Stay inert, keep Trump. That’s the warning.
Posted on February 1, 2019
Michael Wolff’s book The Fire and the Fury tells a story about what life in the Trump White House has been like. It’s artfully done and a good deal of it sounds pretty credible and convincing. Wolff tells his reader early on that many of his sources are identifiable and are happy to be accredited. Some sources, he admits, emanate from ’deep background’. He makes a brave attempt at explaining this term away but there’s no escaping the fact that it’s plain old speculation. Informed speculation maybe, but speculation.
All the same, it’s a riveting read. If, like me, Trump fills you with a mixture of incredulity at his crass behaviour, tempered with a deep-seated, genuine fear of what the barmy so-and-so will do next, then it confirms pretty well everything you thought you knew. The purpose of this post, though, isn’t to wail, snigger or gasp about his peculiar actions and attitudes: Wolff does that for us. It’s to consider what the Trump era looks like to people who aren’t like me and, given that you’ve taken to reading this blog, I’m guessing I’m talking about you as well.
Trump appears to like watching TV – he has three in his bedroom – and enjoys take-away food. He’s not much of a reader of anything and gets irritated by what he sees as boring meetings and detailed discussions. He becomes quickly impatient with those whom he fails to convince and unlike the rest of us, who have to either grin and bear this or find alternative approaches, he can, should he wish, summarily dismiss them (yes, I can hear you say, if only…). His view of the world is insular and he’s not much interested in the news unless it’s about him.
All of this, which so infuriates and frustrates so many of us, is a matter of complete indifference to him and, crucially, his supporters and his entourage. The former see all of this from a distance and largely applaud an approach to life with which many of them can associate. They admire and envy his thick-skinned bluffness – a response that, in itself, inflames us liberals even more. As for his camp followers, informed as they must be by the same sense of precarious existence experienced at the court of Caligula, their prime, daily objective remains their own self-promotion. And they go about this with an unapologetic brazenness that is truly breath-taking.
How, we screech, is he getting away with all of this? When are people going to eventually see through his blowhard mendacity and experience some buyers’ remorse? Well, not in the immediate future.
There have been brilliant street protests, particularly in the early days. At the time of writing, mass strikes in some public services indicate some growing movements of resistance. There have been progressive gains – the election of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez being the most uplifting. For the moment, the blocking of the silly wall is another encouraging sign.
And yet Trump’s approval rating with the American people is far from rock bottom, especially for a serving president. It remains entirely solid among those whose votes put him in power.
I’ll be careful about how I express this next bit because I don’t wish to sound disrespectful of anyone – something I’ll elaborate upon later in this piece. Is this enduring approval because these supporters are racist, stupid, selfish, gullible or a horrible combination of these and other faults? I don’t think so. I think it’s because, by and large, as they go about their daily business – making a living, making ends meet, doing their best – they just don’t care that much.
For an explanation of my thinking, I’ll go to the unlikely area of the plethora of tea-time quiz programmes that dominate UK television. Among these, I have a particular guilty pleasure – Pointless. I’d never go on it because I would be sure to humiliate myself in a dozen different ways. But in one area I’d be entirely confident that I’d do well – not because of any great knowledge on my part, but because of the unawareness of others. If the question was anything about UK politics and politicians I’d be quietly confident. I don’t know people who star in reality shows or competitions. Pop stars, other than those from my own youth, are unknown to me. But, unlike most contestants, I can recognise fairly obscure cabinet ministers and have a good recall of political events and upheavals in the past 50 years. Sad, but true. Foreign Secretary at the time of Suez in 1955. Yup – I’m there. Selwyn Lloyd. Name a contestant on Love Island? Not a chance.
The bald truth is that once we get past the theatre of national and international elections – and unless the odd juicy scandal comes along – politics as a live event takes a complete back seat for most people. Not because they’re dim-witted, but because in the hurly-burly of modern existence, they see no connection between something called politics and what they experience as everyday life. This can only be reinforced when TV presents the daily, flapping incompetence of a bunch of old white blokes messing up everything they put their hands to. Why on earth invest any time or energy in any of that?
I reiterate the point. This is not an argument that says people are so stupid that you can dupe them all of the time. Events show that we’re all perfectly capable of understanding political processes – but we do so best when we get actively involved. Protesting against the felling of trees; setting up local weapon amnesties; lobbying for traffic calming, incinerators, flightpaths, windfarms – whatever stirs your blood. Get involved and you begin to acquire some knowledge of the processes in all their glorious, awful frustrations and impediments. Stay on your backside watching TV and politics remains a very boring spectator sport.
Into this induced lethargy and indifference step the liars. With common sense answers, gleaned from their mates at golf clubs, masonic lodges and their favoured social media outlets, they regale us with those obvious solutions that have somehow evaded everyone else. And because we want the various pains of life to go away, and because no-one else seems to know how to make that happen, their windy blustering has an appeal.
I write this on the last day of January when many people are coming to the end of a period during which they have attempted to drink less, cut out meat, go for a run every day and any number of other of lifestyle choices – all aimed at making themselves feel better about themselves and the world around them. What might now be good would be to put some of that energy into just one communal thing, one initiative that works for the common good, one thing that connects us to other people. That way, we’d confirm what we know; by acting together – not talking or clicking – we can show that we can all aspire to a life beyond Trumps’ TV, fast food and angry Twitter.