Paul Auster on US election: 'I am scared out of my wits'

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Media captionPaul Auster on US election: 'I am scared out of my wits'

On a gentrified street in Brooklyn, in a neighbourhood where steps are still strewn with Halloween pumpkins, we knock on the door of the novelist Paul Auster, one of New York's most cherished writers.

He opens the door himself, and invites us in - an hour early in our enthusiasm. We begin to rearrange his immaculately placed sitting room furniture into something that resembles an interview setting.

This is a man who has called right-wing Republicans "jihadists" in the past, and believed Obama to be too much of a moderate. His politics in other words, are unambiguous. He recognises himself as a liberal Jew from Brooklyn - elite, Ivy League educated, everything that the Trump supporter finds contemptible. But today I want to reach behind the partisan divisions and ask what he feels America is going through right now.

"Most people I know are on the verge of a nervous breakdown," he says. It would sound flippant at any other time. But he actually looks like he means it.

America, he tells me, no longer resembles the country he grew up in. "When Trump says make America great again, he means Make America White Again. Black people hear that. White people probably hear it as well."

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But, I persist, Trump is just the messenger. His followers are numerous. I remind him of the infamous line by Clinton, calling half of Trump's supporters "a basket of deplorables - racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic." Would he call those supporters racists? Does he think she was right, I wonder?

''Yes I do," he tells me. "He is saying out loud what these people have always thought. They are so happy to have someone come out at last and say what they have been thinking. That's why they love him so much."

So if he wins, I ask, will you think of America as a racist country?

"Well, it already is a racist country in thousands of ways. When you have a [potential] head of state saying these things, it really becomes dangerous for everyone."

Liberals like to think that if they had lived through the 1930s, the rise of fascism, they would have had the vision and the courage to call it out. Does he think this is a moment of that magnitude?

"I think we are getting to that. And there are times when Trump does sound like Hitler. The 'International Banking Conspiracy' is just a code word for Jews. It's very scary. Plus his embrace by the white supremacist right wing. There were 60 of these groups 10 years ago. Now there are 900. Trump has enabled them."

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I cannot tell if he's rheumy eyed - or on the verge of tears.

Does the whole political system seem broken?

"We are getting to that point. I have never been in more despair about who we are and where we are going than I am now."

He's eschewing the election night parties, choosing instead to watch here at home, his daughter at his side.

"Excited?" I ask.

"Excited?" he frowns. "I am scared out of my wits."

Emily Maitlis is presenting BBC Newsnight's coverage of the US presidential election. You can follow her on Twitter, watch more of her reports, or read more from her on her blog.