America: Your political stability is secondary to the survival of the human species

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Although I don’t come from nor live in the US, I have written before about how much I enjoy visiting and meeting its people. What follows is written in a spirit of friendship as well as frustration.

I see that #howtofixtrumpinfivewords is currently trending. Here’s my suggestion:

Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, Kennedy, Trump.

This is the thing: I don’t understand why Donald Trump is still alive. I can’t work out how, in a country which has so many weapons and where people are supposedly so attached to the constitutionally-hallowed ideals of Freedom and Democracy, no one has had the courage to act in accordance with those values.

The US is known as the Land of the Brave. Well, America, that’s not how it looks from the outside. I’m getting the impression that your population is made up of 280 million cowards. Maybe you’re all hoping that some aggrieved Haitian or Salvadoran will redeem you. Well, that would make sense. Contract the jobs you can’t be bothered to do out to some ‘shithole’ third world country.

I guess you’re concerned about the possibility of another civil war. Well, I’m worried about a world war. I’m terrified about a planet run by and for criminally insane demagogues with genocidal racist belief systems and access to infinitely destructive weaponry. This is something you have to stop happening. At this point, it doesn’t really matter how you do it. This has gone too far. Trump speaks and acts in your name.

I had an odd thought today: how many movies have I seen, stories have I read, conversations have I been part of on the theme of if-I-had-a-time-machine-I’d-go-back-and-kill-Hitler. Well, here we are. What do you need*? More target practice? Are you waiting for someone with a loudhailer to shout ‘action’? Do you think that people in the mid-’30s put all their hopes in the mid-terms, or prayed that the judicial system would stave off tyranny? Would that have been enough?

There’s a press conference taking place right now in the White House. Various correspondents are reporting on Trump’s (predictably) hypocritical words about MLK. They don’t seem to have realised that the event is being broadcast live, so their on-the-spot reports are moot. Keen to preserve their precious status as insiders, they’re silently expressing their dissent via Twitter. Hence, no one has had the courage to make a scene.

America: forget Twitter. That’s Trump’s chosen medium. It suits him perfectly – regardless of how many seditious hashtags trend, he comes out winning within his bubble, and so do you. It’s no more real than shadows on the wall of a cave, and as forms of protest go it’s only slightly more meaningful than shouting at the TV – in fact, the very best moments on Twitter can usefully be compared to the joy of doing so collectively. If you insist on restricting your political activity to social media, you will always lose, even as you believe otherwise. You need to be braver.

How then should you respond? Take a risk: put up posters, distribute leaflets and form a resistance group in the area where you live. Put social media to good use by connecting with other such groups to organise a massive march on Washington. This will require direct occupation, confrontation  and personal danger, and you need to make sure you don’t face it alone.

Please, don’t sit and wait in hope that November will bring the nightmare to an end. Historically, for the sake of the past and the future, and geographically, on behalf of all of us who don’t live in the US and whose own struggles and life chances are being jeopardised in your name, you have no right to be so blasé and passive.

Alternatively, try taking your cue from Hollywood, from all those movies that preach political violence as a form of redemption. So many heroes and superheroes risking their individual lives and freedom for their ideals, blasting their enemies to smithereens in the process. It doesn’t happen very much in real life, but maybe something like it needs to happen now. Perhaps one of those individuals who argued, against the pleading of their more circumspect peers, that it ‘didn’t matter’ who won the election might like to, you know, step up and try to redeem themselves. America is, after all, in desperate need of a hero.

*Some have argued in response that such a suggestion is ‘immoral’. Well, here’s a short extract from a conversation that has never, ever taken place:

Person 1: You know what I’d do if I had a time machine? I’d go back and kill Hitler.

Person 2: But that would be immoral/might lead to a catastrophic outcome/etc.

I Melania Trump show you 2018 calander, yes?

