PRES­I­DENCY PORN

The tor­rent of rev­e­la­tions from in­side the White House car­ries the risk that Amer­i­cans be­come de­sen­si­tised to Don­ald Trump’s un­pres­i­den­tial be­hav­iour.

New Zealand Listener - - SHELF LIFE - by PAUL THOMAS

In a 2000 es­say that ap­peared in the short-lived Talk mag­a­zine and resur­faced in his 2017 non-fic­tion col­lec­tion The Rub of Time, Bri­tish writer Martin Amis claimed that: The av­er­age Amer­i­can spends four hours and 51 min­utes a day watch­ing porn. The av­er­age non-home­own­ing Amer­i­can male spends more on porn than he does on rent. Pornog­ra­phy ac­counts for 43.5% of the US gross do­mes­tic prod­uct.

Amis ad­mit­ted that he’d made these “sta­tis­tics” up. And he prob­a­bly could have got away with it be­cause “the true fig­ures are sim­i­larly wild, sim­i­larly dizzy­ing, sim­i­larly through the roof”. Although mind­ful of the fre­quently in­voked caveat that the pornog­ra­phy in­dus­try ex­ag­ger­ates the size of ev­ery­thing, it does seem to be the case that porn is big­ger than Hol­ly­wood and more prof­itable than Amer­ica’s big three pro­fes­sional sports – base­ball, bas­ket­ball and foot­ball – com­bined.

We’re en­ter­ing sim­i­lar ter­ri­tory with re­gard to “shock” rev­e­la­tions

about Don­ald Trump’s con­duct and the go­ings-on at the heart of his Ad­min­is­tra­tion, the lat­est of which are re­vealed in fa­bled re­porter Bob Wood­ward’s book Fear: Trump in the White House and the New York Times op-ed piece writ­ten by a “se­nior fig­ure” in the ad­min­is­tra­tion who un­der­stand­ably prefers to re­main anony­mous.

These dis­patches from the front line con­tain some ar­rest­ing de­tail, but they are es­sen­tially vari­a­tions on a theme that emerged very early in Trump’s pres­i­dency. And just as pornog­ra­phy is so per­va­sive that no es­ti­mates of its foot­print and fi­nan­cial clout, how­ever im­prob­a­ble, can be dis­missed out of hand, the mad­ness of and around King Don­ald is now so ap­par­ent that we’re dis­posed to be­lieve al­most any­thing: When­ever three or more White House staff mem­bers find them­selves in a se­cure space, they spon­ta­neously break into a song, “Do you know the way out of Crazy­town?”, set to the tune of Dionne War­wick’s 1968 hit Do You Know the Way to San José? White House aides steal doc­u­ments off Trump’s desk to pre­vent him sign­ing off on half-baked, ill-ad­vised mea­sures. At­ten­dees at Trump ral­lies who are caught on cam­era ex­hibit­ing scep­ti­cism or scorn are ush­ered out of frame. Trump’s men­tal de­cline is such that he no longer re­mem­bers what the J in Don­ald J Trump stands for. Two of the above are what Trump ad­viser Kellyanne Con­way would call “al­ter­na­tive facts” – I made them up. The other two are true.

For­mer New York Times ex­ec­u­tive editor Jill Abram­son con­cluded her re­view of Wood­ward’s book with what she pre­sum­ably felt was a telling quote: “Trump had one over­rid­ing prob­lem that [his ex-lawyer John] Dowd knew but could not bring him­self to say to the Pres­i­dent: ‘You’re a f---ing liar.’”

The re­view ran in the Wash­ing­ton Post, where Wood­ward has worked since 1971. For some time now, the Post has kept a run­ning tally of the Pres­i­dent’s false or mislead­ing state­ments; as of Au­gust 1, it stood at 4229, an av­er­age of 7.6 a day. As rev­e­la­tions go, “Trump is a liar” is on a par with “Vladimir Putin is a tricky cus­tomer” and “Madonna is an ex­hi­bi­tion­ist”.

