Comment • reviews • Nordic Noir • whimsy
We’re at an interesting stage in our analysis of Donald Trump’s personality. The questions are re-asked, and re-answered, daily. Will he, during Transition, pivot to a standard presidency, or will the white supremacists among his supporters see the gains they were expecting? So we’ve seen early appointments like Steve Bannan, late night tweets about the classy and gracious speech to Mike Pence at Hamilton, an interview with New York Times journalists in which Trump appeared to dampen down expectations about a legal pursuit of Hillary Clinton, followed by what seemed like a threat that the pursuit will be resumed should Mrs Clinton support Jill Stein’s recount initiative, entwined with his claim that the election was rigged. For those of us in the UK there was the attempt to humiliate Theresa May’s government, with his championing of career politician and substitute radio host Nigel Farage.How should we interpret all these moves? Is there a lens through which we can evaluate these mixed messages? Well, one analogy that is often used between the government and governed is that of a relationship. In this analogy Trump’s faint exhortation that he won’t actually as president be the outlandish bully that he was during a bruising campaign is the half-hearted attempt to say that everything is going to be OK. The belief by some (including some Trump voters) that the president-elect’s tone was just for the show but now he will learn to be, well, presidential, reminds us of their dominated partner, longing for stability and normalcy, clutching at signs that their oppressor really does mean it when they say they’ll change this time.
Perhaps there is a person with whom we can compare Mr Trump. Of course in the UK we have a fictional character who fits the bill and who would have been right at home in Trump’s great gold elevator, alongside Trump and useful idiot Nigel Farage. Step forward Archers character Rob Titchener.
Followers of the British radio soap will know that Mr Titchener practised the art of ‘gaslighting’ – telling his partner – whom he sought to control totally – that things that had in fact happened had not happened and that she was mad to think them. He deleted content on her phone that would have proved that he had cheated at cricket, and then told her she must have done so: ‘you know how you are with gadgets, darling [evil half-chuckle]’. Mr Trump denied and denied and denied things that we knew to be true, that we knew he had said. Yet his Times interview last week echoes Mr Titchener’s ‘I’m not a monster’ plea to wife Helen.
Meanwhile, Nigel ‘Ferrero Rocher’ Farage reckons he’s the right man to represent the UK in the US. No matter that he despises 48% of the British electorate, whom he says are not ‘decent’ or ‘real’. No matter that his snarling diplomacy has won the UK few friends among those with whom we must negotiate as the UK crashes out of the EU. Unlike Mr Trump, whose appearances often indicate that he is familiar with the concept of schmooze and charm, Farage mistakes boorishness for authenticity. His response to the Brexit vote was to say that there had been a revolution ‘without a single shot being fired’, less than a week after the murder by shooting of Remain-supporting MP, Jo Cox, by Thomas Mair.
But, like Messrs Titchener and Trump, Farage is unable to conceive that those who oppose him can have good motives. All three men have shocking views on the respective ways in which men and women should behave. All three men have a sense of their own essential superiority (Titchener would certainly regard himself as first-class ambassador material), while hankering after the approval of the strong. Evidence of their non-brilliance causes them to hit out in incredibly vicious ways. Like all bullies they can dish it out but they can’t take it.
Many abusers operate under a smokescreen of deception, but we know full well how Mr Trump will behave. He has shown us throughout his life and certainly during the campaign. Stephen Bush from the New Statesman likes to apply to Trump Maya Angelou’s dictum : ‘When someone shows you who they are believe them, the first time.’ So there is nothing to be gained in trying to work out on a day-to-day basis whether his presidency will be worse than death by car crash on one hand or plane crash on the other. Those who had already worked out that the man was a danger to civilised values already know enough. It is not time for clutching at straws; it will shortly be time for opposition.
British radio listeners know that there is at least the possibility, if not of redemption, of a resolution. (We also know that for many people in dysfunctional relationships there is no escape, but that is too bleak a theme for a radio soap; besides the American presidency involves term limits.) In The Archers, when even Susan Carter now understands the nature of Rob Titchener (whom she once idolised) there is hope for us all. It may take longer for the allure of Messrs Trump and Farage to fail. Fail it will. But if in the meantime you need to predict Mr Trump’s behaviour, there’s a simple question to ask: what would Rob Titchener do?