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For the last few months I have, I know not why, been receiving emails direct from Donald J. Trump, all begging for two things: praise and money. In addition to flattering comments on his racism, his outright corruption and the success of his rapid weight loss regime, he’s also very keen to recieve campaign dollars so he can carry on his important life’s work in support of pedophilia, climate breakdown and global war. Although that might sound a little cynical, I should add that he is careful to address me as ‘Friend’, which would make it all okay except for the slightly disturbing fact that every single one of his actual friends has at some point been investigated for sexual assault.

Slightly put out to be the recipient of such missives and disappointed never to have gotten a reaction to my admittedly less-than-friendly responses (sample reply: ‘Fuck off, you fat racist piece of fucking shit’), I marked the sender as ‘spam’. More recently, however, a new email arrived, this time from Melania Trump. It offered me, as a ‘valued supporter’, a very special something: an exclusive peek at her 2018 calendar. I’m not suggesting that you rush to Amazon and order an advance copy; after all, since I myself looked at it two days ago my eyes have felt kind of itchy, any sense of optimism I was feeling about the new year has dwindled and I’ve been suffering from a deep-seated and persistent feeling of nausea. For that reason, and also because of the copyright issues involved, I’m not going to share the actual photos with you, but I would like to give you a flavour – not a pleasant one, admittedly, more medicinal if anything – of what the calendar contains.

Cover: Melania Trump sits looking out of the White House window wearing a white ballgown and an expression on her face suggesting that she’s thinking of jumping through said window. In the background her husband Donald Trump can be seen shouting angrily at the television. The words ‘Melania Trump 2018 Calendar’ are written in cursive script, but the word ‘calendar’ is misspelt.

January: Melania Trump sits looking out of the White House window wearing a red ballgown and an expression on her face suggesting that she’s thinking of jumping through said window. In the background her husband Donald Trump can be seen shouting angrily at his Samsung Galaxy S3.

February: A winter landscape. Melania Trump strolls a tree-lined avenue accompanied by members of her immediate family. Her lip is curled up in a disdainful manner and she is holding the hand of her son Barron, who appears to have been crying. Her husband Donald is looking at his Samsung Galaxy S3 with an expression of considerable anger. Security guards follow at a safe distance.

March: Surrounded by cherry blossom trees, Melania Trump sits naked astride a horse.

April: Surrounded by silk sheets and rose petals, Melania Trump sits naked astride a security guard. On the bedside cabinet a Tiffany’s security pass is partly obscuring what appears to be a copy of ‘Mein Kampf’.

May: Melania Trump looks on disdainfully while her husband makes a speech. Her husband is mocking a military veteran with facial disfigurement suffered at the service of his country. Every single person in the room is wearing an expression of extreme discomfort.

June: Melania Trump is pictured in a formal pose with her family in their home in Slovakia. The photo is rendered in sepia tones. The oldest man in the photograph is wearing a military uniform with a number of medals on it, including at least one eagle symbol. The walls of the room are bare except for a framed photograph of Jozef Tiso. No one in the photograph is smiling.

July: A beach scene, in which Melania Trump is lying on a sunlounger in a bikini. She has a contemptuous expression and a pair of mirror sunglasses, and is surrounded by security guards. Her husband is several metres away, seemingly shouting into his iphone. Also present is their son Barron, who appears to have been crying.

August: Melania Trump stands next to her husband, President Donald Trump, and their Chinese counterparts. They are standing on a red carpet and Donald Trump is holding up a cheap bookmark he has been given by the Chinese President as a mark of their two countries’ friendship. He is beaming with pride. Melania Trump is wearing a disgusted expression on her face.

September: Melania Trump enjoys afternoon tea with a select group of her closest friends, consisting of the wives of Roy Moore, Harvey Weinstein, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein. Roy Moore’s wife has a spiteful expression on her face and appears to be telling an anecdote. No one in the photograph is smiling.

October: Melania Trump descends from Air Force One. She is preceded by her husband, Donald Trump. Neither of them is smiling. Through the plane window you can just make out the face of their son, Barron Trump. He appears to have been crying.

