Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Age of Detesting Trump

A surprisingly good piece, from David Bromwich, at the London Review of Books:
President Trump, monster and scapegoat, is too rash in his overall demeanour, too uncalibrated in his words and gestures, too ill-adapted to the routines of politics to carry credit even when he is speaking common sense. The Democrats tossed his idea that better relations with Russia ‘would not be a bad thing’ into the general stew of his repulsive ideas on taxes and immigration, and Republicans ignored it as an indigestible ingredient. For now, as Senator Dianne Feinstein of the Senate Intelligence Committee has acknowledged, there is no evidence to support the view that his attitude to Russia is part of a conspiracy that implicates him in Russian hacking of the 2016 election. That there are links between Trump and his real-estate friends and the Russian oligarchs is extremely likely: oligarchs of all nations, but Russia in particular, are the movers in that market, and Trump’s credit on Wall Street ran out long ago. Russian money is probably behind some of his precarious loans; and the Russian government keeps track of Russian money. But the US media, and a great many Democrats with them, have been running far ahead of the game and treating the connection as a certainty which ought to assure the collapse of the Trump administration in the near future.


The compulsion to convict Trump of something definite, something dire, even if not yet a criminal offence, reached a sort of climax on 25 June when an entire back page of the Times Sunday Week in Review was transformed into an enormous zero-shaped pattern entitled ‘Trump’s Lies’, under the byline of two reporters, David Leonhardt and Stuart A. Thompson. The dates of more than a hundred ‘lies’ were printed in boldface, the text of the lie in quotation marks and the correction in parenthesis. Most of the lies, however, were what anyone would call opportunistic half-truths, scattershot promises, changes of tack with a denial that any change had taken place and, above all, hyperbolic exaggerations. Trump uses words like ‘tremendous’ and numbers like ‘hundreds’ or ‘thousands’ in a way that evacuates them of all meaning, but this belongs to the category of rhetorical twisting and pulling in which all politicians indulge. His daft attempt to inflate the size of the crowd at his inaugural seemed an example of reality denial, but it becomes a lie, fairly so-called, when measured against his slander of those who conveyed the verifiable truth. Again, his statement that ‘we’re the highest-taxed nation’ was part of a spew, false and meant as a hyperbolic version of ‘our taxes are too high,’ a sort of statement that exacerbates (and panders to) the usual indifference to details among his followers: a bad thing in a president. But the Times article laid much stress on doubtful instances such as Trump saying that Obama had wiretapped him or that ‘the story that there was collusion between the Russians & Trump campaign was fabricated by Dems as an excuse for losing the election.’ He is mostly right, there, even if the word ‘fabricated’ is wrong; there had been no official notice about collusion until Comey’s announcement before the intelligence committee on 20 March; before that, it was a widespread rationalisation of defeat by the Democrats. And though the circumstantial links between Trump associates and Russia show that the story was not fabricated out of thin air, convincing evidence, to repeat, has not yet been made public.

‘Putin derangement syndrome’, as the Rolling Stone journalist Matt Taibbi called it, has entered the culture with the irresistibility of a fast-spreading rash. The Late Show host Stephen Colbert went on a rehearsed rant directed at Trump, in which the element of self-parody vanished at a point somewhere before this sentence: ‘The only thing your mouth is good for is being Vladimir Putin’s cock holster.’ The stand-up comedian Kathy Griffin posed with a bloody severed head in the likeness of Trump. Until 18 June the Public Theater in New York was performing a version of Julius Caesar in which Caesar was made to look and gesticulate like Trump. Of course it trashed the play, since you render the hesitation of Brutus unintelligible if Caesar becomes the odious Trump-monster instead of the dim, weak, vain and vaguely blustering man a little past his prime that the text portrays. Obsession with Trump has become an excuse for almost any vulgarity. Also for testing the third rail of fame in the cause of experimental valour and affected rebellion: Johnny Depp, introducing his film The Libertine at Glastonbury Festival, asked the audience: ‘When was the last time an actor assassinated a president?’ We are already used to seeing these provocations followed a day or two later by an apology as insincere as it is ineffectual.

The best recourse of sanity to those who would rather defeat Trump than disgust his supporters may be simply to recall that he has at his back the massed weight and momentum of the Republican Party. It doesn’t much matter who is making use of whom: they are not about to part company, while the Democrats have to defend the shrinking redoubt of just 18 of 50 statehouses and a respectable but thoroughly confused minority in Congress. It is Republicans today who see themselves as makers of a revolution. The recent Democratic presidents, at some cost to the character of the party, espoused an ethic of moderation and trimming compromise. Doubtless the same predisposition played a large part in Obama’s decision to suppress what he knew of Russian interference before the 2016 election. Presumptive stability was a good thing in itself: why roil people’s temper with one more irritation? They need to believe that the system works – that was how he scored it. The assumption anyway was that Hillary would win; and fear of a rigged election was Trump’s issue.

Nothing now would better serve the maturity and the invigoration of the Democrats than to give up any hope of sound advice or renewal from Bill or Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. They were pleasant to think about, but their politics have turned out wrong, and there’s nothing they can do for us now. Democrats have lost all four special elections since November; if Trump ran again tomorrow, there is a strong probability he would win. Michael Moore tweeted on 21 June, after the loss by Jon Ossoff, the latest Democratic hope, to a Republican opponent in Georgia: ‘DNC & DCCC [Democratic National Committee and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] has NO idea how 2 win cause they have no message, no plan, no leaders.’ An exclusive concern with the Russia connection may suggest that Trump is faltering now and shaken, but on 26 June the Supreme Court temporarily upheld his revised ‘Muslim ban’, a 90-day suspension of travel from six Arab countries, along with a 120-day ban on all refugees, except in cases where the applicant has a bona fide relationship to someone in the US. The anti-Trump left and centre may hope for vindication when the court hears the case argued in autumn, but this in truth is a tactical victory for Trump: by the time it comes up again, the designated time of suspension may have passed; and the ban was only meant to stay in force while the government carries out a reappraisal of its vetting process. You may curse Putin and Comey and misogyny and Wisconsin, but Trump is marching through the departments and agencies with budget cuts and policy changes that will be felt for years to come. Trump is the name of a cause and not just a person, and you can only fight him with another cause...