Monday 27 January 2020

From World Cup highs to the depths of despair

Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

When Putin threw the football to Trump, it was seen as one of those "funny" things that leaders do - it could be anything really, just as long as it isn't actually funny, in the sense of being witty, or entertaining, or genuinely humorous.

On the day after the World Cup final, it was seen as a "funny" reminder of Russia's achievement in hosting the tournament, which will be held in America in 2026, and as a way of lightening the mood in the room in Helsinki after the usual boring questions about Syria and cyber-attacks and all that.

To some of us it was a definitive statement that we had returned to the terrible mediocrity of international politics after a month of luxuriating in the excellence of the international football. And we noted that commentators were making no mention of the possibility that this business with the football might be an actual joke of a very dark kind - a reference to the fact that "the football" is what the Americans call the briefcase to be used by the president when he is authorising a nuclear attack.

Certainly a sick joke linking football with the annihilation of much of our species would be one of those things that bring a rare wintry smile to the lips of the Russian strongman, and the Trumper would certainly see the laugh-out-loud side of it too.

Moreover if they were going to do it, last week would have been an ideal time for it, with much of humanity feeling the deep sadness that naturally comes with the ending of a great sporting event.

Yet, in their own twisted fashion, Putin and Trump were at least helping us to kill the time that we had otherwise been spending at Russia 2018, enjoying the performances of people with admirable talents.

This is the most that we can expect from such men, the kind of political floor-show that gives us something to watch on television when there is nothing else happening.

Indeed, if it wasn't for the fact that he is one of history's great monsters, Trump could be regarded as a true king of car-crash TV entertainment - and no ordinary car crash either. We'd have to be talking a motorway pile-up of historic proportions here, and that would just be last Monday's show.

I was watching it on CNN, which is usually the best place to view these things, because they know that they are dealing with one of history's great monsters, and yet they also seem to know that they seem tragically limited in what they can do about it. Being respectable people, they are able to tell us straight away that what we have seen in Helsinki is a mortifying experience for the United States. They can quickly come up with the best line I've heard about it, from Susan Glasser who said that Trump "takes a view that is closer to Vladimir Putin's view, perhaps than Putin himself".

But I have seen them doing this before, seen them several times in fact, these eminent Americans trying to get their heads around the Trumper's latest atrocity, which they adjudge to be more troubling even than the last one, but which will surely not be as troubling as the next one - and there will always be a next one.

The way he is isolating America from the rest of the civilised world is akin to the way the abuser isolates his victim, so that he can get on with it, free from the interventions of friends or concerned persons. And CNN may know this too, but the truly maddening thing for them and for the rest of the free press is that somehow they can't stop themselves enabling him.

They just can't look away from the motorway pile-up that he is putting on for them every day. They are still reporting him not unlike the way they would report other presidents, still sending their correspondents into the White House every day to listen to Sarah Huckabee Sanders conveying the latest garbage coming out of him.

They have to stop doing that now. They are only helping to spread the word to his "base", who regard the accusations that he is obviously a Russian agent in the way that the Ku Klux Klan would view an investigation into their Grand Wizard for some issue pertaining to planning permission.

Staying away from the White House would at least be a gesture, an acknowledgement that the old ways of doing journalism were formed during an era of democracy which has now ended.

And the old ways were formed at a time when the American president, no matter how bad he was, broadly speaking, was working for America.

When it comes to low entertainment, we're spoiled!

If the US media did ignore the White House, we could then switch back to Sky News to watch various Brits doing their damnedest to hollow out the bit of democracy that is left to them.

Again, they can't be faulted for their commitment to supplying us with low entertainment at a time when we might otherwise be checking out the Sky Plus to see if we still have a bit of Russia 2018 recorded.

And again the Brexiteers seem to have grasped this essential point about television - that the dangerous man will always have the edge over the good man.

Like Trump, the Brexiteers have been shown to have benefited from electoral fraud, which prompted the Remainer Sir Nicholas Soames to declare in the Commons that "if we are to retain the integrity and the trust of the voting public, the whole damn thing needs to be blown up and run again".

Like me, Soames believes the No-Brexit Brexit must ultimately prevail - but he is the sort of aristocratic "character" who doesn't really work on the telly any more.

Just as Trump - in the words of John Stewart - is "the first openly asshole president", the Brexiteers tend to be truly unlovely men and women, who are fully aware of their unloveliness and who make it work for them.

Every day they seem to be seeking revenge on the world for being the sort of people they are.

The good people of the world were not entirely wasting their time last week — singer Tracey Thorn, in her New Statesman column, was listening to a compilation tape of the great music of the hot summer of 1976 — when she was 13.

“Nothing can make my heart soar like an afternoon of More More More, Play That Funky Music, Young Hearts Run Free, The Killing of Georgie (Pt I and 2) and This Is It...

“As the sun starts to dip we slip into Lowdown,  TVC15, Low Rider and Amoureuse, Haitian Divorce and Free...” she wrote.

It would make your heart soar just to read

those titles — and to add a few of your own, like The Boys Are Back In Town, and Let’s Stick Together, and Don’t Go Breaking My Heart. And Tonight’s The Night, and Heart On My Sleeve, and Misty Blue, and I Love To Boogie, and Harvest for the World...

This has been a mighty and a glorious culture of ours, here in the western world. It would be a shame to let it get away from us.

Sunday Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss