THIS – AS YOU MAY HAVE NOTICED – IS A RUGBY BLOG. WE TALK GUM-SHIELDS, GAIN LINES AND GEORGE FORD AND WE MAKE NO APOLOGIES FOR OUR SINGLE-MINDED APPROACH. FOR BETTER OR WORSE, IT’S WHAT WE DO.
But just occasionally something surreal happens elsewhere in the firmament – in this instance, the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave sticking a buffoon in the White House – and as hard as you try to concentrate on the all-court game of Brodie Retallick or ponder why it is The Springboks seem intent on turning the sport into an eighty-minute sumo wrestle, you keep coming back – almost hallucinating, to be honest – to the Trumpocalypse; The Donald becoming The President-elect of the United States of America. It is as grotesque as it is unfathomable and – apologies – but I need to vent.
Including the primaries, the War of the White House was eighteen months long – a filthy, demeaning, hand-to-hand crapfest through all fifty states of the union – which you’d have thought would have been long enough for folks to realise that Donald Trump – let’s be polite – is a charlatan, a creep and a cad. Can America really not tell its ‘ass’ from a hole in the ground or have the rest of us missed something? It’s looking very suspiciously like the former.
It’s no secret of course, that The Trump and The Truth have never been formally introduced; he is, as one commentator put it, an inveterate ‘peddler of prejudice and ignorance.’ He claims – for example – to be a self-made man, conceding that his father did give him a ‘small loan’ back in the seventies to help him on his way. In fact those close to Donald’s dollars insist his father actually loaned him a million bucks, bailed him out with another six figure injection when Trump’s casino business went belly up and later gave him a nine million dollar overdraft against his future inheritance. Nonetheless he insists that things ‘have not been easy for me’. Oh, that we could all have had it as tough as that.
But in his graceless lunge for the White House, Trump seems to have turned truthlessness into an art form. Daniel Dale is the Washington Correspondent for Canada’s ‘Toronto Star’ newspaper and someone should give him a medal. Across the latter reaches of the campaign, he decided to crosscheck every assertion in every Trump sound bite and speech and – staggeringly – Dale reckons the President-elect lied 560 times. Yes, all politicians bend the truth – ‘I did not have sex with that woman’ – but Trump – in Dale’s words – ‘lies strategically, pointlessly and frequently’ to a point at which ‘his callous disregard for the truth crosses the line into criminal neglect.’
Where would you like to start? He said Hilary Clinton was planning a policy of open borders leading to unlimited immigration; that she was proposing a total government takeover of healthcare; that she would raise taxes by 50%; that she’d destroyed thirteen I-phones with a hammer; that the Clinton Foundation was a criminal enterprise; that Crooked Hilary had made $250 million from her time in public office and that when she was running the State Department, $6 billion went missing.
On the campaign trail, he said he was ahead in Michigan when he wasn’t; he said it was Friday when it was Thursday and claimed almost every poll had him winning the debates ‘big league’ when they didn’t. He said he was up four points in Ohio; that the NY Times had illegally obtained his tax information and that 58% of African-American youngsters couldn’t get a job, none of which was accurate.
He said the sexual assault allegations against him had been largely debunked; that America is the most highly-taxed nation in the world: that Clinton was outspending him 50:1 on advertising; that Immigration and Customs Enforcement had endorsed him; that repealing Obamacare would save two million jobs; that IS had all the oil in Libya; that he’d opposed the Iraq war; that 90% of those arrested in the US were in the country illegally; that the country owes China $1.5 trillion; that there’s a trade deficit of $800 billion each year; that he was pretty much self funding his campaign and that he never actually said that pregnancy is an inconvenience to employers. I could go on but I won’t; suffice to say how on earth will his nose fit through the front door of the White House?
All of which makes this week’s result so deeply disturbing for anyone who gives a two’penny damn about democracy. What does it say about a political process if you can simply falsify your way to the Presidency? Trump plumped himself up as a ‘messenger for common sense.’ In fact he was nothing more than a grievance candidate, a man who ran only as a publicity stunt and who suddenly found he’d plugged into the matrix of red-blooded, redneck America; specifically the disenfranchised, displaced, white, blue-collar male. Put it this way, four per cent of African-American women voted for the new President. As Trump himself might put it, ‘you do the math.’
His greatest asset – clearly – was that his opponents underestimated him. He was a joke, a moron, a puerile self-publicist, a huckster, an egomaniac, a fanny-grabbing, truthless bigot and a bullshitter, all of which was – and remains – true. But what won him the White House wasn’t what Trump was but what he wasn’t; namely a woman or a Washington insider. And the more the gormless media tried to portray him as a leper, the more popular he became. The Clintons and the Obamas schmoozing together on the stump added a few more percentage points whereas the lurid sexual allegations and the ‘locker room banter’ offended only his enemies and simply reinforced his credibility with his core male constituency. In essence, what didn’t kill him made him stronger.
