An American Black Hole

A tutor at Oxford said that teaching Hitler and Stalin was draining and best done rarely.  I feel like that with Timothy Schnyder and his work on evil in history.  It’s like watching Othello: you know it ends badly, and you know every little twist – down to the strawberries dyed with the blood of virgins on the hanky.  If God was on duty, he was in a dreadful mood

Maggie Haberman is a very fine reporter for The New York Times. Her book on Trump, Confidence Man, oozes the professionalism of its author.  It also has a fine sense of theatre and balance. 

But that dreaded inevitability can be wearing.  Did this man ever do anything that was right?  Was he sent by God to expose every weak seam in the American people?  Or was he just there to prove that God is a fraud?

We know the story.  Here are passing impressions that came to me on reading what is a very fine and necessary book.

Shakespeare’s Richard III was born ugly – and he keeps getting worse.  He has learned to descant on his own deformity.  Nothing will stand in the way of his defying fate and spitting at God.  He is loathed as a toad, but he knows how to sway the crowd.  His deceit with men of God could make grown men cry – while he giggles perversely. The thought of his getting into bed with a woman could make grown men sick.

 He never has a friend, and he can turn on anyone, even in his family.  His physical deformity is matched by the moral – he has no conscience at all, and he is blind to the whole world except when it might be of use to him.  He is therefore a black hole in his realm.  The most evil creature of this playwright then, he is given killer lines.  ‘I am myself alone.’  ‘I am not in a giving mood.’

Since, we are told, there is nothing new under the sun, we might reflect on what the Cambridge critic, Tony Tanner, said about the this evil character

… .one of his Satanic privileges was to inveigle the audience into laughing at evil…. But he is a completely hopeless king….In no way is Richard representative of his society – he is an aberration, a monster, a permanent outsider   [But] Richard manipulates an already fairly rotten world.

Compton Mackenzie was one of the last English men of letters.  He wrote about the chaos, misery and hell at Gallipoli.  He spoke to one of the lucky men who survived the landing.  He said that a zany message kept running through his head on landing.  ‘We lost our amateur status that night.’ 

That’s how anyone felt on entering into the Trump White House.  A mad house with a preposterous family menagerie that Groucho Marx had prefigured in Freedonia.   The murderous regime in Saudi Arabia knew that Christmas had become general and universal when Mr Cellophane – the opaque son-in-law – hauled into the view of the Crown Prince.  And then Bibi embraced the Donald, and the whole world threw up. 

Mr Cellophane was tasked, as they say, with bringing peace and goodwill to all mankind, and reforming the penal system.  His qualification for the first was that he was a student property developer with papa Donald.  His qualification for the second was that his papa had done time for fraud.  It’s called keeping it in the family.

And then the Strong Man – who could never get past page one of Atlas Shrugged – fell in love with another strong man, who murders in his own family, and then he fawned on the last of the Czars.

And although he gets sick at the mere mention of the word ‘germ’, Trump was worse than useless dealing with an epidemic.  His flock in full MAGA regalia took it all out on someone who knew what he was doing.  It is inviting injury to know more than the Donald, and since the reverse is impossible, life anywhere near him is precarious.

It was I think the psychiatrist K D Laing who said that if you put on a front long enough and hard enough, you end up with nothing of what you started with. It is the same with reality in the world of the Donald.  It has just gone.  All that is left is what appears to and pleases him.

And woe unto them who say so.  A very long time ago, Alexis de Tocqueville noticed a worrying trend in the then quite young American nation.

As the American participates in all that is done in his country, he thinks himself obliged to defend whatever may be censured; for it is not only his country which is attacked upon these occasions, but it is himself.  Nothing is more embarrassing in the ordinary intercourse of life than this irritable patriotism of the Americans.

But no one was prepared for the descent into cowardice of the whole Republican Party.

 Is there, in fact, such a party with rules, governance, a constitution, and a platform?  Who is its leader?  How?  In what other nation on earth could a one-time president, who is seeking to run again, but who claims to be the present president anyway, sit skulking like a Mafia Don in a temple to bad taste in the Southern sun?

Maggie Haberman reports that in one of his occasional flirtations with reality, Trump says he likes things to be complicated so that his course may be harder to follow. Darwin referred to a man who knew his dog had a wolf in his ancestry in just one way- ‘by not coming in a straight line to his master when called’.  The wolf is another predator that gets hunted – although that hunt is of a different order to that which Trump complains of.

Trump could never have got elected in nations with the Westminster System.  He could hardly have even sought preselection. Trump admitted evading military service and not paying tax.    (Before the Conquest, the Dooms of Canute made ‘neglect of army service’ [fyrdwite] an offence against the king.)  No party would have admitted a candidate with so many associates ending up in jail.  Nor could he be appointed a director of a public company or hold any public office above that of janitor.  Trump could not endure sitting in parliament, and he would not last one morning being questioned in it.

If we think of people holding office as ministers of the Crown, the two terms that come to mind are duty and dignity.  Trump knows nothing – nothing – about either.  It’s not just that you would not trust him in any public office.  No parent would leave their children in his custody.  And where does that leave faith in the governance of American business?

We will never assess the damage that Trump has done to the standing of the United States.  People in London, Berlin, Paris and Sydney warm to and look up to America.  We have misgivings about guns, medicare, the Puritans and Evangelicals, and what passes for God over there.  Indeed, we think they are more than a little mad on each.  None of us would wish to live there. 

But the world needs America.  Now Trump has blown the whole shebang sky high.  And the bad agents are acting accordingly.

But for some reason the phrase that keeps coming back to me is that of Pascal.

When I have occasionally set myself to consider the different distractions of men, the pains and perils to which they expose themselves at court or in war, whence arise so many quarrels, passions, bold and often bad ventures, I have discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own chamber. 

Finally, there is one unanswerable indefensible quality.  Trump cheats at golf.

US – Trump – Maggie Haberman

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