You don’t need me to tell you that the 2016 US presidential election was the most bitter, divided and downright ugly of any living person’s lifetime. Yet despite this, with 41.6 percent of eligible voters not casting a ballot, the winner wasn’t Donald Trump, it was apathy. But I did my bit. I may not have the right to vote in America, but I did my darndest to uphold democracy in the land of the free by borrowing a Bentley and driving people to the polls.
For many of the 135 million who voted, the divisiveness of the candidates and ideological Armageddon was plenty motivation enough to tick a ballot paper, but for those who were sitting on the fence, or simply stuck at work or pressed for time, I hoped that a shiny new Bentley Mulsanne Speed might prove an electioneering carrot.
What better way to soothe the stresses of such a long and gladiatorial campaign season, besieged as the public were by hostile candidates and even angrier media, than to have a relaxing seat massage on their way to vote. They would feel like a president en route to appointing one.
Following satirical calls on both sides of the Atlantic for Britain to rescind America’s independence and install Elizabeth II as head of state, rather than accept rule by Trump or Hillary Clinton, here I was driving Her Majesty’s preferred marque to Philadelphia, home of the Liberty Bell which rang to signify the reading of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. No, Britain won’t get its driving gloves back on the New World but at least I could flash a bit of British pomp and style in the Bentley.
The Presidential Cadillac might have the advantage of 20cm-thick armour plating, rocket-propelled grenades and a litre of the Chief Executive’s blood on board, but the Mulsanne has it totally trumped (no pun intended) when it comes to performance. The Caddy is diesel, takes 15 seconds to reach 60mph and won’t go much faster than that. My Beast, on the other hand, packs a muscular 6.8 litre V8 that launches it to 60mph in 4.8 seconds and a top speed of 190.
At over 5.5m in length it’s bigger than the West Wing. Were the Bentley a Commander-in-Chief it would be Theodore Roosevelt, who was a boxer and cavalry officer before taking his seat in the oval room.
My ‘patch’ would be West Philly – yeah, as in where the Fresh Prince of Bel Air was born and raised. It’s a predominantly black and lower income neighbourhood, and Mrs Clinton was the firm favourite in this district.
During my week in the States it was clear from those I spoke with that Hillary was far more popular in the inner cities I visited – New York and Philly – but outside the cities people were voting Trump. People had their reservations about The Donald, but for whatever reason they absolutely hated Hillary. “You couldn’t pay me to vote for her”, I kept hearing. I was accompanied to Philadelphia by a lawyer friend who was doing ‘voter protection’ on election day, to ensure the process was legal. We stopped at a Starbucks where the barista, who revealed he was a Mexican without the right to vote, told her he could never approve of a female president. What stunned me wasn’t just that this man was a misogynist, or that being from across the border and supporting a Trump presidency is like a turkey voting for Christmas, but that he would see fit to share this information with a woman to whom he was serving coffee at 6am.
I should divulge that I went to America hoping for a Democratic victory, yet my original plan had been to offer my chauffeuring services without bias or lecture. Showing up at the polling station on Baltimore Avenue, held in a high school with weird electronic voter machines that like Johnny Five out of Short Circuit, it was clear that I’d been mistaken for a Republican. Arriving in a Bentley and wearing a suit, I seemed out of place, like I might have stepped out of Trump Tower. One voter in the queue tweeted that Trump had sent one of his lieutenants to influence proceedings. When I explained the reality of my mission the tweets were deleted and replaced with pictures of this lady lounging in the back of the Bentley as I took her for a trip around the block. Both Hillary and the Mulsanne got her vote.
The electoral college system has been criticised for when it fails to carry the popular vote, but the real issue is that if you live in the sticks it takes five minutes to vote whereas if you live in the inner city, as I saw in Philly, the lines snake around the black and it can take over an hour to cast your ballot. This isn’t great if you’re black and have a job, and I suspect this is why Pennsylvania, which is historically favourable to Democrats, went red this time. It was certainly at odds with the vast majority of people I met and the signs I saw in the metropolis.
I realised that to entice passengers to the Votemobile I needed to appeal to the popular front. So I visited the Clinton campaign HQ and affixed some stickers to the Bentley, to show that the most uber Uber in town was With Her.
It was the first time in a Bentley for every voter I picked up, and of course I introduced them to all the toys the Mulsanne boasts; there was a £9,000 fridge between the rear seats featuring bespoke crystal champagne flutes, TVs in the headrests where they could catch up on election coverage, and the narcoleptically relaxing seat massage function to which a grandma named Aileen became so attached I thought I might be driving her and her nephew Jermaine around all evening. I stopped for another chap called Lim, who looked patriotic in stars and stripes pants and Facebook Live streamed his entire journey from the backseat, yelling at pedestrians “Hillary sent me a Bentley!” from the window and having me drive by all his friend’s houses. “Not even Obama sent a Bentley to the hood!”
The first results started to come in at 6pm, from the Midwest, and the Republicans early advantage came as no surprise. The mood began to change around 9pm as it became clear that states that were predicted to be blue were pink. I left Philly at this point bound for NYC because I had a ticket to attend the Clinton event at the Javits Convention Centre. She was due to speak, though, as it turned out, she never arrived. The atmosphere was funereal. I had banked on a front row seat for history, yet that was about to happen across town at the Trump conference. At Javits, it was like the air had been sucked out of the room and, worse still, there was no bar.
I parked up the Bentley at The Bowery Hotel where a more glamorous election party was due to take place, but it too had petered out early. “It’s finished,” informed the concierge, “but come in and get a drink anyway. God knows we all need one”. Helena Bonham Carter walked in. It looked like she’d been crying.
New York was a ghost town that Tuesday night. I peeled the Stronger Together sticker off the Bentley’s grille and put it in the trash where there were so many discarded Clinton fliers. I took a cab uptown to the Subway Inn, a late night bar where we could see the final results come in on the rank of TVs suspended above the liquor bottles. A girl next to my booth was balling her eyes out when Trump came to the lectern to give his acceptance speech. I went to buy her and her friends some medicinal shots from the bar, where there were two young white guys. One said to the other “I don’t know how I can face work tomorrow”. His companion said “Dude, the Dow just dropped 7000 points, I can’t wait to go to work tomorrow!” Then they went to a strip club.
The people that I spoke to were gobsmacked that someone would come over from Europe with a flash car in a bid to uphold The Great American Democracy, but were genuinely grateful that people outside the country took an interest and wanted to play a part. Some are celebrating the result, others are crestfallen, but for a handful of voters from West Philly the shock of the 2016 election result may have had the edge taken off slightly by the soft leather and deep carpets they sunk themselves into on the way to the polls. My luxury Votemobile may not have influenced the result, but it helped give a dozen or so their democratic voice and a ride they won’t forget in a hurry.