And to an extent you feel that the American political elite – the lobbyists, the think-tankers and the mesmirised media – didn’t see this coming because they didn’t want to see this coming. Like being diagnosed with cancer, you understand the possible implications but – clearly – you’d rather concentrate on a positive outcome. Even Republicans were stunned. ‘Everyone made the wrong call,’ said Juleanna Glover, a Republican lobbyist. ‘I don’t even think Trump thought he was going to win.’
Whether he did or he didn’t, he’s now the President-elect, which, if you can suspend your obvious disgust, is so gloriously intriguing. Usually when you vote someone into public office you cross your fingers and hope that the candidate keeps his/her campaign promises. This time, it’s the exact opposite. But what will he make of being the Commander-in Chief? For months he’s been Trumping around the country offering cheap sound bites to delirious crowds; power with absolutely no sense of responsibility. Suddenly he’s the President, the man who must speak for a ruinously divided nation; what’s more he’s a man who has no experience whatsoever of the demands and duties of public office or of the pitfalls of the political world. Will he embrace it or will it turn him into a basket case? There are times when you have to be careful what you wish for.
Because – let’s remember – for The Donald, The Presidency is actually a step down. Estimates vary as to Trump’s net worth – approximately $3.7 billion seems to be the best guess, although he’d doubtless tell you it’s vastly more than that – yet here he is now earning a piffling $400,000 a year and paying income tax. Income tax? Someone at the IRS may need to get round to the White House sharpish next January and draw Donald a diagram. True, there is also a $50,000 annual expense account, a $100,000 nontaxable travel account and a $19,000 allowance for entertainment, ‘expenses which can only be incurred as part of official business and the remaining balance of which reverts to the US Treasury.’ The remaining balance? What, on an annual party budget of nineteen grand? The Trump could blow that on a single bottle of Chateau Mouton-Rothschild 1945 and drink only one glass.
Then of course, there’s the accommodation. He currently lives in the penthouse suite in Trump Tower in Manhattan; not one, not two but three levels on the 66th Floor decked out in a rococo, eighteenth century, French design, all gold and marble with Louis XV chairs and a diamond front door. The apartment – that’s a little like describing the Palace of Versailles as a house – has views of all five boroughs, most of Central Park, much of New Jersey and rubs shoulders on Fifth Avenue with Tiffany’s, Bergdorf Goodman and Louis Vuitton. By contrast The White House will feel like social housing; worse still, the First Lady may find that buying a handbag on Pennsylvania Avenue might not offer her quite as much choice as the corner shops in New York.
And what about the plane? ‘Air Force One’ would be a transport of unimaginable delight to most people but The Donald isn’t most people. ‘Trump Force One’ cost a sprightly $100 million; it has – so it is said – gold plated seat-belt fasteners, two bedrooms, a cinema and – in the phallic world of the plutocrat – twenty-one metres more wing-span than the crate the President flies round in. In fairness, ‘Air Force One’ does have flares to deter heat-seeking missiles but doubtless Donald already has a man and a spanner making the necessary adjustments.
And let’s not forget the job itself. Trump’s seventy – the oldest President to take office – and, as billionaires often are, he’s used to getting his own way. But even with a Republican Congress riding shotgun, there’ll be folks overseas he can’t schmooze and problems at home he can’t solve by writing a cheque. He’s also – you suspect – a man with a hefty boredom threshold so you wonder how long the devil, the detail and the sheer responsibility of the job will entrance him. Does he want this office for what it entails or for what it confers? Put another way is a Trump Presidency a means to an end or just an end?
The short money – you’d have to say – would be on Donnie doing a Ronnie; turning the Presidency into a gentle, retirement gig, trusting to a less-is-more strategy of reduced government and leaving the hard yards to someone in Gucci loafers. It was once said of Reagan that he was ‘self-evidently a president whom it is difficult to engage in a serious discussion on any subject of contemporary politics’ and it’s tough to think Trump will be any different. And, who knows, perhaps that might work. Perhaps an untried, unencumbered businessman is just what Planet Politics needs. It’s just a shame that the one America’s chosen is so irredeemably repulsive. Still we’ve had white Presidents and a black President: why not an orange one?
Certainly the cult of celebrity seems to have finally reached an apotheosis. It’s no longer sufficient – it seems – to pack celebrities off to the jungle to eat poisonous grubs or to pair them off in a cha-cha-cha with some skimpily-sequined, teak-thighed danseuse; you now have to make them the Leader of the Free World, sit back with a beer and spend the next four years enjoying the joke. The trouble is; I’m not sure Donald Trump is going to be all that funny.
12 NOVEMBER 2016