November: Melania Trump sits next to her husband Donald Trump at what appears to be a formal banquet. Donald Trump has his eyes closed and looks like he is in the act of relieving himself. Melania Trump looks like she is aging ten years for every second she spends in the company of her husband.

December: A family Christmas. Barron Trump is sitting in the middle of a huge pile of presents, most of which are unopened; he appears to have been crying. Melania Trump is smiling as she admires a very expensive necklace in a gilt-edged mirror. Her husband Donald Trump is shouting at a gigantic television screen, while on the wall a large coffee stain is dripping onto the expensively-coiffured carpet, where lies the remnants of a high-end coffee pot. A few feet away, amidst the wrapping paper and already forgotten presents, there are the remains of a Samsung Galaxy S3.  The TV screen shows an image of the Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Hannity condemns “Trump, sorry I mean Obama” as “sick, pathetic and obsessed”

Fox News host Sean Hannity has launched an extraordinary attack on ‘President Trump, sorry I mean President Obama’, calling him ‘obviously sick, pathetic, and twisted in this obsession with President Obama, sorry I mean President Trump’.

Hannity also claims that he recieves nightly phone calls from the White House during which ‘President Trump, sorry I mean Obama’ appears to be ‘either very drunk or on some sort of drugs’. He reports that the calls, which sometimes go on for several hours, reveal ‘Trump, sorry I mean Obama’ to be a man wracked with self-doubt, desperate for approbation, and, above all, profoundly out of his depth in his new role. Hannity stated that he is ‘worried’ for the president’s state of mental and physical heath, and pleaded with him to turn instead to a competent professional.

‘President Trump, sorry I mean Obama, you must stop calling me’, he pleaded directly to camera Thursday night. ‘I know you have an enormous amount to deal with right now, what with Mueller’s investigation about to knock on your door any second and the creeping suspicion that everyone in the world is looking at you and either laughing or crying with rage, incredulous that the American people could have entrusted the machinery of world government to someone so patently corrupt, obviously temperamentally unstable and catastrophically ignorant of the most basic aspects of what political power entails. But I have a family and a very high-pressure job. I need to sleep at night, not listen to the bitter, self-pitying, incoherent ramblings of an inebriated madman’.

Hannity also explained that ‘President Trump, sorry, I mean President Obama’ has an abiding obsession, one which ‘seems to be consuming him from inside, like a particularly malevolent cancer’, with the notion that he is ‘not nearly as well-suited to the job as his predecessor, President Trump. Sorry, I mean Obama. No wait, Trump’. According to Hannity, ‘Trump’s, sorry I mean Obama’s’ entire political agenda, right from the moment he was inaugurated in January this year, from Climate Change to North Korea to the Middle East, has been determined by a pathological need to destroy and thus emulate the achievements of his widely-respected counterpart. His fixation on ‘President Obama’s, sorry I mean President Trump’s legacy’ is said to be such that he is unable to face up to basic facts about his own situation, automatically projecting every criticism that is made of him ‘directly back onto Obama. Sorry, I mean Trump’. Hannity claims that even those within ‘Obama’s, sorry Trump’s’ inner circle now instinctively copy this behavior, to the point that in any statement that emerges from the White House or is made by his supporters in the media ‘you might as well just replace the name Obama with Trump, and vice versa. That’s how insane things have become. It’s very confusing and frankly puerile’.

Asked after the show to specify which media figures are guilty of such behavior, Hannity refused to comment, saying only that he ‘hoped that Melania, I mean Michelle, can hide the president’s iphone so I can get a good night’s sleep for a change’.

Is Donald Trump on opioids?

If you google ‘Trump on opioids’ you get lots of news reports about his initiatives on the issue – he declared it a national emergency, but then did nothing else whatsoever for months, and he has now appointed Kellyanne Conway, who looks uncannily like the ‘After’ photo in an ad warning of the dangers of crystal meth addiction, his opioid czar. If you google ‘is Trump on opoids’ you find only one link, to someone casually making a daft quip on Twitter.

