Pubs (hotels) are an integral part of the social fabric of Australian society. A meeting place for people from all walks of life, young and old alike. Career and social status are left at the door. Once inside, everyone’s opinions and points of view warrant equal weight and consideration in true Aussie egalitarian style.
Australians delight in robust and opinionated group discussions. My circle of friends and local identities, who routinely get together occasionally after work, are no different. Inevitably, the grey area between fact and fiction widens considerably as the evening wears on and the beer flows copiously. Few issues or topics escape our scrutiny and considered opinions, and often, long held conventional beliefs are roundly debunked. This wasn’t always the case, due to Tony the Hairdresser’s irritating habit of wanting to fact check what he felt were suspect and outlandish claims. In short order, we unanimously agreed, Tony’s self-appointed fact checking initiatives had to stop. His frequent interruptions disrupted the flow and continuity of our discussions, resulting in us often forgetting where we bookmarked the conversation. As a consequence, we banned the use of cell phones, other than to make or answer calls.
One evening, I had the good fortune to stop by, when we unanimously managed to solve many longstanding conundrums by the night’s end. Foremost among them, the truth about climate change, and yes, Alexander the Great really was gay. While our consensus opinion on Climate Change may have been a little short on verifiable facts, nevertheless, we figured we had covered all the bases. This evening was truly momentous. Rarely had I witnessed unanimous agreement on so many vexed issues.
Although, little did I realize, this was to be the proverbial calm before the storm….
The storm emerged in the form of recently elected US President Donald Trump. His election victory was a very unexpected development, catching us all off guard, especially since most local Aussie US political commentators assured us he didn’t have a snowflake’s chance in hell. Expat American, Paul the podiatrist, still reeling in stunned disbelief, mumbled “Even Fareed Zakaria got it wrong, said he would lose, full stop, period.” Staring quizzically at Paul, Mary the masseuse posed the question we were all pondering “Who the **** is Fareed Zakaria?” Looking somewhat incredulous, Paul explained, “Don’t you know, Fareed is the undisputed doyen of all US political commentators.”
American politics was very much unchartered territory for us. In fact, only on rare occasions did domestic Australian politics feature in our discussions. I’d always assumed this was probably as a result of a very lively federal pre-election eve group debate several years back. Emotions ran high and not so veiled insults, bruised egos, and strained friendships featured prominently, as differing viewpoints and opinions ran amok.
Since that fateful evening, politics never re-emerged as a topic of discussion, whether by tacit agreement, or just plain common sense. However, we all agreed, Donald Trump’s monopoly of the daily news cycle shouldn’t pass without comment. We had to make some attempt to rationalize this seemingly US national loss of the plot. Will he be a one term aberration, or should Americans (especially the ones who didn’t vote for him) need to hunker down for the long, very unpredictable haul? Rafael the high school principal joined us just as we started to debate this very issue. Without hesitation, he made his position very clear. I came here tonight expecting to enjoy a few pleasant ales with you guys, not be drawn into some incoherent US presidential election postmortem. Haven’t you people had enough of Mr Trump? Isn’t the wall to wall binge media coverage enough for you guys? “Exactly, you are spot on, Raf” declared Gareth the used car salesman. “It’s like a 24/7 bizarre reality TV program.”
Grinning mischievously, while skilfully balancing a large tray of Bistro orders, Phyllis the waitress quickly countered, “That’s a bit rich coming from you Gareth. I woulda thought you and Mr Trump had much in common.” “How do you figure that?” said an irritated Gareth. “Well, Don’t you and Mr Trump both wildly manipulate and embellish the facts to your own advantage?”
Sensing a familiar ugly scenario beginning to develop, Paul quickly intervened, “Hey, what are we doing here? This is ridiculous, scholars and commentators the world over are struggling to make some sense of this Trump calamity, with little success. So maybe we should stick to stuff within our grasp and understanding. And by the way, isn’t it your turn to buy the next round, Tony?” As Tony motioned to the waiter, Kristen the Yoga instructor posed a question more within the realm of our collective knowledge and expertise. “Have you guys ever pondered how the Alien procreation process would work in a non-gravitational planetary environment?”