The Cruise: One Yankee Lady Takes on 3,999 Brits
What do you get when you put one American on a British cruise ship with over 4,000 citizens of the U.K.? Answer: a lot of questions about Donald Trump.
The population worldwide has gone bananas – "ba-nah-nahs," as the Brits would say – over The Donald. From the Thames to Timbuktu, it seems folks are either mad at the president of the United States or mad for him. On this "matter," very few straddle the fence. And as for the fence, itself – the one proposed along the southern border of the United States – it, too, is hardly a neutral subject.
Let's just say that rarely could the reaction to either Donald Trump's persona or his proposals be characterized as nonchalant. Regardless of how apolitical his armchair critics may profess to be, or how remote from America's unique political system they reside, all creatures great and small appear to have an opinion about the current occupant of the White House.
It is irrelevant how I happened to be the lone Yank on a British cruise ship during a fortnight that ironically included the Fourth of July. In spite of my apparent telltale American accent – or perhaps because of it – I was generally chatted up as a sort of floating curiosity.
Before the voyage, I had harbored the faux hope that I wouldn't be spotted as a colonist, at least not immediately. Yet as soon as I opened my mouth, I was repeatedly asked what part of America I came from and what I thought of Donald Trump.
Keep in mind that the British press is as liberal as our own. On the day I flew home from Southampton, London's Sunday newspapers were bristling with criticism concerning President Trump's "defense of Western civilization speech" in Poland. Commentators huffed that he had cast a pall over the G-20 conference by failing to fall in lockstep with other world leaders. One editorial writer opined that Trump's "sacking" of the FBI chief was further proof of the dictatorship America had suddenly – shockingly – become.
But as is the case here at home, it became quickly apparent to me that the citizens of the United Kingdom are very much divided over the direction in which their own country is going. Still, several of those I talked with seemed visibly surprised by my defense of our sitting president. After all, educated women were assumed to have constituted the bulk of Hillary's support.
Some Brits had also bought into reports of general unrest in the States since Trump's surprising victory. There were misconceptions, as well, about Obamacare, which many presumed to be much like their own government-financed health program. They needed reminding that the United States, with a population of 330 million, must shoulder the burden of a far more costly system, one that consumes one sixth of our economy, enrolls only about 10% of our population, and has not performed as promised.
Eyes predictably glaze over when one gets into the weeds of political theory. Cruisers don't mind a challengingly burnished crust on their crème brûlée, but servings of factual details are harder to digest. And since most of the palaver with strangers took place around a dinner table, on queues, or during lulls in attractions on a sight-seeing bus, the banter tended to remain general – and generally polite. Despite being on international waters, I still felt like an guest in a land other than my own.
On only one occasion did I resort to biting my tongue. During dinner with a small group of businesspeople associated with the cruise, one of the men – an Austrian-born owner of a costume company – loudly expressed his disdain for Trump, branding him disgusting, ambitious, immoral, and totally unqualified for the office to which the red-necked masses of America had elected him. Had I not risked embarrassing others by rising to his bait, I could have reminded him of how less righteously indignant his Austrian ancestors were toward the Fuhrer, a fellow Austrian, when his German army, facing scant opposition, triumphantly invaded the homeland.
Over my fortnight of cruising, it became clear to me that those Brits who had favored Brexit also gave Donald Trump the benefit of the doubt. Those who hadn't didn't. I even began suggesting that without Britain's bold break from the European Union, the Trump phenomenon might never have happened.
Once broached, political discussion can widen in surprising ways. The reserved Brits, known to hold outsiders at arm's length, embraced this American as a kindred political spirit or even as a sparring mate. In any event, the dikes of resistance caved under a flood of curiosity.
In fact, they expressed many of the same concerns and frustrations as those living on the other side of the pond. The influx of immigrants, for example, was a big concern, largely because it seemed to be getting out of hand. I was told many times that the British educational system is not up to the standards it used to be. Concerns were voiced about how the next generations of English subjects would cope. I began to feel vibes of U.K self-awareness not unlike that of Trump's "put America first." And, of course, they are much closer than we are to the migrant crises in Europe.
But there was little doubt as to the deep love held by the British for what Lord Byron called their "tight little island," even as they, like the poet, sailed south to sunnier climes. One passenger from Yorkshire told me he had been many times to the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, but never once to Scotland. "We don't travel north," he joked.
One balmy afternoon, as our massive vessel streamed out of the port of Gibraltar, hundreds of passengers crowded onto the upper decks, waving plastic British flags and belting out songs like "Rule Britannia" and "Why, oh, why, Delilah?"
I was impressed by this show of patriotism, and it occurred to me that it might be the thing that would ultimately pull a country through to victory against those who would do it harm. I worry that there may not be enough of that deep-rooted patriotic fervor left in my own country in these perilous times.
Regardless of their opinions or motives, my fellow travelers deserve praise for showing interest in the head of a country other than their own. I wonder how many Americans, if queried, would have any inkling, for example, as to the identity of Theresa May. Britain's "royals," not her politicians, rule the airwaves here. But then again, I imagine that Donald Trump wouldn't mind some of that "royal treatment," either.