Without wanting to cause offence to anyone affected by the crisis, I think his inaction on the issue may be a tell. It’s also possible that his alternating bursts of euphoria and irritability, his very evident mental confusion both on and offline, his weight gain and his public slurring of words, his sniffiness and bizarre water fixation may all be somehow connected with reports that he has a quack doctor in New York who prescribes him whatever medications he needs to keep him (after a fashion) able to function. There are, after all, many things that connect Trump with Michael Jackson, from his 1980s ubiquity to the myriad rumours regarding various forms of abuse to which he’s subjected other people in his life. Trump has similarly spent pretty much his entire life immune to the consequences of his actions. Perhaps when his wife promises to give a voice to families suffering from opioid addiction, she’s unaware of the ironies involved. Maybe the thing that does for him will be whatever he’s taking to numb the pain and guilt he surely must suffer if he’s not actually, as all available seems to suggest, some sort of inhuman monster.

This is a blog, not a fake news site. I’m not pretending I have any inside information on Trump’s habits or medical proclivities – despite having read quite a few articles on the subject over the last few months, I’m still not even sure what exactly the term ‘opioids’ actually refers to*. I’m just innocently raising a question that I’m surprised not to have seen asked elsewhere.

The facts remain: opioid addiction is rife throughout the United States. In the words of Thomas Frieden of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, America is ‘awash’ in the stuff. At the same time, its President is clearly deeply unstable in myriad ways. Maybe there’s more to Trump’s claim to be a man of the people than we previously suspected. 

*In an earlier version of this post I even misspelt it.

Trump has effectively abolished the role of President

Although Robert Mugabe was a tyrant, he was also apparently a stickler for constitutional procedure. He did everything by the book – while others cheated in elections and persecuted opponents on his behalf, he made sure that he appeared to be above reproach, partly by regularly rewriting the book to suit his requirements. The facade was thus paper-thin, but even as he clung to power he did so on the understanding that his position was above board.

Although Donald Trump has shown himself to have autocratic instincts, he’s clearly no Mugabe. As Khizr Khan pointed out, it’s unlikely that he’s even familiar with the Constitution, and debatable whether or not he’s au fait with the distinction between the Senate and the Congress. (Neither am I, but I’m not even from the USA, let alone President of it.) His actions have confirmed again and again that he does not appreciate the separation of powers, but rather believes himself to be in total and unimpeachable authority over not just the executive but also the judicial and legislative branches. His governing medium is is not formal procedure, but Twitter, and he tweets not in the name of Potus, but Donald J. (as in, juvenile) Trump.

The office of the President has existed since 1789. The holder of the office embodies the role: he or she is not more powerful than the State. Myriad checks and balances pertain to the position, restricting any attempt to impose absolute power. He or she is subservient to the Republic. There are numerous problems with this setup, all sorts of loopholes and imbalances which could if exploited maliciously be used to topple the whole edifice from within. The most explosive element would be a potus who was ignorant of and thus careless with the rights and responsibilities of the role. The current Republican Party, insofar as their intention was to detonate the structure of American democracy and install one or another of their kind in power in aeternum, chose well.

How can we be sure that this is the case? In his recent tweet regarding the release of the three college basketball players, Trump, in his customary but still staggeringly infantile way, confirmed that he does not believe in the office to which he was elected. He insists that it was he, not the White House or the State Department, that chose to intervene on behalf of the players. The notion of himself an incumbent in an elected office rather than as absolute ruler does not even occur to him.

Thus, any talk of the Republicans stealing the Presidency is misplaced. As things stand, the role of president is in abeyance. Trump regards himself as a dictator, with limitless power. This indicates that attempts to remove him through constitutional means will fail. Mugabe was at last persuaded to remove himself from an role that he ultimately respects. Getting rid of a man who doesn’t recognise that he’s only playing a role will be impossible – Trump is not going to give up being Donald Trump. As Lacan said, the madman is not only the beggar who believes himself to be King, buy also the King who believes himself to be King. (Note Trump’s prominent use of that word in the aforementioned tweet.) Trump will either die, or must be made to die, on the throne.

