Trump gets bit­ten by his snake story

He ex­plic­itly equated snakes and im­mi­grants

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - HEATHER MALLICK Heather Mallick’s com­men­tary ap­pears in Torstar news­pa­pers.

On the 100th day of Don­ald Trump’s pres­i­dency, what did this pe­cu­liar man talk to his na­tion about? Snakes.

He could have held forth on health care, tax­a­tion, trees in spring­time, how Democrats and Repub­li­cans can get along, the in­stinct to bomb, driver­less cars, how much to tip, whether argan oil is the new shea but­ter, any­thing he liked.

But no, he read song lyrics (he calls them po­ems) about a snake. Who likes snakes? Al­most no one.

Snakes are meat ropes, liv­ing string. They are long, soft pen­cils, fleshy tubes that slide leg­lessly. They hide eas­ily and move faster than you’d ever think. They spool, which is nor­mal for thread but not for an an­i­mal.

When an­i­mals hunt you in dreams, their nas­ti­est abil­ity is tran­scend­ing habi­tats. It is not fair that snakes can slither, and swim, and rise up to strike, and make their way up trees where they coil, lie in wait and drop on your head.

So why did Trump pub­licly read “The Snake?”

I had not known that he oc­ca­sion­ally read this thing to au­di­ences dur­ing his 2016 cam­paign ral­lies. This is the kind of care­less nor­mal­iz­ing of Trump that hap­pens when there are too many out­rages to fit in a tra­di­tional news story, and when the read­ing takes three min­utes and 11 sec­onds, too long for tra­di­tional TV or video.

The Snake was missed be­cause of the as­sump­tion that Amer­i­can vot­ers have no nose for sub­tlety in a crass and vi­o­lent cam­paign. This may or may not be true. Either way, the song would seem more cam­paign­like than pres­i­den­tial.

In an era when su­perla­tives pep­per the air, I say hon­estly that this was the ugli­est thing I have ever seen Trump do.

Be­fore, he was likely re­fer­ring to ter­ror­ists. This time he ex­plic­itly equated snakes and im­mi­grants, as if they were trails of ver­min. He said, “Let’s ded­i­cate this to Gen. Kelly, the bor­der pa­trol, and the ICE (Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment) agents for do­ing such an in­cred­i­ble job. This was writ­ten by Al Wilson, a long time ago.” (Not true. It was writ­ten by Os­car Brown Jr., in 1963, and re­leased by Wilson in 1968, not that long ago in the ver­sion of his­tory that Trump wets his feet in.)

He told the story, based on an Ae­sop’s fa­ble, of a ten­der-hearted woman who found a poor-half frozen snake down by the lake. “Take me in, oh ten­der woman,” says the snake. Charmed by its “pretty coloured skin,” she wraps it in a com­forter, lays it by the fire­side and feeds it honey and milk.

“She stroked his pretty skin again and kissed him and held him tight. But instead of say­ing thank you, that snake gave her a vi­cious bite.”

Oh please. What else does a snake do in a song but cause trou­ble? The words rhyme — snake, sake, lake — as I take it all Trump po­ems do and then he added an ex­tra “vi­cious.”

When you watch Trump read­ing “The Snake,” watch the Har­ris­burg, Pa., crowd se­lected to sur­round him, 17 fully shown faces in­clud­ing those of four women and three small chil­dren.

One woman has a huge fixed smile on her face for the en­tire seg­ment, and that’s not easy to do. I’ve tried it. Ah, the pla­ca­tory smile of women. The chil­dren are rest­less. A pale man in glasses has heard it be­fore. He stolidly sits and with a tiny smile re­cites the words along with Trump. There’s al­ways one.

The late Os­car Brown Jr. sang a ’60s ver­sion of the song on­line that sounds retroac­tively sin­is­ter in 2017. As Trump, mid-recital, refers to “the bor­der,” I think of Spring­steen in the song “Mata­moros Banks” about the corpses of Mex­i­can mi­grants float­ing down the Rio Grande. “The tur­tles eat the skin from your eyes, so they lay open to the stars.”

Brown Jr.’s daugh­ter, Africa Brown, told the CBC that her fa­ther would have ob­jected to Trump twist­ing his words. “I know he would have said, ‘It’s about him.’”

And, in­deed, it is. Trump is the snake. He was por­trayed as within the norm, if not nor­mal. Re­porters duly filed tra­di­tional news stories, ig­nor­ing what psy­chi­a­trists are now call­ing a “duty to warn.” Trust­ing Amer­i­cans car­ried Trump inside the White House and gave him ev­ery luxury.

And he bit them, vi­ciously. Care­ful with the snake analo­gies, Pres­i­dent Trump, this one just bit you back.

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