When someone refers to someone else as a “Scrooge” clarification ought to be in order, I think. After all, there are two Ebenezer Scrooges, the one before the visitation by the four spirits and the one after. Which do they mean? Well, if you’re like most people, you mean the one before. But isn’t the whole point to Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” that it is a tale of redemption? If you read the original (or watch more than a few of the television and movie versions) then you understand that Scrooge didn’t actually even start life as a miser, and that his advanced miserly ways were more the product of a creeping tightfistedness during encroaching middle and old age.
This odd tendency to favor or emphasize the unsavoury side can also be found in Christianity. Christian iconography is replete with paintings and talismans of the crucifix in its many symbologies and representations. The redemptive point to Christianity, it seems to me, is lost to those multitudinous representations of that Roman torture device reserved for peasants and criminals, known as the cross. Or as Lenny Bruce once put it, “If Jesus had been killed twenty years ago, Catholic school children would be wearing little electric chairs around their necks instead of crosses.”
Most of us have heard of John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” (and a few can even quote at least one line from it, thanks to Captain Kirk) but how many know about “Paradise Regained”? Nor is it any accident that the memorable character from the former is usually considered by most to be Satan.
Where I’m headed with all this is, however much we may, as a species, think we are attracted by the good it is the bad that we find the most entertaining. It’s no accident that biographies about Hitler outsell biographies about Gandhi a hundred to one. It is no accident that the office back-biter and gossip frequently gets the biggest send off when they retire. We are fascinated by bad people, to put it simply, fascinated and more than a little attracted to them. Some of us don’t draw the line at fascination, either, they are so smitten that they would follow these bad people anywhere, into hell if there is such a place.
I’m trying to make sense of why so many people are still fascinated by and remain loyal to Donald Trump. I have never in my life met a person worse than Trump. I have never known a bigger liar, a more obvious braggart, a more vile, vindictive, hateful, inarticulate, stumbling coward. The idea that such an obvious boob, such a mean-spirited, grotesque clown, so inept and unqualified a moron could retain popularity with such an astounding percentage of Americans baffles me. I’m not altogether sure that our inherent fascination with bad people explains it, but it may really be just that simple. It seems, for example, something of a blasphemy to suggest that all these mass shootings that happen every couple of weeks are nothing more than a fad, but that might just be all there is to it. Some people are really that vulgar, and are fascinated by the unredemptive wicked – and the ones that are don’t have much in the way of imagination, either.
Then there’s Trump’s Saturday night speech to the Israeli American Council advocacy group in Hollywood, Florida. In the speech, Trump served up a smorgasbord of anti-Semitic tropes and stereotypes to a hail of chants of “four more years!” He began with the complaint that “[some Jewish people] don’t love Israel enough.” The notion that all Jews are or should be Zionists is one that is justly resented in the Jewish community. No one likes to be reduced to a cultural stereotype, particularly when it isn’t true. Many Jews despise much of what Zionism in its extreme form represents, including the slaughter of innocent Palestinian children.
Of course, it’s easy to understand why that went down well at the Israeli American Council. But what came next was pure antisemitism, when Trump said that he knows, “very well, you’re brutal killers. You’re not nice people at all, but you have to vote for me.” He also said that, “Jews won’t vote for the candidate who wants a wealth tax because Jews are all about wealth.” How Trump managed to hypnotize a room full of Jews into cheering that can only be described, again, by this odd human fascination for evil. At least he didn’t say, “And how about that Hitler, huh?” But I cannot help but wonder had he said that, he would have gotten away with it.
In response, Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg tweeted, “It’s not even coded antisemitism. It’s not a dog whistle. He’s saying this. Out loud. To a room full of Jews.” In so saying, Donald Trump had just, metaphorically speaking, shot a man on Fifth Avenue and gotten away with it.
Trump then told the audience of about 4,300 that he often hears claims in the media that he will refuse to step down after in 2024, recycling again his fantasy that he will be re-elected in 2020 and that he will become president for life. “So now we have to start thinking about that,” Trump said, as if it only just occurred to him, “because it’s not a bad idea.”
Given what Trump got away with Saturday night and the human propensity for its fascination with and support for evil, we had better be prepared for the worst. Every day I see things that three years ago I would have proclaimed with confidence could never happen. Given what some people have shown us over and over again that they are capable of, we need to stop being astonished by the impossible and start getting ready for it.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.