Trump ‘devastated’ by Franken revelations: ‘How could anyone treat a woman in such a way?’

US President and Commander-in-Chief Donald Trump is said to have been ‘profoundly shocked and disgusted’ at the revelation that Democratic Senator Al Franken briefly groped a female colleague during a TV stunt over eleven years ago.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a White House insider said that neither his staff nor his family had ever seen President Trump as downbeat as over these last 24 hours. He is said to be profoundly shocked that anyone, particularly someone in a position of responsibility, could even think of treating a woman in such a way.

President Trump spent Friday away from TV cameras and was not present on social media all day. Aides reported that he was ‘heartbroken’ upon reading the reports of Franken’s behavior. He is believed to have spent the day in consultation with close female friends, including a number of noteworthy feminists who have been seeking to bring him up to speed on the depth and extent of sexual abuse of women in the US. The President is said to have been ‘humbled and horrified’ by what he has learned.

President Trump is known and respected for his dedication to the furtherance of women’s rights. He has said on several occasions that protecting women from sexual abuse is the single biggest motivating factor in his becoming involved in politics. He used his inauguration speech in January to call for a ‘new feminist dawn’ in America, and has been consistent in seeking to ensure that any woman who does report untoward conduct by men in any area of life is given a full hearing by the justice system and that the right of all women regardless of their age or political affiliation to live free of sexual harrasment is respected at all times and in all places, ‘from hotel elevators to TV studios to the back stage areas of beauty pageants’. In return, he has been universally heralded as the country’s ‘first female president’, and rumors are now spreading that he may be awarded the Nobel Prize For Feminism And Never Having Been Recorded Boasting About Regularly Molesting Women FFS in Stockholm next month.

In other White House news, President Trump’s daughter has been appointed to lead a global task force to investigate the sexual abuse of women by political figures, while his son Barron Trump is to head a commision of inquiry into the mounting problem of Fake News and will also take charge of the Government’s response to the opoid epidemic, negotiations with North Korea, hurricane relief and healthcare reform. Finally, Julian Assange has been appointed Australia’s ambassador to the United States, replacing a woman who had been variously referred to by President Trump on social media as a ‘stupid aborigine slut’ and a ‘fat bich whos too ugly to even rape, lol’.

As long as Trump plays ignorant, his supporters will too

The psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan came up with the concept of the ‘subject-supposed-to-know’, an impersonal and intangible entity which carries knowledge on our behalf. As I understand it, this relates to the conscience. When we feel morally guilty, what authority is it that knows we have done something wrong? For many, the answer is an omniscient god. Lacan’s insight is that we all in a sense believe in God whether we like it or not.

This raises two questions for me. In a heavily mediated society where even our most intimate thoughts and gestures are mediated back to us even while we think and act, could a mediating institution play such a role? Or perhaps a political tyrant, as George Orwell posited? Social media could well come to embody the two, in that so many of our experiences are thought of in terms of their value, evaluated as potential cultural capital, and also because the affordances it offers to directly repressive regimes are boundless.

The other thing that concerns me ( in fact I now see that the idea actually came from Slavoj Žižek) is what we can call the subject-supposed-not-to-know. For example, most of us have grown up in the light of terrifying facts regarding the climate which, were we to take them seriously, would compel us to transform every aspect of our lives*. Instead, we deal with the question as we do with death, pretending it’s not real and dealing with each instance of it as though it were occasional and incidental, with no implications for how we ourselves should think and act. There is clearly some sort of (as Lacan calls it) ‘Big Other’ that embodies and excuses our lack of awareness, an authority which, unlike us, is truly ignorant of the problem. Here we can see that these tools are particularly useful for understanding the role of mass and social media in our lives.

