Tuesday 25 October 2016

Declan Lynch: The Trumpster heads for the dumpster

We marvel at America's enthusiasm for Trump, but America also elected the sophisticated Obama, writes Declan Lynch

Published 13/12/2015 | 02:30

Illustration by Jim Cogan
Illustration by Jim Cogan

Increasingly it seems that the only way we can ever hope to gain some understanding of America is to start by acknowledging how very little we understand of it, even at the best of times.

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In a week in which Donald Trump cranked up his campaign to become - in the words of Jon Stewart - "the first openly asshole President", we have seen a great tide of commentary on his latest proposals which include possible bans on Muslims using the internet (he'll "see Bill Gates" about "closing it up") and entering the country, which of course will have a great wall to keep out the Mexicans.

In these fearful times, Trump is making the most of his natural instinct for excluding those who displease him.

Back when he was merely an openly asshole businessman, in the TV documentary You've Been Trumped, we saw him trying to complete the construction of a golf course near Aberdeen, complaining bitterly that golfers wouldn't want to be looking at the hovels of some of the local residents, one of whom "lives like a pig".

But then there is nothing uniquely American about business leaders being wrong-headed, or a tad vainglorious.

I think of the story of the poet Kavanagh who was standing outside Mulligan's pub one day, watching a man observing a truck being unloaded, bragging that he had 17 men working under him. To which Kavanagh responded: "You are a highly insensitive fellow."

Trump may be a highly insensitive fellow who has a chance of being President, but we should perhaps remind ourselves that Trump is not yet President, that he probably never will be President, and that the President at the moment is actually Barack Obama - a man who is evidently not an asshole either openly or in some covert manner, and who is indeed a highly sensitive fellow.


How did that happen?

Before we start holding forth on the end of American civilisation as we see it, on the incipient barbarism of the Trumpster, perhaps we should ponder for a moment the fact that the man who actually presides in the White House at this time is roughly the opposite of Trump, a liberal sort who has read many good books, who has extraordinarily fine taste in music for a man in his line of work, who rarely gets as far as the breakfast table without some progressive notion forming in his mind.

There is the side-bar that he is black.

Yet somehow within seven years Obama has made the once-astonishing idea of a black man being President seem like a side-bar, a done deal, a move as natural as the eviction of poor people from the sight-lines of millionaire golfers must seem to Donald Trump.

Indeed if there was some method of measuring the depth of a man's sophistication, you would probably find that the leaders of our supposedly enlightened Europe all added together would fall some way short of Obama in that department, and in any other department.

Yet at the time of going to press, he is the duly-elected leader of the United States, coming out of that place which also brings us these obviously terrible people such as Trump and Sarah Palin.

Again, how did that happen?

Have we perhaps spent too much time marvelling at the dark side of the American spirit, and not enough in contemplation of its equally spectacular greatness?

Even now, with Trump seemingly feeling the love of the multitudes, you sense deep down that America will find a way not to make him President, to give it instead to whoever is the least disgraceful of the other candidates.

I don't know exactly how they'll do that, no more than I know exactly how they elected a black left-wing intellectual such as Obama, and I don't think anyone else knows either, much though they may declare their expertise.

What we do know is that Trump, like most businessmen, will not take it personally. Not because that is the gracious thing, but because he can't imagine that anyone in his right mind would reject Donald Trump, and him being so rich. He is unembarrassable.

That is his genius and perhaps the dark secret that he will leave for future demagogues - if you are beyond embarrassment, "a highly insensitive fellow", you can say what you like and nothing can stop you, you are free.

But for now there are probably enough Americans who can't overlook Trump's impersonation of a disabled man, or who find his "vision" to be clearly deranged - all that business about building walls and keeping out foreigners and seeing Bill Gates about closing up the internet has been likened to something out of the old communist bloc, calling to mind the journalist James Cameron's description of Albania as "the perfect textbook case of human bloody-mindedness adopted as a national principle. There was something almost admirable about its senseless arrogance".

So you can look at Trump, and weep for America, or you can remember that he's been elected to nothing.

And that the real phenomenon is still Obama, both for where he is coming from, and for what he has done.

Or as another great American visionary, the bluesman John Lee Hooker, put it, "nothing but the best, and later for the garbage".

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