I had a serious scare this month, when I was on holiday in New Jersey. For those of you who only know Jersey from time spent in that ring of hell known as Newark Airport, let me assure you that some of the beaches rank right up there with glitzier places. But what I saw at a petrol station made my blood run cold. Plastered across the back windscreen of a pickup truck was a sticker advertising a “dream ticket” for the next US presidential election: Palin/Coulter 2016.
Let’s pause for a moment to think about a Sarah Palin presidency. Gives you chills, right? Now add to that nightmare the thought of the professionally blonde and viperous conservative commentator Ann Coulter having executive power. Keep in mind the recent Coulter proclamation that “there is a cultural acceptance of child rape in Latino culture”.
This same pickup truck sported a Romney/Ryan 2012 bumper sticker and to top it all off, a whopping big Confederate flag sticker. It was such an over-the-top display of US conservatism that for a moment I thought maybe it was a joke. Sadly, however, I think the driver was completely serious. He roared out of the petrol station and left me reeling at his bumper crop of US political dysfunction: fear, racism and cartoonish demagoguery.
Does the driver really think that Sarah Palin and Ann Coulter would do a good job of running the country? And does he think that he’s being progressive because he’s willing to vote for women? Don’t get me wrong: if people want to have political opinions that are different from mine, so be it; they will, I hope, eventually come around to my more enlightened views.
But instead of having a healthy debate about the country’s priorities, the US seems to have those whom novelist Philip Roth called “the indigenous American berserk” in the driver’s seat – in this case, literally. Whether he knew it or not, the driver had plastered those bumper stickers to his truck with a smeary paste of anger and fear – fear of change, of difference, of the unknown. The Confederate flag symbolises one of the darkest periods in US history and can’t be displayed without calling to mind slavery and its legacy. To say otherwise is naive at best and, at worst, points directly to the racist violence that still plagues the country. And with their fury towards immigrants, Ms Coulter, Mrs Palin and her buddy Donald Trump pander to this legacy of racism; it’s become their raison d’être.
Ms Coulter's new book is titled Adios America and she's said that Mr Trump will continue to surge in the polls as long as he is seen as "strong" on immigration. Mrs Palin, Ms Coulter's fantasy running-mate, according to that New Jersey driver, says that Mr Trump is a "courageous truth teller" who will restore America. Restore it to what, exactly, I wonder? To a slave-based economy? To a country where only white male property owners can vote?
I can almost understand Mr Trump’s bombast: he inherited millions from his father, and has done everything he can to make sure he doesn’t have to share the wealth (other than with his several ex-wives, one of whom was an immigrant). The people who attend Mr Trump’s political rallies seem not to notice that “The Donald” is not what you’d call a man of the people. He has no interest in raising the minimum wage and by one ranking, his company’s retirement plan scores a 30 out of 100.
No, Mr Trump doesn't confuse me (although his success does). What confuses me are the women like Mrs Palin and Ms Coulter. Do they not understand that "restoring America" to some long-ago golden era would effectively dismantle their public platforms? The 1950s are not remembered as a heyday for women, unless you're thinking about June Cleaver from the TV comedy Leave It to Beaver, perpetually smiling in her apron and pearls.
I think that’s what was so scary about those bumper stickers. They suggest that the driver is hellbent on driving the US straight backwards, and neither he nor those who agree with him seem to care about who they’re going to run over in the process.
Deborah Lindsay Williams is a professor of literature at NYU Abu Dhabi who blogs at www.mannahattamamma.com