The other pressing instance of the subject-supposed-not-to-know is directly related to this: supporters of Donald Trump. In a way unerringly similar to that of a cult leader, Trump acts out their ignorance and thus allows them to continue with a kind of hysterical blindness. This is true not just of the climate, but also of his own behaviour. If we want to understand why they are so resistent to acknowledging his failings while so ready to blame others, this provides an answer. As long as he pretends that the allegations (including admissions he has himself made in the past) don’t exist, it’s as if they’re not real. He is aided in this by partisan media outlets and social media platforms which facilitate tunnel vision/amplify our blind spots and enable wilfull ignorance of that which their participants do not want to acknowledge. Trump’ s supporters embody an increasingly prevalent condition which affects us all, just in a more extreme form: they and we are effectively, as José Saramago pointed out, blind.

*The now-ubiquitous term ‘triggered’ (as in provoked) actually describes an effect of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. What else is this trauma which we’re so keen to avoid addressing that we displace our fear and stress onto substitute targets, eg race?

I suspect that Trump is starting to wish he’d lost

There’s been a remarkable dearth of speculation on what would have happened #ifTrumphadlost. In the run-up to the vote he gave numerous hints that he was prepared to reject the result and mobilise his supporters for violence. He may well be now thinking in similar terms, even though his room for manoeuvre now appears to be more limited.

I was mistaken in thinking that he would quickly succumb to the pressures of the role. Although, as one astute commenter pointed out, his skill set is extremely narrow, one gift that he has in abundance is tenacity. Reports from throughout his career as a glorified real estate PR man emphasise that even in the face of humiliating catastrophe he would be back in the office every morning in a suit and tie ready for battle. His resilience is an easily-overlooked asset, one that combines with his possibly psychopathic instincts for self-promotion to stand him in very good stead as a politician. Thus my suggestion that his manifest incompetence and unsuitability would mean he would be hastily bundled off stage was wrong. I also misjudged the willingness of the Republican Party establishment to sacrifice democracy to stay in power. Thus he has weathered the storms whipped up by the already countless gaffes which have confirmed the extent of his ignorance, recklessness and callousness, such as directly offending Gold Star families, clearly not giving a shit about Puerto Rico and actually trying to start a nuclear war for little more than his own self-aggrandisement.

Nonetheless, he is clearly suffering. In the light of the indicments, without a clue what Mueller has on him and the rest of his team, his strategy of deflecting and projecting everything said of him onto Clinton is falling apart. Although he has a very solid ‘base’ which shows every sign of having consolidated into the world’s most deluded and heavily-armed cult, his primary audience for his demented rants – his own sense of legitimacy – seems to be crumbling.

There are numerous symptoms of this, but I want to focus on three. They may seem random but the narrative they suggest is one that I find compelling.

The first is a Freudian slip which he made during an interview last weekend. In trying to discuss economics, a subject of which he has no meaningful adult grasp, he let slip the word ‘psychotically’ instead of ‘psychologically’. This suggests to me that all the speculation about his mental state is playing on his mind. I don’t know what it means for a psychopath to learn that they are a psychopath or a psychotic to have their condition explained to them. Most would, I suppose, brush it off. But for someone of that mindset to be repeatedly and massively told that their behaviour was typical of a particular mental condition and to be the subject of speculation by hundreds of millions of people must create a particular kind of pressure.

The second is not something he but rather his media lackey Sean Hannity said. Last night in one of his diatribes Hannity revealed that he sees Hillary Clinton as president. This deserves to be taken very seriously. Trump’s attempts to keep the attention of his ‘base’ on his former opponent relies on an illogic so fundamental that even his chief supporters are unable to sustain it. Fox News’ disavowal of current events in obedience to an agenda which denies even the central fact of Trump’s victory is openly psychotic. No one who has not actually drunk the Flavor Aid would be able to take it remotely seriously. Yet this line of attack is now the only one that remains. Trump has always seemed immune to humilation, but denying his own victory in order to stay in power is another order of magnitude altogether.

