Notebook

Trump’s humour is his weakness – and his strength

31 October 2020

9:00 AM

31 October 2020

9:00 AM

Earlier this summer left-wing activists announced a ‘semi-autonomous zone’ in the Capitol Hill area of Seattle. Denuded of law enforcement and any other signs of the American state, these activists deluded themselves that they were creating a blueprint for the perfect society. After a number of wholly predictable murders and rather more rapes, the state retook control. The area where the state formerly known as CHAZ briefly stood is now just another homeless encampment, overlooked by empty luxury apartments. Local businesses are suing the city for failing to protect them. All still have ‘Don’t hurt me’ signs in the windows. One, a hairdresser, stresses that it is ‘a minority-owned, women-led, LGBTQIA+ staffed local business’. What any business in the area might do if it is unfortunate enough to be owned or staffed by people from a majority group is not to be imagined.

Like most other businesses in town, the local Whole Foods is boarded up against rioters. Over this unprepossessing edifice Whole Foods has hung a huge banner of its own which proclaims ‘Racism has no place here’. As though the Seattle Whole Foods was ever suspected of hosting Klan meetings in the dried fruit and nuts aisle. Even the local ice-cream parlour has a side-business selling T-shirts for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Seattle, like Portland, is like living in a one-party state in which the state religion is BLM.


Pensacola, Florida, is different. And not just because Air Force One is soon to arrive. In the airfield where it will land, thousands of people stream through the metal detectors and await the main act. It is hard to know whether the warm-up songs blasted out through loudspeakers have been chosen with too much thought or none at all. ‘My Way’, ‘Losing My Religion’, ‘Rocket Man’ and ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ can all be interpreted in several ways. Gounod’s ‘Ave Maria’ is abruptly interrupted to make way for Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis. The theme song from Titanic is played twice, and ‘YMCA’ — which has become the theme song of the re-election campaign — comes on before the President’s arrival. The crowd is thrilled, dancing about with joy. One of the addresses ahead of the President is from a pastor who prays for the re-election of Donald Trump. He says he believes that because of what the President has done for Israel (another normalisation treaty signed that day), Trump will be rewarded eternally. It summons up the disturbing image of the world’s humblest arriving into heaven to find themselves greeted by the man who recently introduced himself as ‘Your favourite president’.

The plane has landed and the world’s most famous head of hair heaves into view. The audience remains on its feet throughout his hour-long speech. Although I am standing among them, taking notes and admitting I am from the media, everyone is warm and welcoming. Certainly they are here for the tough stuff (right to bear arms, defending the police, and patriotic — not America-hating — education). But they are also here because of something the media rarely admits: the President is funny. When he slings nicknames at his opponents and otherwise goes off script, both he and the crowd get to enjoy themselves. In the segment about ‘the China virus’ he starts talking about the period after he tested positive for corona. ‘What the hell was that all about?’ he asides, as if he is as bemused as anyone else by the reality show around him. It is his weakness and his strength. His freewheeling indifference to political norms attracts many of his supporters, some of whom say they never voted before. But as the great Peggy Noonan recently wrote, the nation may also be tiring of the 24/7 reality show, and wish to change the channel. Such voters hope Joe Biden will bring back ‘normal’.

‘The laptop from hell’ is how the President describes the device Joe’s son Hunter forgot to pick up from a computer repair shop and which ended up in the hands of Trump’s associate Rudy Giuliani. The contents include emails that suggest Biden’s son spent recent years enriching himself (and possibly his father) abroad through holding out his family connections. The laptop also contains photos and videos of Hunter smoking crack, exposing himself and being pleasured by the foot of an unknown person. The Democratic party and most of the media wish to protect the Bidens and are still claiming the laptop is a Russian interference plot. Elsewhere, much fun is being had with the ‘I can’t look, show me’ elements of the sex leaks. Yet Republicans should beware of this. The corruption and cronyism scandal risks being drowned out amid the sex. Besides, in the digital age nobody’s children are more than a few clicks away from some embarrassment. Plus nobody could mistake the Republican candidate for Snow White. Though exactly who he is remains both strange and wholly transparent. When ‘YMCA’ comes back on after his speech, the President manages not only to move his hands in time to the music, but even dares a little hip wiggle and sway of the legs. So amid the floodlights the evening ends in signature style — with militarism and camp, deadly seriousness and palpable insincerity. Perhaps this is normal. Perhaps nothing ever is.

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