Gene Lyons: Washington looks for its escape pod

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 14, 2024

By Gene Lyons

According to New York Times veteran political reporter Peter Baker, the No. 1 topic of discussion at Washington dinner parties and receptions these days is “Where would you go if it really happens?” “It” being Donald J. Trump’s return to the White House following the November 2024 election.

Canada, some say. Others mention Portugal, Australia, even the United Arab Emirates. “The range and seniority of people who talk about it is striking,” Baker writes. “They include current and former White House officials, Cabinet secretaries, members of Congress, agency directors, intelligence and law enforcement officials, military officers, political strategists and journalists.”

Trump’s vows of retribution against his political enemies, whom he has called “vermin,” his stated intention to prosecute pretty much everybody who has offended him, and his loose talk about disobedient generals deserving the death penalty have a lot of people wondering if it can indeed happen here.

“It” being an overt dictatorship.

One former Trump administration official-turned-critic told Baker: “People are feeling that it’s very obvious if a second Trump term happens, it’s going to be slash and burn.”

As for me, to put it in Arkansas vernacular, “I ain’t going nowhere.” First, I’m too old to think about relocating to a foreign country, which is a difficult thing to do — even if you can afford it. Second, while I yield to nobody in my contempt for Trump, I’m too obscure to persecute.

Besides, my wife and I could never agree about where to go. Chances are, for example, that I could qualify for an Irish passport, given that all eight of my great-grandparents were born there. Not long after we married, Diane was surprised to see tears in my eyes for the first time at the epitaph of my great literary hero Jonathan Swift in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. (Swift died in 1745 but lived on in my imagination.)

I have always felt at home in that country, which welcomes immigrants unlikely to become a burden on the public. The Irish are great talkers and listeners. They want to hear your story and tell you theirs. Now that they’ve quit killing each other over religion, the Republic of Ireland is one of the most peaceful countries on Earth, and among the friendliest.

I’ll never forget how emotional I got seeing that rapscallion Bill Clinton with British Prime Minister Tony Blair on TV from Belfast announcing the Good Friday Accords. I thought I’d left all that Irish business behind when I followed an Arkansas girl home from school all those years ago. But no, there it was, deeply embedded.

But here’s the problem. I’ve always been a weather maven. Here’s my daily weather report summary for Dublin over the next 10 years: High, 56; Low, 42. Rain. At least 250 days every year fall within those parameters. Chilly, wet and windy. I don’t think I could fool myself into being happy with that.

The Arkansas girl’s people emigrated from France into South Louisiana by way of Cuba. (Her parents met at LSU.) She thinks France is the most beautiful and fascinating country in the world, with the best cuisine. The food is great even in the airport. When we’ve visited there, she’s frequently been stopped on the street by people asking directions. She has to haltingly explain that, appearances notwithstanding, she doesn’t actually speak the language.

So, France is out. Even if we could afford it. Besides, she’d never leave Arkansas unless the entire Gang of Four — her closest girlfriends for 40 years — agreed to come too. Me, I don’t know how I’d get along without my daily Boston Red Sox broadcast, or Arkansas Razorback basketball, for that matter. Somebody’s got to load up the pack for their daily outing at the dog park, and it’s pretty much got to be me.

No matter. Because while I fear that the several months following the election will be filled with turmoil and foreboding — Trumpist loudmouths have made it clear they will accept nothing but victory and will resort to violence if denied — I believe that Trump is not going to be inaugurated come January 2025.

The exact sequence of events is impossible to predict, but in terms the former “Apprentice” star would understand, the Trump Show is about to be canceled. He has zero chance of winning the popular vote. None. The public is heartily sick of him. Just seeing his scowling face and listening to his endless boasting and whining have become almost unendurable.

For that same reason, he has little chance of running the table in the so-called “swing” states. Also, this time around, no amateur insurrection will take the authorities by surprise. Trump’s attempts to summon a mob to disrupt his New York trial have fallen flat.

So never fear. It’s almost over.

Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of “The Hunting of the President” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). You can email Lyons at