Hunter S Thompson used to have a great phrase that “when the going gets tough, the weird turn pro”.
I don’t know if Donald Trump has ever read the gonzo journalist — after all, none of us are entirely sure that he’s ever read a book, full stop — but as the increasingly bizarre testimony from the Washington hearings about the infamous Capitol Hill riots on January 6 last year continues to emerge, it seems to me that he has taken his own version of Thompson’s line and changed it to “when the going gets tough, the weird turn weirder”.
I’ve been glued to the TV footage of these deranged hearings and, frankly, half the time I don’t whether to laugh or cry. It’s probably been a bit of both. Nobody who was watching rolling news on that January day will ever forget what they witnessed. Hundreds of Trump loyalists, at the urging of their Big Kahuna, descended on one of the most important seats of American democracy and wrecked the gaff.
There was something truly, genuinely shocking about the scenes that unfolded on that shameful day. The air of menace was undoubtedly real. This is America, after all, so when a bunch of QAnon believers arrive en masse and boast they are all armed with AR-15s, it’s a good idea to sit up and pay attention. The possibility of an armed assault on the Capitol was a very real one.
You know you’re living in interesting times when a mob that loudly proclaims it is protecting American democracy decides to lay siege to... American democracy. But, sadly, we have been living in interesting times for too long now and I really do hanker for the days when politics and politicians were more boring than interesting (although not as far as supporting Keir ‘Boring’ Starmer — there have to be some limits).
Some of the stuff we have been told is utterly, utterly bonkers. We’ve heard tales of Trump having massive hissy fits and throwing his lunch at the wall when staffers contradicted his central point that the election had first been rigged and stolen from him. That, to be honest, doesn’t seem to be too egregious — but that’s probably because I work in a business where it wasn’t unusual to see large objects flung at somebody across the newsroom floor (ah, the good old days).
But some of the other stuff isn’t just sinister — it’s positively mad. For example, as the rioters were gathering, and Trump’s aides were begging him to dial down his rhetoric and urge restraint, we learned that, while in his Secret Service car, he tried to grab the steering wheel to force his way back to the Capitol to show support for what he refers to as “my people”.
Most politicians would be savvy enough to know that when “your people” are dressed as shamans and wearing bison hats, it’s probably as handy to steer clear. But Trump has never been like most politicians; what was his original strength has now become his terminal weakness.
What we saw that day, and in his subsequent responses, remain a shame on American politics. The very fact that he refused to condemn the mob who were chanting “hang Mike Pence”, shows a rather worrying insight into his character. Would any other president really snigger at the idea of a vicious crowd of lunatics issuing threats about stringing up his vice-president?
The levels of sheer, unadulterated stupidity and menace are unprecedented in our lifetime.
The day after the attack on the Capitol, I appeared on Fox News to give an Irish perspective on the events. That went well. Not. How dare I, a mere Irishman, who had previously appeared on the same network to defend Trump, suddenly turn against him? That’s when I realised that Trumpism isn’t a coherent political philosophy — it’s more like a religion. And we all know what religions do to their heretics.
If it wasn’t for January 6, there was a very good chance that he would have run again in 2024. Hillary Clinton is already darkly muttering about making her own run, so it would have been the political equivalent of a pretty hellish acid flashback.
Trump, for all the craziness, still holds enormous power with large swathes of the American electorate but he’s now a busted flush for most independents and swing voters. But history has a strange way of making things connected — does anyone think that if Trump was in office, we’d be having a war in Ukraine? I don’t.
Once Biden humiliated America with the shameful evacuation from Afghanistan, every dictator knew they were looking at a former superpower, not a current one.
When reports emerged from the Kremlin of Putin looking at America’s worst humiliation since Saigon and laughing uproariously at the screen, it became clear that he would feel more emboldened than ever. At least Trump had the (un)diplomatic advantage of everyone else knowing that he was the craziest bugger in the room.
It may not be fashionable to say it, but the facts prove that he did a lot of good during his time in office.
But that crazy day when he was unseated has damned his reputation for eternity.
I started the piece above with a quote from one of my idols, so I might as well repeat the process here. To quote Morrissey: “Good times... for a change.”
After two years of hellish uncertainty, hospitality workers have finally received a bit of good news (for a change) from the Government. This week there were moves to change the law so no restaurant can add a service charge unless that money goes to the staff.
About. Bloody. Time.
Whenever I go to a restaurant, the first thing I ask when I’m settling the bill is whether the waiting staff will see any of the tip I plan to leave. If they say that they get it, I’ll stick it on the card. If, however, the owners pocket the money, I refuse to pay the service charge and simply tip the waiter in cash, so their boss can’t rip them off.
Tipping is a vital part of the earning power of staff who are on a pittance, and a discreet 20 quid into their hand is a lot better for them than having to hope that their boss decides to share some of the loot.
The whole move also brings up the strange Irish attitude towards tipping. I’m a generous tipper because I’ve worked that gig and it’s tough. I also feel that good service deserves some acknowledgement. But I also know some people who are actually proud of the fact that they never tip. Seriously, if someone is looking for a badge of honour for simply being mean, they’re not worth dealing with.
You can tell a lot about someone from how they treat the staff — in any environment — and, to paraphrase the late and very great Con Houlihan, a man who fails to tip is capable of anything.
If you can afford to go for a meal, you can afford to drop a tenner to the staff.