Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams, writing about mass hysteria a few days ago, cited “insult without supporting argument” as one indicator of hysteria. He was making much the same point that I was making yesterday when writing about mismatches between reality and models of reality. With the unexpected election of Donald Trump, a great many Americans discovered that their model of reality no longer matched reality. But instead of adjusting their model, they wish instead to adjust reality – by removing Donald Trump from office.
There was a very good example of unsupported insult in the Guardian yesterday. The insults (my emphases added) directed at Donald Trump began in the first paragraph:
It is difficult for Americans to watch the presidential parody that is Donald Trump with anything approaching equanimity. But it is also hard for non-Americans – long-time friends and admirers of the United States – who look on helplessly from afar.
Reactions range from amazement and amusement to shock and dismay. How has this frightening travesty come about? What does it mean for the America we love? And what does it portend for a world accustomed to sensible, reliable, rational American leadership?
Every country has its political mavericks and clowns. But to put a shadow figure like Trump, a profoundly ignorant, self-obsessed narcissist lacking any discernible moral compass, in charge of the nation’s affairs looks like an act of collective madness.
Seven months after he took office, the situation has not “normalised”. On the contrary, it grows more abnormal by the day. Just look at Trump’s aberrant press conference performance on Tuesday when, breaking his word of the previous day, he deliberately re-opened America’s most sensitive wound – racial division – and picked at the Charlottesville scabs until the blood gushed anew.
This reckless divisiveness, this shameless moral ambiguity, this historical know-nothingness, this thinly-disguised bigotry – these are not the qualities one expects of an American president. This is not leadership. This is not change. This is not greatness renewed.
This unworthy man, and the far-right ghouls who cling to him, set a dreadful example for the rest of the world, from the very country that is deemed by many to be the ultimate symbol of justice, liberty and democratic governance.
Why is Donald Trump a “parody”? Or a “frightening travesty”? Or a “shadow figure”? Or an “unworthy man”? In what ways exactly is he “a profoundly ignorant, self-obsessed narcissist lacking any discernible moral compass”? Does he really display “reckless divisiveness, shameless moral ambiguity, historical know-nothingness, and thinly-disguised bigotry”? I don’t see any of these things in him. Why is this abuse being rained down on the current President of the United States by someone who purports to not only be be a friend and admirer of the USA, but to actually love it? And in raining abuse on Trump, isn’t the author also raining abuse on those millions of Americans who had the temerity to vote for him?
I think Donald Trump is one of those larger-than-life figures that America throws up from time to time, usually in the form of movie stars like Gary Cooper or Humphrey Bogart or John Wayne. He is in fact, like Ronald Reagan, a screen star. Perhaps that’s what is so insufferable about him – and Reagan before him -, that he has crossed the threshold between fiction and reality, and stepped out of the screen into the real world, like Superman or Batman or Conan the Barbarian? And he has, like one of those superheroes, set out to “drain the swamp”, “build the wall”, and generally clean up Dodge. And his presidency has become a re-enactment of the role of Gary Cooper in High Noon, with the Frank Miller gang stalking him through the streets being played by the Deep State and the Democrats (and many of the Republicans) in Congress, and with the roles of Grace Kelly and Katy Jurado being played by the American people.
Perhaps the Guardian columnist simply thinks that the lead role in the movie is being played by the wrong guy, and it has been handed to someone wholly inappropriate, like Charlie Chaplin or Jerry Lewis. What was needed was someone like Gregory Peck. Or maybe Clark Gable. Instead they’d got someone surprisingly resembling Charles Laughton in the role of the populist Gracchus in the 1960 version of Spartacus.
Further down the long column – in which the unsupported insults hurled at Trump never let up – the author looks back affectionately at the presidency of the elder George Bush, as a good “example for the rest of the world”. For him, the president is above all a role model, and must show himself to be “sensible, reliable, and rational”. Bush was charming, and the reporter had been charmed. If you’re playing the role of POTUS, you have to be “sensible, reliable, and rational”, and charming and handsome as well.
And Trump, like Charles Laughton, isn’t very handsome. And he isn’t very charming either. He’s a flawed character. He’s not unambiguously good, like the elder George Bush launching the “Great American Workout” by saying:
“We need balanced and nutritional diet. And we’ve got to avoid tobacco and drug use, avoid excessive alcohol use. And fitness really can enrich the human mind and body by lowering stress and blood pressure and cholesterol.”
In a world of appearances, everything is about appearances. And movies are nothing but appearances. The cast of characters must display exemplary physical fitness, and forego tobacco and alcohol and drugs. And the character playing the lead role must display all these traits, as well as being “sensible, reliable, and rational”. And charming. And even-handed. And restrained.
The Guardian columnist is panning Trump’s presidency like it was a Hollywood movie that got released on 20 January 2017. It’s sending all the wrong messages to the world. And for him, the US Presidency is all about sending the right message, and staying on-message.
Here’s what changed in the age of Trump: when such angry sentiments are whipped up and magnified for unscrupulous personal advantage, when a political leader encourages ordinary people to blame other groups, races or nations for their problems, when fear and blame become the twin forks of a wicked grab for power, and when the resulting fury tips over into hatred, division, Charlottesville-style violence and “America First” xenophobia, you know you are in big trouble.
But it has not been Trump who has been “whipping up angry sentiments”: it’s been the mainstream media. It’s not been Trump who has been “encouraging ordinary people to blame other groups, races or nations for their problems”: it’s been people like Hillary Clinton telling half the American people that they’re a “basket of deplorables”. It’s not been Trump who has been filled with “fury”, “hatred”, and “fear”: that all comes from the pens of Guardian columnists.
Trump, The Movie, is anyway still in its First Act. We don’t know how it’s going to play out. We don’t really know the plot at all yet. Maybe Trump will prove to be as bad, or worse, than his critics claim that he is. Or maybe the Frank Miller gang will fill him with lead.
Or maybe there’ll be a lot of surprising plot twists over the next seven years, and when the lights finally come up, and we stumble out onto the streets outside, it will prove to have been an epic and memorable film. And it’ll be remade repeatedly, with the role of Trump being played by the likes of Gregory Peck, as a restrained, charming, even-handed, sensible, reliable, and rational man – a saint unrecognised in his own lifetime.
I’m making available A Smoker’s Manifesto on Google Docs for interested persons to add comments and edit recommendations. I’ve not tried anything like this before, so I’m not sure how it will work. You’re not supposed to be able to edit the text. So if you find you can, please let me know.
Also Walt has dug up a name:
About Susanne Nundy (aka Anna Raccoon). The full name of the Dr who presided over her mistreatment and who to write to directly is
Dr Philip Wilkins
Priscilla Bacon Lodge
Norfolk NR2 2PJ