Former editor of the Buenos Aires Herald (1968-1979).
Here in the United States of America, we are unwillingly binging on a seemingly never-ending reality TV series. Every day I hope for a return to normality, but President Donald Trump is constantly delivering yet another twist to this grotesque tragicomic opera we are witnessing.H
The latest episode was more than twist, however, it was an outrage. He has gone too far. President Trump, referring to immigrants from Haiti and Africa, asked why the United States should accept people from “shithole countries.” Those words, which were of course bleeped out by most of the mainstream media, could well mark the end of the Trump TV reality series. It may not be immediate but the removal of the president from office is now surely inevitable, whether it comes by indictment or constitutional means because of his unfitness for office or simply because his term is up.
This most recent development comes hot on the heels of another episode, a moment when President (I still can’t believe I’m writing this) Trump appeared to have finally been shown up, well and truly trumped. This time it was the publication of a book called Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, written by a trendy journalist, Michael Wolff, who seems to have gained access to the White House quite easily. Once inside he simply sat on a couch in the lobby of the West Wing over the course of a year and noted down what he heard and saw, complemented by some interviews. When it came to writing it all down, Wolff employed a style of writing which may charitably be described as impressionistic.
Wolff, who decries traditional journalism, defends his method in the preface to his book: “Many of the accounts of what has happened in the Trump White House are in conflict with one another; many, in Trumpian fashion, are baldly untrue. Those conflicts, and that looseness with the truth, if not with reality itself, are an elemental thread of the book. Sometimes I have let the players offer their versions, in turn allowing the reader to judge them. In other instances I have, through a consistency in accounts and through sources I have come to trust, settled on a version of events I believe to be true.”
This fly-on-the-wall process, as the fact-checking website Politifact notes “will undoubtedly sell books… but hardly seems a move in the right direction for wellsourced, evidence-based journalism. Instead it’s a stew of mysteriously sourced dramatic scenes.
“The lack of sourcing is a problem because it means evidence is given a back seat to narrative oomph. It encourages people to suspend their critical thinking skills and follow their emotions into a pleasing narrative. That narrative might be true or it might not be, and it’s almost impossible to independently evaluate,” the website continues. “The people who take time to read the book for themselves will find a devastating portrait of Donald Trump.
Trump is portrayed as totally out to lunch, with such a short attention span that he’s incapable of reading policy briefs, much less of analysing a problem or making a well-informed decision. Trump is shown constantly watching cable TV, frustrated and confused by the fact that he doesn’t receive widespread approval. His staff is well aware of his shortcomings and wonders just how long they can continue the illusion that Trump is capable of governing.”
Indeed it is precisely Wolff’s intention to demonstrate that Trump is most certainly incapable of governing. Wolff sees himself as the little boy in the Hans Christian Anderson tale The Emperor’s New Clothes. In a recent interview with BBC Radio 4 he made the astounding claim that his revelations will “finally end this presidency.”
He told the BBC: “You know I think one of the interesting effects of the book so far is a clear, ‘emperor has no clothes’ effect — that the story that I’ve told seems to present this presidency in such a way that it says he can’t do this job, the emperor has no clothes, and suddenly everywhere people are going, ‘Oh my God it’s true, he has no clothes.’ That’s the background to the perception and the understanding that will finally end this presidency.” I sense a murmur from the 58 percent of Americans that polls say oppose Trump, who would feel that such an outcome should devoutly be wished for. Indeed, it would be a fairytale ending.
Wolff’s account of the Trumpian ethos calls for a serious consideration of the 25th Amendment, which allows a majority of the Cabinet – selected by the president and working with the vice-president – to decide if the chief executive is no longer able to be president and to send that declaration to Congress for a decision.
According to Wolff, Trump “doesn’t read, he doesn’t listen, he’s profoundly uncurious. He’s just interested in what he’s interested in and isn’t interested in the larger problems of the world, almost any of them. That’s on the one hand, so the other side is he’s now experiencing issues, fundamentally physical, mental issues.”
Trump’s behaviour in office has already resulted in a number of books that examine his sanity. Bandy X Lee, a psychiatry professor at Yale and author of The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump told a group of senators last month that the president was “going to unravel, and we are seeing the signs.” Two other books, Twilight of American Sanity by Allen Frances and Fantasyland by Kurt Andersen, also examine Trump’s mental fitness. Trump‘s estimation of himself, of course, is that he is “a very stable genius.”
So, the crux of the matter is whether an overwhelming majority of Americans will come to see that the emperor has no clothes. But judging by what happened in Argentina under the dictatorship and during the Kirchnerite years, most people will not recognise Trump’s intellectual and mental nudity.
(*) Former editor of the Buenos Aires Herald (1968-1979)