U.S. Politics in London

A benefit of traveling outside the United States, or engaging in conversation with foreigners visiting the United States, is the perspective they can bring to a political discussion. Yes, I know what some of you are probably thinking, in some circles, it is impolite to talk politics, but despite my best efforts to avoid it when traveling abroad, my shadow must project “ask me” because I attract my fair share of political conservations, especially overseas.

One of my golden rules of travel is that I never (voluntarily) engage in the local political talk when visiting a foreign nation, at least not freely. If asked by my host, I may take the bait but only after he or she has provided me with sufficient context. Even then unless I have read up sufficiently on the matter, and know at least some of the local nuances, I comment with reservation. Unless as was the case in the United Kingdom recently, they really open the door to a fluid discussion. Then all reservations go out the window. 

At a British pub a few weeks ago, for example, I was less than gingerly schooled by a local about American politics and, at the time, soon-to-be U.S. Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh. Deftly dodging the Kavanaugh discussion, I took the bait on a general political point raised by my new-found learned friend who, among other things, concluded, without knowing me, that I was one of those entitled types who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth.

I guess a white American-sounding male at a pub in Chelsea with a group of Brits made for an easy target. And he was right. Most of the people in our group were lawyers. I was easy an easy mark. It did not help matters much I was talking loudly, but civilly. By the way, I highly recommend The Phoenix Pub. The food was great. So was the atmosphere and the people, including my inquisitor who also was the quizmaster that evening.

The site of the recent “Great Inquisition” of a group of Americans in Chelsea London, the Phoenix Pub. Pay them a visit. The food is great and so are people.

While I doubt I convinced our quizmaster that evening the American dream was real and not, as he said, “pure fantasy,” I learned a few things from him and other Brits that week especially how quickly perceptions are shaped by distortions in political-media space-time continuum.

For example, a few Brits genuinely believe Trump supporters are crazed gun-toting “nutters” with little, or no education, who are either angry at the world or otherwise seeking to maintain a life of entitled existence for wanting lower taxes and less regulation. I never told them, nor did they ask, that I am an American of Cuban background who had been working since his teens (not because I wanted to, but because I had to). 

Most colleagues with which I discussed politics were shocked I supported President Donald Trump, much less did so early in the Republican primary process. They seemed more shocked that I was a staunch defender of the Second Amendment or, the horror, that any American should be allowed to own more than one gun or rifle. Forget about semi-automatic weapons.

I was quizzed, at times grilled, about American Indians, slavery, identity politics, and even the Civil War monuments! Anyhow, it was all in good fun. They opened the door and asked, so I defended Brexit, but only because it was the will of the British electorate to make it so. I made a plug for a U.S.-U.K. free trade agreement.

And, again, because they opened the door, said Europe needed to get a handle on illegal immigration, or it could become their undoing. As will be identity politics that, unfortunately, was a lot more palpable in British society than a few years ago.

The United Kingdom remains my favorite nation to visit in Europe, bar none. Sure we tend to disagree on politics, but, deep down, I think they enjoy American visitors and politics than they will ever admit. I found people this go around, especially the cab drivers, who were not only energized about going it alone without the European Union but who thought President Trump and the new brand of re-energized American politics would brush off on their politicians.