Rebecca Coulson is a freelance writer, and was Parliamentary Candidate for the City of Durham at the 2015 General Election.
I was going to write a light-hearted column listing the top ten truisms about Trump. Then he went and started banning Muslims. Sure, I was planning on positioning him at the heart of the supposedly ‘post-truth’ age, before ending with a hard-hitter. But now, I just don’t feel like it.
I’m wrong, I know: we all need to keep making fun of him. Not only is humour a powerful political tool, it’s also the only attack that gets through to the guy.
Mark Singer’s Trump and Me proves this. A neat little Penguin, great cover, 100 pages or so – you can find it on the ‘recent’ table in the LRB bookshop, if that’s your thing. Bookended by two election-run-up pieces, and a forward by David Remnick, it mostly consists of Singer’s 1997 New Yorker classic, Trump Solo (renamed Madonna*), for which he spent more time with the man who is now President than anyone should. Trips to Mar-a-Lago, fast-forwarded viewings of Bloodsport, and tête-á-orange-têtes overlooking Central Park – all in search of the Donald’s seemingly non-existent ‘internal life’.
It’s a very funny book. It’s also unbearably prescient – reminding us how Trump’s been auditioning for this moment his whole life: the bombast, the self-importance, the ‘empire’-building, the grubby backhand deals with politicos. It’s Jesse Jackson ringing up for help on a lease, here, and ‘fruitful exchanges’ with Richard Nixon, there. It’s all to be found in Singer’s dry, fantastic profile – something that got to Trump (in both senses) in a way little else could.
One of the truisms I was going to feature today (following an extensive intro, in which I’d conclude that my first truism was that my definition of a truism was a truism) was: ‘Trump is inconsistent’. That doesn’t mean he won’t follow through on his promises, however. It’s that we can’t guess which of them he will, or what they’ll be to begin with.
That helps us understand Singer’s thoughts on Trump and racism:
‘In no time the decoders rendered it “Make America White Again!,” a formulation suggesting that Trump’s anti-Muslim immigration absolutism, for instance, expressed a yearning for an ethnically-cleansed U.S.A … I don’t see it that way. Trump-branded buildings, long regarded as safe havens for foreign flight capital, have always been popular with super-luxury-inclined multinational non-Caucasian plutocrats.’
This rings true: for Trump, it’s expediency first. We’ve seen the charts correlating the countries where he does business with those where he hasn’t extended the ban. Not that that means he’s not a racist. Rather, he’s an inconsistent one – or one whose business interests outweigh his hatred. Because we’ve heard his comments, and followed his actions, and know who he’s promoted, and who props him up. And that’s enough in itself – those facts – regardless of what we’ve decided he ‘believes’.
Trump and Me also reminds us of the imbalance between Trump and many of his supporters. It’s the absurdity of this golden-lift guy – whom Singer calls ‘the dauphin’ to annoy him – representing ‘one of us’ for the rust-belt jobless, or the single mother about to lose her healthcare options. And it’s how convincingly he seduced voters who have had enough of people like him.
That’s not to suggest his success was discretely dependent on the poor, the uneducated, or any other simple variable. Or that they didn’t make choices for themselves. I don’t buy those analyses: Trump’s victory was the summation of lots of people making decisions for lots of reasons; it happened because he retained GOP loyalty, and tipped the balance in places significant for the electoral college. Nonetheless, his en-massed voters are what I struggled against while collecting my truisms.
The problem being that the things that are truisms for those of us who despise him – ‘Trump is a twat’, for instance – might not be truisms for his supporters. And truisms are nothing if not based on general consensus: ‘Trump is a twat’ is a truism; ‘Trump is blond’ is simply true. (Until the dye runs out.)
Singer provides insight. On leaving a skyscraper where Trump’s ownership is ‘limited to the penthouse’:
‘Before [his car] pulled away, [Trump] experienced a tug of noblesse oblige. “Hold on, just lemme say hello to these Kinney guys,” he said, jumping out to greet a group of parking attendants. “Good job, fellas. You’re gonna be working here for years to come.”’
On some level, Trump’s win is all about the hope taken on the trust of having met the famous guy you think owns the building where you work, because his name is on it. But how long will he get away with that, when he can no longer hop in his limo, never to return? When he’s metonymically stuck in the White House every day? (Even when he’s actually off to the tower.)
None of this is original; you’d have preferred the funny version. My final point, however, is something I’ve thought throughout the protests and petitions of the past months. All that is fine, of course. But the focus must be on ‘him’. Not in an ad hominem sense. The creepy hands and stupid hair? Do your worst, SNL. Don’t distract our focus, though – on what he says and does, rather than who he is.
And if, in anger, we cut off America, then we abandon Americans. Their nation is more than the summation of Trump voters; the Trump voters are more than the fact they voted for him; the position of President is more than Trump. We can hate that Trump is President, and complain about his approach, but we don’t get to say that he shouldn’t be, if his election was legitimate. Not until we prove he shouldn’t. (And checking on the mechanism of democracy is different from questioning its results.) The Guardian‘s claim that Trump’s anti-Muslim policies were ‘not in our name’ misses the point to such an extent that it’s counter-productive.
What should we do, if we really care? Watch him like a hawk; watch him like the eagle on an American gold bullion coin. Watch what he says, and what he does – not what we think he means, represents, or how he comes across. And keep criticising, in the literary sense. And ensuring that our politicians do, too. It’s about truth not truisms: judges stepping in when he behaves unconstitutionally; women suing when he treats them inappropriately.
It’s not enough to call Trump a dictator. For that, you need to prove he is. Like Assad or Putin or Kim or Mugabe – or any of those leaders who restrict their state, torture their people, and break the social contract that justifies their power. So criticise them, as well. Otherwise, you’re left drawing funny felt-tip posters while tyranny grows.
*Apparently, ‘deep down’, Trump wants to ‘be her’.