The formula for farse

A strange kind of shock is setting in around the globe, one steadily deepening with each stomach-turning appearance of Trump’s face on our screens and pages, his livery gob smugly working away as we stare on, helpless to stop it. How many billions of us are refreshing our poll trackers on an hourly basis, hoping desperately that the odds will shift and stay in favour of Clinton, all the while with a sickening, dark fear that the worst could happen: in less than 4 days Trump could be ‘leader of the free world’ (whatever the hell that means). For reals.

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LIT lightbox, ‘Make America Great Again’, Berlin Biennale XI, 2016.

The thing that niggles me the most is that supporters of Trump, with all their manifold agendas (diehard Republicans, Clinton-haters, disheartened Americans, poor people with nothing to lose, Vegas showgirls, women who ‘like to be talked dirty to’ – wtaf..??), seem to agree that they’re voting for him because ‘he is what he is’. Unlike corrupt Hillary, who hides her emails, Trump is a known entity, he wears his emotions on his tailored sleeves. By this logic, all of the deplorable things he says about women, his competitors, Mexicans or those who accuse him of any offence, historical or contemporary, must then be a true reflection of who The  Donald really is: a misogynistic, intolerant, lying, petty, boorish bully, one that charges around the playground bopping kids on the head and stealing their toys, and grabbing girls by their… skipping ropes. Then denying it and suing everyone’s parents.

What amazes me is that ‘authenticity’ is still being offered up as some kind of measure of public figures, as if they haven’t – each and every one of them – emerged from a great PR machine that expensively produces them as candidates or celebrities, or both. To be in the running for world leader, their personalities and personal histories must be carefully picked through for morsels of integrity and leadership; anecdotes or facts that evidence their diplomacy and determination (and stamina, apparently). The less respectable or scandalous bits are buried deep or rationalised as having been in the past, or taken out of context, or else purported by unattractive liars (losers). The resulting persona is a kind of Frankensteinesque hybrid that is no more authentic than an assemblage or collage. In debates, candidates act out these personas, they dance around and point at each other using hand gestures that appear neither too aggressive nor too passive (think Cameron and Boris’s weird thumb pointing, like they’ve just stolen your nose and won’t give it back).

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Robert Rauschenberg, ‘Retroactive I’, 1963

The other crazy thing about Trump’s rise to potential global power (please God, no), is the way he wears his wealth as a badge of honour (quote: ‘The beauty of me is that I’m very rich’), which leads some folks to conclude that he must be good with money, and therefore a viable president. Putting the inaccuracies of this portrait aside, Why are we so in awe of people who have a lot of money, be it earned or inherited? Why aren’t the Jeremy Corbyns and the José Mujicas of the world celebrated for their embracing of simple, resourceful lifestyles? It would appear that we, the masses, are easily seduced by dollar and pound signs, even as our economies collapse and banks and corporations continue to hoard and hide the earnings of a small minority of (mostly) men who have absolutely no responsibility to or empathy for the rest of us.

Awareness check: Trump is one of these men. He is no more self-made than he is genuine; his artifice borders on the parodic or operatic (is there a US election opera script in progress? If not, there should be…). The double-weave, the tanning bed addiction, the machismo posturing during debates, the tantrums over accusations that his hands are disproportionately small (they are), the ‘locker room tawk’. I mean, are we supposed to take this guy seriously, or have we all been secretly signed up as extras in some kind of grotesque pantomime? If there was ever an inauthentic candidate it is Donald J. Trump.

But wait! Perhaps I’ve got it backwards. Maybe these affectations are in fact evidence of the ‘true’ Donald that so many seem to empathise with, the bits he can’t successfully hide that slip out and shock us with their baseness, their utter weirdness. If anything it is his failure to hide these behaviours and suppress these reactions that make him somehow, unimaginably, appealing. He appears to be human, if a really terrible one. It is in the bright glare of Trump’s appalling truth that other politicians’ facades, more carefully honed, take on a glossier, more sinister character. Perhaps this explains why half the voters in America are siding with a man who seems to be powered almost entirely by his own idiocy. In an age when trust in politicians has been worn down to a stub (not Trump’s, of course), the election has become a celebration of ‘true self’ at its ugliest.

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Pippa Eason, Untitled, part of ‘Set in Stone’ installation at BasementArtsProject, 2016

In a similarly frightening way, Trump’s perceived ability to ‘tell it like it is’ about complex issues such as immigration, climate change and global trade (sound familiar, Farage?), is another kind of double bluff. Sure, we’d all love there to be simple, unequivocal answers to the problems of our deeply troubled world, but the enraging reality is that there are layers of overlapping, interconnected and contradictory truths that are forever cancelling each other out and producing new problems. We can barely get our heads round the structures of neoliberalism and the creeping inequality and suffering that it produces, let alone feel empowered to do something about it.

Trump blasts his way through such nebulous socioeconomic territory with clever solutions such as building walls (cause we know that’s worked really well in the past), denying climate change (when it’s huffing and puffing on our doorstep), and making America great again (so much wrong with that statement, not sure where to start). I’m starting to think that the reason his campaign has been so successful isn’t because a lot of Americans are stupid (though some of them undoubtably are), it’s because Trump is so grossly uninformed and psychotically self-assured (he once responded when asked who he is consulting on important global issues, ‘I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain, and I’ve said a lot of things’.), actually believes the simplicity of his arguments, and worse – that his demented, dangerous solutions will actually work.

The real, honest truth is that we are dangerously teetering on the brink of fouling what’s left of our time on this Earth with greed, fear, hatred and crippling individualism – and putting Trump at the helm would be just the thing to tip it over the edge.

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One comment

  1. Pingback: Demon or dunce? | folly matters

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