Tuesday 27 September 2016

Scary part of 'Trump phenomenon' is what citizens are willing to overlook

Fergal Keane

Published 26/07/2015 | 02:30

‘ATTENTION MUST BE PAID’: Donald Trump demeaned the experience of men captured in wartime yet still manages to sustain a lead in the GOP polls
‘ATTENTION MUST BE PAID’: Donald Trump demeaned the experience of men captured in wartime yet still manages to sustain a lead in the GOP polls

Billionaire US presidential hopeful's comments are cheap rhetoric and come from a creature formed from an age of unreason, anxiety and anger.

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I would not normally pay much attention to a man like Donald Trump. He touches too easily the irrational, shouting-at-the-television part of my nature. The older I get, the more I counsel myself to avoid being wound up unnecessarily. There are things that are worth the anger and worth a fight. Until now, the public fulminations of Mr Trump have never seemed worth the pain. But when a US presidential candidate demeans the experience of men captured in wartime and yet still manages to sustain a lead in the GOP polls, well, as Arthur Miller wrote, "attention must be paid".

It was a week when I longed for a writer with the wit and intelligence of the late Gore Vidal or Norman Mailer to zero in on Trump - shiny, reckless, populist, charismatic, rich, that utterly American salesman of sound bites. He is widely perceived as having "shaken up" American politics and as representing a new force. Trump is the man who threatens to "unleash a political avalanche" etc etc. But he is a symptom and not a cause. He is a creature formed from an age of unreason, anxiety and anger, an age where history and context are confined to the pages of newspapers and magazines read by an elite. What matters is what is said now - on 24-hour news, Twitter, Facebook and all the rest. I watched with wry amusement as Rupert Murdoch tweeted his disapproval of Trump's McCain remarks. Yet it is Murdoch's own Fox News which has provided the most powerful platform for the populist simplifiers of American politics. Night after night, the world is reduced to black and white, to a chorus of apoplexy. Trump's remarks about Mexicans and crime are the logical conclusion of a politics which abjures reasoned argument. His comments about McCain are the cheap rhetoric of reality TV, the savage put-down before the audience votes. Yet his constituency of support is strong. Why? Because enough Americans are angry and confused enough to be willing to overlook a historically and morally wrong-headed attack on a war hero. That is the truly worrying thing about the Trump phenomenon.

* * *

"Let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of Kings."

To one man I owe more than I could possibly repay. He was a frequently cranky, independent-minded giant. I met him 16 years ago, the summer I became sober. It was thanks in large part to Gordon Duncan that I left the path of self-destruction. He shone the brightest light that memorable summer and was my best friend ever since. And he died last week. I still automatically reach for my phone to call him up. I cannot believe he has vanished.

Gordon was in his late 70s but until the end his kindness and grace filled my days.

He had been sober for many years when he first became my counsellor and then my friend. He knew the world of pain and guilt and, above all, shame that attends the alcoholic life. But no man I ever knew rose above those things with such grace. He helped many of us who were lost recover dignity and self-belief.

He grew up in the austerity Britain of the post-war era and did his national service in Cyprus, and would recall with relish the street fights with opposing gangs of rioters there. In the booming 1960s and 1970s he had been a publican, a bookie and a fishing-boat owner. He loved wheeling and dealing. Gordon was old-fashioned. He didn't really have faith in credit cards. When we went for meals he would always pull out a bundle of cash. Notes were the only money you could trust. On politics we could often disagree but as my son Daniel said to me: "I often argued with him but I always knew he really believed what he believed. That is the lesson I take from him."

I relied on him in every crisis in my life. And I am writing this out because I promised him I would. "Keep writing," he would say. He believed that the human being trying to recover from addiction needed to let go of the idea of control and allow themselves to love and be loved.

I would call him every other day. I would meet him on weekend mornings for breakfast. Or go with him for family lunches at Runnymede on the Thames. We were close as can be. Whenever darkness threatened, I picked up the phone and he was there. Such a man . . . that never once judged me, resented me, asked for anything in return, a man that loved without conditions.

Gordon believed that love is the only thing that matters at all. Imperfect often, carried by the flawed and lost often, but our only hope.

As he lay dying in Kingston hospital a young doctor from Singapore asked me: "What relation is he to you?" I replied: "He is my friend. My best friend." He still is. I can hear him beside me now urging me to be up and about and saying as he so often did: "Keep getting up. Keep coming back." I will, Gordon. That much I can promise.

Fergal Keane is a special correspondent with BBC News

Scary part of 'Trump phenomenon' is what citizens are willing to overlook

Sunday Independent

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