Finally, there is Trump’s own tweeted exhortation to someone, somewhere to ‘DO SOMETHING’ to protect him. Making such a call gives the lie to the idea that he is, despite all his haplessness, in control of events. It reveals a level of isolation which suggests he sees himself as locked in a bunker and desperately needs reinforcements to come and free him. If, as seems highly probably given the legal circumstances, his Twitter freedoms are curtailed, his means of comunicating with his ‘base’ will be cut off. In various ways, and despite his staggering insistence on his right to go golfing just as often as he likes, his freedom to do and say whatever he wants is much more restricted than it would have been if he’d lost.

Rumours that he has asked an aide for information about the procedure for resigning are probably just that. I don’t think someone of his peculiar mindset would commit suicide in any form. But if he does, we can only hope that it’s political suicide rather than an explosive pique which takes the rest of us with it. Of course, anyone who thinks that Trump’s departure would resolve the world’s problems at a stroke is themselves deluded. His success is a morbid symptom of our catastrophic failure to develop an alternative to an economy built upon inequality, racism, misogyny and genocidal levels of environmental wastage. Nonetheless, anyone with any concern for democracy can see that his continued presence accelerates exponentially the trajectory towards fascism and world war. Anyone who thinks that the same could have been said of Hillary Clinton needs their head removing for examination almost as much as Trump does.

21 questions for Donald Trump


In 2009 the Italian newspaper La Repubblica started to publish a daily set of ten questions to then Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. The questions related to numerous allegations of corruption and Berlusconi’s evasive and inconsistent responses to them. The questions were never answered.

Although Berlusconi has been compared to Trump in terms of his populist appeal, his explicit corruption, his gaffes, vanity, sexual venalities and ongoing hairline issues, he was a much more astute and wily operator than Trump. Berlusconi was malevolent and arrogant, but not stupid or mad; Trump appears to present a perfect shitstorm of evil intentions and mental and emotional instability, together with profound and wilfull ignorance of the world, his role in it and how he is regarded by all thinking people.

If Trump were to be posed a similar set of questions in relation to his own crimes and the lies he tells to disguise them, he would struggle to understand the questions. His limited vocabulary, inability to concentrate and lack of attention to detail don’t appear to allow him to deal with matters of any complexity or depth, and his stupidity is such that he appears to have very little awareness of how his staggering dishonesty is apparent to all, for all that he is given a free pass by his supporters*. He is, to an extent, aided and abetted by those sections of the media which have sought to normalise his presidency, treating him as a legitimate holder of the office and – partly thanks to the understandable need of media organisations to maintain cordial relations with and thus access to the White House – rarely holding him to account for the outright lies that he espouses. Nonetheless, many have speculated about what might happen if he were to be truly put on the spot. I therefore present these questions – none of which, I feel with some certainty, he would be able to answer in a meaningful way – in an attempt to plumb the depths of his ignorance, for it is within that dark, dismal chasm that we now all dwell.

1. What is the capital city of Iran?

2. Which country is your present wife from?

3. What are the opening words to the US Constitution?

4. Can you name 3 presidents before Kennedy and give their terms of office?

5. What does the term ‘balance of payments’ mean?

6. What is the name of your predecessor’s autobiography?

7. When did you last see your grandchildren?

8. What is the current population of the United States?

9. When did Kim Jong Il die?

10. What is the address of the White House?

11. Why was the American Civil War fought?

12. Can you name any one of the four soldiers who died in Niger two weeks ago?

13. What is ‘Leaves of Grass’?

14. Who composed the national anthem?

15. Can you name three leading US newspaper columnists?

16. Can you describe how climate change is supposed to work?

17. What is the name of the current Prime Minister of Canada?

18. What is the name of the athlete who inspired the #takeaknee movement?

19. What does the word ‘nuclear’ mean?

20. What is the territorial status of Puerto Rico?

21. What do you remember of the Oath of Office?

*Of course there will always be a hard lump of supporters who will never abandon him, maybe best thought of less as deplorables and more as unflushables.

