Way back in 2016, when Donald Trump won his first election, I had sworn never to return to the USA while he was at the helm. I was 61 then, now I’m 74. The age when we attend more funerals than weddings, birthdays and christenings combined. So, it recently came to pass that I wanted very much to attend a dear friend’s funeral. In Mississippi.
Now, in 2030, we don’t know much about the USA. You see, by the time the 2020 election happened, many people were no longer allowed to vote. If a person was unemployed (and there were a LOT of unemployed by 2020), they could not vote. If a person was female, they could not vote. If a person had not been born in the USA, they could not vote. If they were a known LGBTIQ person, they could not vote. Trump was elected again. That was the last election in the USA. Trump, now 83, continued to tweet every morning but everyone except his fans ignored him.
By 2018 California was no longer part of the USA. Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Illinois, Connecticut, Rhode, Island, Vermont and New Jersey had all left the federation by 2021. They were now, if you like, the Ununited States of America. Yet to form a new nation formally, negotiations were ongoing. It was a bit like the Europe of old. Most of the military had aligned with the Ununited States, something that had apparently infuriated Trump because he could no longer threaten to invade other nations. Canada and several of the other Ununited States had built walls. Mexico had built a wall along the Texas/Mexico border, but California and Mexico enjoyed a mutually profitable and politically stable relationship.
I landed in Los Angeles as I always had in the past, to then be interrogated at the USA/California border before continuing my journey into the unknown. Although as an Australian, I could still get a visa waiver for California, the USA demanded to interview every non-citizen at the border. As there were no longer embassies around the world (except in Russia) it was impossible to be interviewed in Sydney or Melbourne prior to travel. Travellers were advised to allow a minimum of five hours for the interrogation.
The alternative of flying into Dallas Fort Worth, Texas was risky. If I got refused a visitor visa in California, I could just go back to my hotel. If I was refused a visitor visa on arrival in Dallas Forth Worth, I’d be incarcerated overnight then put on a return flight. While the chances of my being incarcerated were slim, I hoped, I did have a vocal anti-Trump history – if they found it. My phone was a disposable and I had a little old lady Facebook profile for just this sort of thing. Better not to take the risk.
California didn’t look much different than it had done when I had last visited in September 2016. The airport was just as busy as ever, although security was a little tighter. This, I was told, was to manage the never-ending stream of refugees from the USA. Trump, it seemed, had no problem with people leaving – if they weren’t with the program, they could go. The problem, of course, was California and the other Ununited States just didn’t have the capacity. What had started as a trickle had become a deluge in recent years.
I stayed overnight in LA. The hotel was luxurious without being ostentatious, the service was good, the staff were happy.
The next day I had a contact drive me around. I saw little evidence of homelessness or unemployment. California was a hive of activity. There was not a gun in sight except for the police. I read the local papers and watched the news channels. The crime rate was significantly lower than the peak in 2018, just prior to California leaving the federation.
Then came the time to go to the airport to fly into Trump territory. The queues were short – no-one was going in unless they had to. The five hours involved questioning and the immigration agents delving through the travellers’ phones, iPads, cameras, social media, emails and extended family connections. A lengthy questionnaire was required to be responded to in person. I almost expected to be blood tested. Finally, travellers were fingerprinted and x-rayed. I mean really x-rayed. On a table. At least this obviated the need for an internal examination. At 74 I wasn’t too keen on that idea.
There were plenty of empty seats on the plane. I popped up the armrests after take-off and slept much of the way. The plane wasn’t clean, the toilets smelt, there were not enough cabin attendants. The arrival lounge was grim. The one thing I noticed was no-one was smiling. I mean no-one. There was almost a suspicion of anyone getting off the plane, a “Why would you come here?” expression on peoples’ faces. It was very disconcerting.
In my taxi to the hotel I noticed an odd gender imbalance. There were old white men by the score, many fewer young men of any ethnicity and very few young women. I asked the taxi driver, “Where are all the women?” He scowled. In a deep southern drawl, he told me the women leave. They marry out, mostly to Chinese and Indian men (two countries with a historical shortage of women), he spat. His language was not quite as polite as I have relayed.
The people and the place looked poor, like a third world country. I’ve been to third world countries, I recognised the look, the smell, the facial expressions. The buildings were neglected, the roads badly needed repair, many of the traffic lights no longer worked. Businesses were boarded up.
What children there were (given the shortage of women) didn’t seem to be in school, but roaming the streets aimlessly. Homelessness seemed to be rife – and I was in the better part of town.
The hotel was reasonably clean, but everything was old. It was as if nothing had been replaced or refurbished for fifteen years. The food was passable, the service was sullen.
If I had to sum up the atmosphere in one word, it would be despair. No-one seemed to be happy. Everyone seemed to be living hand to mouth.
The television was obviously tightly controlled. As was the internet and print media (yes, it still existed). The news was strictly local and all wonderfully good. Trump’s policies were working, people were happy, wasn’t it terrific. Trump was the best President the world had ever seen. There might have been 1% happy, the faces I was looking at were certainly not.
I had been going to stay a few days, spend time with people I knew. I couldn’t, the place was too depressing. As soon as I had paid my respects at the funeral, I left. I spent those days in California.
I have never been so glad to reach Australian soil as I was today.