In the 1987 movie “Barfly,” with screenplay written by the irreplaceable Charles Bukowski, the female protagonist Wanda calls from her bathtub to the male protagonist Henry. She asks him about the noise she hears. A drunk couple are fighting in the cheap apartment next door. “What is it?” Wanda wants to know. “It’s hatred,” Henry replies, “the only thing that lasts.”
A recurrent leitmotif of the mainstream media these days is that Donald Trump is a master of hate manipulation. The current myth being promulgated is that he has timed his latest verbal and Twitter attacks on four congresswomen of color as a deep strategy, a combination of distraction from the Jeffrey Epstein case and a deliberate test market for future malignant tropes with which to chum the feeding frenzy of his venomous base. I don’t know about you but that sounds awfully complicated for a man with the vocabulary of a nine year old who doesn’t know that airplanes weren’t around during the American Revolution. Exactly what it is about Donald Trump that makes the mainstream media, and many armchair observers for that matter, ascribe the gifts of an evil genius to an idiot like Donald Trump is anyone’s guess. To me he’s about as clever as Wanda and Henry’s drunken neighbors in the movie, and far less interesting.
To find out why we do this it may just be that the best place to look is within ourselves. Patterns of meaning can be discerned across the naked face of chaos if you squint your eyes hard enough and wish. We Americans are particularly good at that. We hate that a loser, a nobody, an ineffectual oddball like Lee Harvey Oswald could murder a great man like John F Kennedy with a combination of dumb luck and a mail order rifle, so we create a universe of absurd conspiracy theories involving monolithic entities, the mob, the Russians, the CIA, LBJ, to explain it away and resurface our pain with something somewhat more palatable.
We so thoroughly mythologize our past that we are shocked to discover America’s founding fathers were actually deeply flawed human beings, that Thomas Jefferson fathered children with one of his slaves, that George Washington had a mistress, that the whole corrupt enterprise depended for its success on genocide on a scale never seen before or since. We are so utterly misty eyed with red white and blue tears that we cannot see ourselves with the same clarity that we are perceived with from abroad. We’ve already made ourselves a world laughing stock with a religion that insists “God shed his grace” on us. In the eyes of much of the rest of the world, we had Donald Trump coming.
And Trump really did stumble into this, and anyone who hasn’t figured out just how shocked and unhappy he was to win the presidency wasn’t paying attention on the morning of the ninth of November, 2016. Donald Trump is a stupid, limited, talent-free buffoon who became president of the United States quite by accident at the worst moment in history possible. Had it happened in the 50s we might have survived him without too much damage. But now the timing is simply awful because we have a planet to save and we are running out of time.
But to suggest that Trump is clever is to miss the point. He is not. He is an evil, stupid, little man who is just being himself, and he was as shocked as anyone to realize that was one of the necessary and sufficient characteristics to make him president. What’s more, America is filled with enough evil, stupid, little people who are prepared to give him the power to destroy us all. Were it not for the enduring power of hatred he wouldn’t have stood a chance. But because of it, and because much – not the majority but enough – of the world is lining up behind him, we cannot afford anything short of complete victory in 2020.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.