The new nightly ritual is this: we’ve made a pact not to check social media in bed. I get my dollops of US news on the couch beforehand, shared from American friends on Facebook and usually captioned in tones of worldly disgust, tired sadness or sickened shock at how the US president is wielding his weapons of war.
Political commentators on Twitter are at least maintaining a thunderousness to their reporting, but it’s the acts of the president that echo in my head. The “mother of all bombs” pounded into Afghanistan, really? A casual obliteration of a Syrian airfield, you’re sure? Threats to North Korea? North Korea? And Thursday, Trump’s out provoking Iran.
So each night, the attempt is to fold the world into the rubber flap of my iPhone case and somehow fall sleep. Anxiety, however, doesn’t pack away so well. Since the election of Donald Trump, my brain runs electric with potential catastrophe even as it should just fade to black.
I’m not alone because an Essential poll published in the Guardian this week has fear of aggression by our own ally, America, freaking out Australians more than the manoeuvrings of an expansionist Russian government, or the empire-building Chinese.
Why wouldn’t we freak out? It’s not only because we’ve spent decades recruiting ourselves to the American military madness of Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq. We’ve known since 2012 that North Korea’s missiles might be pointed at us, and trusting our national safety to US leadership who can’t get our own leader’s name right seems … foolhardy.
Of course, foolhardy is the Trump administration’s clearest foreign policy theme. The whole world knows he tweets in his own sleepless hours of the night. The tweets are emotional and bombastic, and – now he’s president, he’s actually the president – they have consequences.
The fear of so many is not of falling asleep, but of waking up to discover Trump’s digital bellows felled a city, or that his games with new military toys have enacted a hostile play that can never be reversed. Can anyone believe that protecting human life on Earth is the priority for someone who claims that climate change is a “hoax”? Or who threatens nuclear North Korea with something unanswerable and then pops off to Mar-a-Lago for some golf?
My sleep is now so light that if my phone buzzes, I bolt upright in bed. At my age, notifications at midnight should provoke the crazy fear that dear old mum has had a fall – not that the New York Times may be announcing the outbreak of nuclear war.
I opposed Donald Trump’s election, and passionately, but the depth of my present fearful resentment isn’t because he’s a climate change denier (though he is), a misogynist who calls women pigs (though he has), or a kleptocratic slumlord spending big on fancy office curtains while cutting Meals on Wheels (though this is the observable nature of the man).
It’s because the cold war is supposed to be over. Perestroika,…