Yes, there may be little doubt that the contents of the US President’s head are as laudable as those of a used sick bag. I shall not, like many of my peers, violate the Goldwater Rule and call him a loony, but I will say that boyfriend’s doesn’t seem the most balanced ball. But why should I bother saying anything at all about his unpredictable state, when there are actual thousands of commentators to do just that? Impeach him, they say, because clearly, he’s not quite right.
I wonder if this is the true problem.
This week on late night US TV, the dependably liberal Stephen Colbert made a joke whose substance had been uttered in great seriousness by many grownups, including Michael Bradley in yesterday’s Crikey. Trump is an erratic amateur, they say, and therefore cannot be trusted. Especially with those nuclear codes.
Let’s set aside that no US president can be trusted since Truman rained not one needless moment of hell down on Japan, but two. Led by the sane or the less sane, America is not a nice hegemon and its executive is in the habit of either eating or destroying everything outside of DC, NYC and Silicon Valley. I don’t trust the sane presidents to behave any more than I trust this unstuck airsick bag. When Obama deported almost 3 million people from the US, those he kindly described in public as “undocumented”, he did so, I’m sure, with a great rationale. Not to get too Peter Singer about the whole thing, but, surely, consequences, and lives, matter more than the means that produced them.
Still, the Trump is An Illogical Brute line continues in much of the Western world’s press, as though a logical brute is preferable. Bradley yesterday suggested that Nixon was a better leader, a claim with which the people of south-east Asia may have some dispute.
This stuff about Trump has gone on, with very limited success, for some time. Both Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton mentioned during the campaign those “nuclear codes” and suggested that these should not be left alone with an orange toddler. Rather, they should be accessed by a sane person like Clinton, a very rational war hawk and the protegee of Kissinger, who so rationally ordered so many rational deaths.
Clinton the Most Qualified or Clinton the Sane just didn’t work. Millions of Americans rejected her ascendant brand of sanity and qualification. You can say they did so because they’re all racist punks with no teeth, if you like, or you could consider that levels of wealth inequality now exceed those we saw immediately prior to the Great Depression of 1929. If a life lived in servitude to poverty is the product of qualified sanity, then you’ll roll the dice on the airsick bag.
It’s a strange mania that the knowledge class has for “qualification”. It doesn’t really seem to matter what one is qualified to do — in Clinton’s case, bomb folks, incarcerate folks and maintain lopsided neoliberal economic management — so long as one has one’s certificate. There are those, especially among my profession and fans of The West Wing, who just love the thought of people who are really, really good at stuff, no matter if that stuff includes bombing Libya, supporting a coup in Honduras and cosying up to Goldman Sachs or the Saudi regime.
There is a curious confusion by commentators of science and technocracy. Many of the same people who nobly support the findings of climate science or cheer on rallying scientists hold great regard for think tanks. A politician like Clinton, they hold, is good because she listens to technocrats, just look at all the alphabetically listed policies on her website. That qualified woman listens to science.
But technocrats are not scientists. Scientists seek to minimise doubt through method, while technocrats are in the business of demolishing it with bullshit. A scientific finding can truly transform the world, while a technocrat’s Milton Friedman-inspired bollocks about “human nature” seeks only to maintain stasis. Scientists discover things hitherto unknown, technocrats are largely in the business of justifying practice already widely accepted.
For mine, the blind and slavish scientistic love the media class has of “qualification” was never so apparent as with the WikiLeaks release of the Goldman Sachs speeches. In her highly paid address, Clinton said that there were two stories she would tell: one to the public, and another to private investors. That journalists were largely unmoved by this declaration is evidence of their faith in elite (and empty) knowledge. It’s OK that she doesn’t tell the truth to the people, because she’s having sane and qualified conversations with Wall Street.
With Colbert’s joke and much commentary of recent days, we see this curious denial mutate into an even weirder shape. He was one of many late-night hosts to suggest that at least Nixon had attempted a cover-up. This, in the view of liberal pundits and humourists, is Trump’s sin, not to hide and not to have, as Clinton has said she does, “a private and a public policy position”.
When I heard those jokes and read that commentary about Trump’s latest “impeachable” snafu, I was reminded of the words of Tony Abbott. It was in 2015 that he said, when speaking of ISIS, “the Nazis did terrible evil but they had a sufficient sense of shame to try to hide it”.
It was, in no small part, the act of concealment that permitted this grotesque and monumental modern horror. And it was not shame that put so many people to a hidden death, but conscious strategy. In 1943, Himmler said of the Holocaust of which he was an architect, “This is an honour roll in our history which has never been and never will be put in writing.” The Nazis had no shame. In fact, they took great pride in this “honour roll”. That was their private policy position.
There are those, of course, who say they find Trump’s callow speech “honest” or “refreshing”. I certainly find his ineluctable transparency interesting, but I can’t say that I’m cheered by it. Nor do I even prefer it to the public and private game played by previous presidents. But, seriously? This is what we’re worried about? That Trump is such an idiot, he forgets himself and occasionally tells the truth?
The media may not be hungry for transparency. They are, after all, largely in the business of delivering pre-digested subterfuge. They are a hubristic class who do not, in my experience, believe that the people are to be trusted with the truth — better to offer both public and private versions of it. Better to publicly valorise all the presidents, even those who slaughter babies, because, jeez, at least they’re not Trump. Who is, unlike Truman, not to be trusted with the “nuclear codes”.
The media may not be hungry for transparency, but many voters, the bulk of who live on low wages and high debt, are. If media continue to say that the worst thing about Trump is that he can be seen through, that he has no shame, they will lose what little power they retain.