I’ve been hesitating to write my first post of 2017, hoping against the odds that conditions in the world will improve and recent decisions will somehow be reversed. Those of us deeply concerned and disturbed by the actions of our ‘free’ country’s leaders are being forced to accept the dark reality that is the post-Brexit post-Trump post-truth era. Despairing sigh. Stab at eyes with fork. Months ago I wrote about DT’s dangerous authenticity, still believing that the worst wouldn’t happen. And then it did. Every day since his election has been a mouth-clamping, eye-popping cringe fest that would be entertaining if it didn’t personally and politically implicate most of us on a daily basis.
By ‘most of us’ I am being optimistic, and perhaps a bit naive. It’s heartbreaking and infuriating to imagine the throngs of people who are smugly responding to travel bans and wall building with a sense of ‘finally, someone has the guts to do it’, or, ‘now we’ll be free of terrorism’, or similar nonsense. But those people exist, in large numbers. They appear to be ‘winning’, in a cocaine-addled Charlie Sheen sort of way. And DT is leading the charge, a rotten stinking beacon of hate, fear and greed. From a fairy tale perspective, this situation is both inevitable and retractable – good will eventually triumph over evil and the balance will be redressed, like when the lost shard was replaced in The Dark Crystal or the ring flung back into the fires of Mordor. The darkness will lift from the land and a time of peace and harmony will begin.
Thinking in terms of goodies and baddies only serves to further polarise the debate, but this really feels like Manichean moment. When basic human rights are threatened on a daily basis and we are accosted with leering boastful bigots at every turn, how can we not feel as if some fresh hell has descended upon our world? And while indignation may empower us to protest and stand up for ourselves and the rights of others, there is a palpable fear that we may not be strong enough to topple this tyrant and his league of minions and supporters, and that we are seriously at risk of slipping backwards into the abyss of patriarchal capitalist hegemony. It’s hard not to imagine our plight in dramatic literary terms: we cling to the edge of a cliff, a horrible creature borne of a cesspool of Western excess waiting to devour us below, licking its livery chops.
As children we learn that behind every evil nemesis is a scared, insecure loser who compensates by bullying. Perhaps no real-life antagonist in history has embodied this behaviour as transparently as The Donald. We watch, horrified, as his ravenous ego bloats and his tiny eyes dart around, searching for his next victim. Enabled by the disempowered, who feel the only way to gain power is to hand their clubs over to the meanest kid, he’s on a rampage to undo the humanitarian progress of the past half-century. On the other (tiny) hand, he represents a generation and class of men who have been too busy sustaining their excesses to notice or care about equal rights movements or the plight of minority groups. These hard fought battles are literally not on their agenda, while leftwing resistance is suppressed by proud displays of ignorance and flagrant demagoguery. Fake news! Sad!
Sorry, back to my point (I’ll get there!). Even more compelling are stories that complicate the perceived boundary between good and evil, either by revealing the human frailty of the villain (the decrepit old man behind the curtain in Wizard of Oz), or showing her/him to once have been good but at some point turned bad (Anakin Skywalker/ Darth Vader). In these cases, we’re asked to consider the appeal of their less virtuous choices: power, personal gain, wealth, status, etc., and empathise with them by acknowledging the powerful draw these awards can have on us all. I mean, we all want to have our views heard, our needs acknowledged and to live a comfortable life with minimal suffering, don’t we? It’s only a slippery slope or a wrong turn that stands between our good selves and the megalomaniac sociopath that hides within us all.
And, after all, we’re at least partly to blame for Trump’s rise to power. It’s the side of us that can’t resist a good story, that can’t stand the bland centre-ground of politics and the nebulous, wooly equivocating of parties, that has allowed him to take the throne. Trump is deliciously divisive, if nothing else. Complex, however, he is not. The glimmer of hope in all this is the fact that he’s proving to be a rather boring, one-dimensional baddie, unworthy of the great, complex dramas currently unfolding in our world. We’ll eventually tire of his tantrums and even his loyal supporters will see through the facade of double-truth-talking and impulsive decision making. The only ones standing in his defence will be those hoping to burn the place down, with him in it. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that and we can send him away peacefully, to rot away on a gilded island, with minimal collateral damage.
In a recent tweet, Trump wrote “evil” in scare quotes, confusing emphasis with irony. The fact that irony is completely lost on this guy is amusing but also embarrassing. He’s not worthy of proper villain status – he’s an ass in wolf’s clothing, the occasional toothy bray betraying the disguise. He lacks the intelligence, sex appeal and sophistication of an enduring (or endearing) bad guy or girl. He’s not been tortured or maimed or otherwise turned to the dark side. He spells ‘honoured’ ‘honered’, for crissakes. Enough with the binaries: we need to laugh this guy out of the White House.