Like­wise, Trump’s re­ac­tion to the Wood­ward book and the NYT op-ed was en­tirely pre­dictable. Fear, he said, is “to­tal fic­tion” and presents “a pic­ture of a per­son that is lit­er­ally the ex­act op­po­site of the fact”. Ac­tu­ally, the real sig­nif­i­cance of Fear is that a vastly ex­pe­ri­enced and cred­i­ble chron­i­cler of the pres­i­dency has con­firmed, at length and in de­tail, the dis­turb­ing por­trayal of Trump as Pres­i­dent in Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury, Omarosa Mani­gault New­man’s Un­hinged and count­less re­ports gen­er­ated by the White House press corps.

CHAN­NELLING LOUIS XIV

Trump’s de­mand for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion to iden­tify “Anony­mous”, with a view to charg­ing him or her with trea­son, re­flects his well-doc­u­mented ten­dency to chan­nel Louis XIV, the Sun King, who ruled France from 1643 to 1715 and de­clared “L’État, c’est moi” (I am the State) as he went about con­sol­i­dat­ing ab­so­lute monar­chi­cal rule.

Trump has en­gaged in so much un­pres­i­den­tial be­hav­iour there’s a risk, look­ing ahead to the Novem­ber mid-term elec­tions, that re­port­ing and crit­i­cism of it are falling on deaf ears. Or, as psy­chol­o­gist David Feld­man put it, “ha­bit­u­a­tion” is set­ting in: “One of the old­est and most pre­dictable phe­nom­ena ob­served by psy­chol­o­gists is ha­bit­u­a­tion: the ten­dency of al­most all or­gan­isms, from amoe­bas to hu­man be­ings, to cease to re­spond to a stim­u­lus af­ter it has been re­peated over and over.”

In a sim­i­lar, though more cyn­i­cal, vein, Repub­li­can po­lit­i­cal strate­gist Alex Castel­lanos has ar­gued that Trump is now vir­tu­ally scan­dal-proof: “In an in­tensely po­larised world, you can’t burn down the same house twice.”

But per­haps the op­po­site is true: rather than be­com­ing com­fort­ably numb, per­haps Amer­i­cans are tir­ing of what 2012 Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Mitt Rom­ney called “ab­surd third-grade the­atrics” and the dam­age they do to the US’s self-im­age and in­ter­na­tional stand­ing.

Asked what he made of Trump, whom he’s known for years, golfer Tiger Woods replied, “He’s the Pres­i­dent of the United States and you have to re­spect the of­fice. No mat­ter who’s in of­fice – you may like, dis­like the per­son­al­ity or the pol­i­tics, but we must all re­spect the of­fice.” Well, Tiger didn’t get where he is to­day – an enor­mously rich black man in a pre­dom­i­nantly white, quintessen­tially es­tab­lish­ment sport – by court­ing po­lit­i­cal con­tro­versy. How­ever, his at­tempt to adopt a po­si­tion to which no fair-minded, non-par­ti­san per­son could ob­ject highlights the dilemma con­fronting fair-minded, non­par­ti­san peo­ple: on an al­most daily ba­sis Trump demon­strates that he has no re­spect for the of­fice of Pres­i­dent.

The bat­tle lines are be­ing drawn, as shown by for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama re-en­ter­ing the fray. The de­ci­sion to ig­nore the con­ven­tion that past pres­i­dents should stay out of elec­toral pol­i­tics is not with­out risk: it helps the Repub­li­cans to cast the mid-terms as pol­i­tics as usual, us against them, as op­posed to a ref­er­en­dum on the cri­sis play­ing out in the White House. Obama ob­vi­ously feels, though, that at this fraught mo­ment in the re­pub­lic’s history, deco­rous

pas­siv­ity is not an op­tion.

As rev­e­la­tions go, “Trump is a liar” is on a par with “Vladimir Putin is a tricky cus­tomer” and “Madonna is an ex­hi­bi­tion­ist”.

Wash­ing­ton Post re­porter Bob Wood­ward, left, and Bri­tish writer Martin Amis.

Role model: Louis XIV.

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