individual American soldiers suffered as horribly in this war as soldiers elsewhere, but the mainland emerged with few scratches. It could bathe in deserved glory afterward: the nation with the white hat, the trans-continental Dudley Do Right.

I believe that this self-image encouraged the U.S. to take a belligerent, un-introspective lead in the “war” against Communism, and to gradually squander good will in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and in CIA excesses throughout the Third World. The U.S. also ignored President Eisenhower’s warnings about a military-industrial complex, and funded a huge “defense” budget that remained behemothic after the Cold War, and devours over fifty percent of federal discretionary spending today. A force that consumes so large a share of a nation’s wealth may seek endless enemies (to borrow Jonathan Kwitny‘s phrase) to justify its existence.

America’s tragic, disastrous forays into Vietnam and Iraq encouraged corrosive distrust and cynicism. Correctly or incorrectly, millions in my country believe that U.S. elites conspired to murder President Kennedy, sponsored drug dealing in American ghettoes to fund the Contras; covered up the TWA Flight 800 disaster, and orchestrated the 9-11 attacks. In 1958, nearly three-quarters of Americans said they could trust their government. Today only one in five do.


I believe that the Iraq war was especially disillusioning for Americans on the political right. Their own Republican president had called the country to war against an enemy with “weapons of mass destruction.” No stockpiles of WMDs were ever found. The war had been pointless, a fraud, fought on false premises. The mind could hardly grasp the scope and scale of the Iraq FUBAR: the shameful, obscene, criminal loss of life; the squandering of funds so colossal that even a professional CPA may struggle to hold them in perspective; the lasting, looming consequences of fueling the rise of ISIS.

Republicans reel. They don’t like Hillary Clinton. They aren’t Democrats. They may stand fast by Republican verities: that self-reliance and personal responsibility count, that a free enterprise meritocracy helped make some American companies great, that the hard-working, vice-shunning individual can build a career, create employment, realize the American dream. They may defiantly stand by their churches, too, in a lawless public arena that serves up pornography to ten year olds, that encourages the press to publicize any depravity — serial assassins, cop killers — for page views and web traffic.

But their own Republican establishment had cheerled the Iraq war.

Who could they vote for?

Enter Donald Trump, successful businessman, perhaps originally a mere protest candidate. Trump holds establishment Republicans to account for the Iraq fiasco, toes no predictable party line, appears to speak his mind on terrorism, immigration, other issues. The mainstream press obviously despises him, but angry voters may regard media opprobrium as a point in Trump’s favor. Did the press ever admit its role as an Iraq War propagandist? Has the press offered a complete picture of the U.S.’ role in the Middle East? Can any candidate so despised by the media be all bad?


I have registered at FVAP, intend to cast a resigned expat vote for Hillary Clinton. I think she’ll probably win, but also presume that terrorist attacks and riots can plump Trump poll counts, and know that he could gain traction in the debates. I regularly check poll standings, suggest that interested Spaniards can, too.

A Hillary-led America may only postpone crisis. I have never disliked her, but acknowledge that other Americans do. Sidelined Republicans can blame the worldly misfortunes of the next four years on the already unpopular woman entering the Oval Office. A dangerously angry, disgusted America is likely to become more so.

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