With Trump it’s time to go beyond mere disgust-OPINION

12:19   29 July 2017    805

By Jonathan Freedland

ho can resist the 241st season of “America”? The dialogue crackles, with new, if outlandish, characters popping in to keep things fizzing. The latest is the president’s communications director Anthony “the Mooch” Scaramucci, who called a reporter on Wednesday to tell him that one senior White House colleague, the chief of staff, was a “fucking paranoid schizophrenic”, while contrasting himself with another by declaring: “I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own cock.”

As a show, it has everything. There’s intrigue, as the men of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue prowl around a small, confined space, waiting to claw one another’s eyes out: call it Hate Island. But there’s also low comedy. Scaramucci’s words became public because this communications professional was apparently unfamiliar with the concept known as “off the record”. Steep learning curve, and all that.

Six months into his presidency, and the Donald Trump show remains compelling viewing. Each day brings a new twist or sees an old taboo broken. It could be Trump publicly undermining and humiliating his own attorney general, or summarily firing his chief of staff, as he did on Friday.

The reaction of much of the watching audience, especially around the world, shifts between amusement, eye-rolling disdain and bitter condemnation. On social media, Trump’s latest words or deeds are regularly juxtaposed with his past record, exposing him as a hypocrite or liar. Some days, Twitter sounds like one loud, global facepalm.

But is there any point in this constant tutting and harrumphing at Trump and his daily misdeeds? The president’s allies denounce it as elitism, a Davos-set snobbery towards the vulgarian from Queens and his uncouth, deplorable supporters. Besides, mockery by educated liberals seems only to reinforce Trump’s claim to be the champion of the left-behind, taking on a rotten establishment. The unpalatable truth is that, among at least part of his base, the worse Trump behaves, the more it helps him.

Now even a few unbending anti-Trumpists are wondering if they can face three and a half more years – at least – of daily head-shaking. This week the veteran US journalist Michael Goldfarb sighed via Twitter his frustration: “OK hashtag resisters, enough with arms akimbo huffy markings of all the hypocrisies of Trump regime. It does no good.”

He has a point. Rather than just sharing in the collective finger-wagging of the filter bubble, opponents of Trump, inside the US especially, need to act and organise. The fruit of that approach is visible today, after the seven-year Republican campaign to destroy Obamacare crumbled on the floor of the Senate.

There’s been much talk of John McCain’s early-hours no vote, but things only reached that point because Republicans had grown increasingly anxious about their own electorates. They saw hometown voters packing town hall meetings, fighting to keep the healthcare Obama gave, and they felt fear. Activism worked.

And yet it is not the only response. There has to be room too for a simple rejection of Trump’s behaviour, for a basic politics of disgust.

I felt it three times this week. The first came contemplating Trump’s address to a vast crowd of Boy Scouts in West Virginia on Monday. Like others, I assumed he would read a presidential boilerplate text – extolling duty, citizenship and the great American future that these young people would shape. But this is Trump. So he talked about himself, and the “fake news” media, and the failings of Hillary Clinton; and a property magnate friend who owned a yacht and sold his company but who got bored and Trump spotted him once at a cocktail party in Manhattan attended by the “hottest people in New York”, and on and on.

Trump has given much viler speeches. But something about the youth of this audience, their need to hear a message of promise or higher purpose, and Trump’s decision instead to speak about his own wealth and status and ego, to pollute the next generation with his petty greeds and hatreds, made it sickening.

The next day I felt it again. Trump was reading out a tribute to a 97-year-old second world war veteran. The old soldier was from Ohio, and as soon as Trump saw that word, he forgot about the war hero. He went off script and started praising himself for his performance last November. “Boy, did we win Ohio. Right? Remember? And it wasn’t like it was close.” Even that, a small moment to an old man, he couldn’t give.

The civic realm is being degraded by Trump’s lies, vanities and insults.
And in this same week, from nowhere, he tweeted a ban on transgender people serving in the armed forces, thereby shunning thousands of soldiers who do what he never did: risk their lives for their country. Of course, he had consulted with nobody, and the military have announced they will all but ignore their supposed commander- in-chief. But the casual cruelty and bigotry of it was disgusting.

Nor is it useless to keep saying so. One seasoned Democrat told me that among the reasons Trump won in 2016 was that a long year of Crooked Hillary talk, about emails and Goldman Sachs and the like, had steadily demoralised and demobilised the liberal base. If sustaining fury at Trump helps keep those same voters energised, so they eventually turn out to defeat him, it’ll be worth it, he says.

But it can’t just be in the form of world-weary, if witty, tweets. What’s needed is a coherent argument, one that explains why Trump’s repulsive behaviour matters. For Americans, that will surely centre on the state of their society. The civic realm is being degraded by Trump’s lies, vanities and insults. The national conversation is being coarsened. The basic democratic assumption, that disagreements can be resolved through discussion rather than coercion and violence, is being eroded from the very top. Note the language of Scaramucci’s outburst: “I want to fucking kill all the leakers.”

There is a global dimension too. The wisest Americans have long understood that their greatest strength lies not in military hardware but in their status as the world’s most watched and, sometimes, admired society. As Bill Clinton once put it, “People the world over have always been more impressed by the power of our example than by the example of our power.”

Every day Trump remains in the White House, that power wanes. The US remains an object of global fascination – but also, since November, of global derision. It cannot set a lead on human rights or a free press or an independent judiciary while Trump tramples on every one of those norms. The moral distance between the US and the world’s authoritarian, non-democratic regimes – the Erdoğans and Putins, to whom Trump offers only praise – shrinks daily.

So we should hold on to our disgust. We need to voice it, not in the white noise of low-level grumbling, but as a loud and urgent argument. The Trump show is compelling – but it is also deadly serious.

Jonathan Freedland is a Guardian columnist

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