Curb Your Enthusiasm: That joke isn’t (as) funny anymore

Although the title ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ was apparently randomly chosen, given that the show depicts the tribulations of a rich, white, straight man in a world where, to coin a phrase, Others’ Feelings Matter, perhaps an alternative title – one more in keeping with the world in 2017 – could be ‘Check Your Privilege’. While I’ve long been a huge fan of the programme, it’s sometimes felt like a guilty pleasure as I’ve noticed that it’s much more popular with male friends than with female ones. Similarly, ‘Larry David”s enjoyment of life is often constrained by the need to exhibit respect towards people different from himself. I was looking forward to the new series but judging from the response in The Guardian, from Limmy, and from a friend who’s somehow seen the first episodes (I’ve only seen assorted clips*), enthusiasm for the show is waning.

As a bluntly-spoken New Yorker living in California (not to mention something of a schlemiel), Larry constantly triggers fault lines among people who appear primed to take offence. In each episode he either gets stitched up or manages to stitch himself up as the bit of social fabric he has (often inadvertently) torn up tangles itself around his ankles. Adam Kotsko’s essay ‘Awkwardness’ addresses programmes such as ‘Curb’ and The Office’. He argues that although their protagonists are mostly affable and largely well-intentioned, such shows demonstrate that the process of adjusting to a post-1960s world ostensibly built on mutual respect is inherently problematic, and therefore, in an exaggerated form, excellent material for comedy. They show that the imposition of rules around language and etiquette leads to constant clashes, given that such rules are mostly unstated and thus can appear arbitrary and unfair. The fact that Larry David and Michael Scott seem to be emotionally stunted, often sociopathically reckless, selfish, egotistical, and grudgeful does not render them monsters. Rather, their fallibility represents our own vulnerabilities. This is a complex, messy world and we all behave or seem to behave like assholes from time to time. As Phil Harrison puts it, ‘there’s an exquisite agony about the finest episodes that stem from the suspicion that everything happening to Larry could probably happen to you on a particularly bad day’. Their plight is a universal one.

Thus, ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ was never a resentful diatribe against political correctness per se, but rather an intelligent satire. It is not demanding that the edifice of post-60s respect for other identities be blown up. There are limits on individual honesty and the satisfaction of our impulses, and sometimes our encounters with those limits are awkward and lead to more hurt feelings. That doesn’t imply we should all join the NRA and look up the quickest route to Charlottesville. Or, as the article puts it, ‘Maybe the world has changed without telling Larry David. Maybe Larry now simply feels too much like a rich, straight white man lumbering around shoving his demented, free-ranging privilege and entitlement in everyone’s face?’.

The extent to which curmudgeonly white men are no longer on the back foot is once again demonstrated, with unerring and dispiriting predictability, in the comments following Phil Harrison’s article. Their tone is largely resentful and humourless, anti-intellectual and personally spiteful, expressing fury against the media itself and the individual journalist as though the free press has no right to cover culture. Some of the commenters seem to regard the piece as an example of #fakenews.

The fact that the article calls the new series ‘catchphrase and slapstick’ put me in mind of a stage show I saw recently about the life of Benny Hill. Although I found it trite and distasteful, the rest of the audience, people mostly in their 60s and 70s, lapped it up. Tastes in comedy change very quickly, especially from generation to generation. The funny bone changes shape in tune with changing social mores. Butts of jokes turn out to have their own perspectives, to want to explain their own actions and maybe make their own jokes. Although Larry David is the same age as Donald Trump, he’s certainly no fan and his show is – or has been so far – much too sophisticated for your average deplorable. Nonetheless, there is something of Trump’s appeal in David’s comedy. (Plus his indiscrimate targetting of Muslims/Arabs/Iranians may explain why Steve Bannon apparently finds it so entertaining.) Thus in 2017 his particular shtick doesn’t make us laugh as it did five or ten years ago. As someone else who used to be amusing and is now little more than a source of embarrassment once sang, it’s too near the bone and it’s too close to home. Tl;dr: Crotchety old white men are not as charming as they used to be.

*Anyone unhappy that I’ve written this without watching the whole new series is welcome to track down somewhere I can stream it in Italy.