It’s Official. I Need a US Politics Intervention.
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American politics in 2017 really is, like herpes, the gift that keeps on giving. And – oh boy! – is it costing the self-employed economy! Back in October, I thought the election was dangerously addictive. But it turns out that was merely an hors d’oeuvre, the taco bowl to your well-done steak with ketchup, if you like.
There are a few things about the Trump presidency that one could have predicted. Clearly, between the fragrant Ivanka and the walks-on-water Jared, Trump’s White House was always going to run more like a medieval court or an old-fashioned Asian kleptocracy than anything so rule-bound as a twenty-first century democracy: it’s frankly surprising Barron hasn’t yet been tasked with “the cyber”. Obviously, the man behind Trump University and “grab ‘em by the pussy” wasn’t going to play Queensbury Rules.
One could probably have guessed that anyone who believes resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict is no harder than gouging a good price for land for a golf course – and please note that, roughly a decade in, the Lord of the Deal has still failed to remove a single Scottish farmer named Michael Forbes from one of his actual golf courses – was going to be pretty damn incompetent at being president.
It was unnerving, though not surprising, when a few weeks back I was literally checking my phone on waking to see whether nuclear war had broken out with North Korea. (After this week’s world tour, I think we can assume that it’s Iran in the firing line.)
But… RUSSIA?! WTAF RUSSIA?!
Let me be clear. It would be more surprising if the Russians, led as they are by a former KGB man and 1980s Bond villain who likes to be pictured topless on a horse, did not have something on Donald Trump than if they did – and it doesn’t need to be anything nearly as colourful as the golden showers. (Remember those from the dim and distant mists of January? That was several centuries ago in Trump years.)
Prior to his ascension to the presidency, Donald Trump was a reality TV show character with a sideline in building skyscrapers adorned with Versailles-esque quantities of gold, marble, oil paintings and other international signifiers of taste – or, more recently, licensing his name for others to construct said understated edifices. He’d driven several businesses into bankruptcy – and those are just his own businesses, not the suppliers he stiffed – screwed so many banks it was almost impossible for him to get credit in the US, and boasted interests in nations as far afield (and famously corrupt) as Azerbaijan and, well, Indonesia.
To state the blindingly obvious, vulgar apartment blocks weighed down with shiny stone and metal are exactly the sort of thing that money gets laundered through; it’s a rare building deal in Baku that goes through without greasing palms. Before we get into the complicated partnerships with loans from Russian banks, dynasties from formerly Soviet states, and former Soviet government officials, one golf writer remembers Eric Trump literally telling him that the Trump Organization was funding its golf courses using Russian money.
Obviously, Trump lies as easily as breathing, so it’s hard to tell whether he’s actually met Putin: some poor researcher at CNN pulled together 80 instances of Trump variously claiming to have met and not to have met the great dictator. But, still, this ongoing Manchurian Candidate saga is endlessly gripping.
Mercifully, I’m not American, so I don’t have to deal with what passes for domestic policy in Trumplandia. I’m not going to find myself dying of cancer because Trump pulled my healthcare to give tax breaks to hedge funders (yes, really). I’m not going to find my marriage negated, my family deported, or myself barred from re-entering a country in which I’m legally resident. In fact, as a white, heterosexual, cis-gender, non-Muslim woman from a Western country, I’d be unlikely to be on the sharp end of much of the most objectionable stuff anyway, at least until the fucker does away with Roe v. Wade. Obviously, what Trump is doing to the environment will screw the whole world royally, but at least we have China to step up to the plate.
That means I’m stuck watching the Trump implosion as a spectator. And it’s mesmerising! Right now, I check the news before my email when I wake up. First we learn that the Russians basically threw the election for Donald Trump. Then we discover that Michael Flynn, the granite-chinned-but-strangely-shifty-looking general, was not only having secret meetings with the Russians but actually under investigation by the FBI for taking undisclosed payments from the Turks AT THE SAME TIME. Then we learn that he had told Trump about this investigation, and still became National Security Adviser, where he made decisions in Turkey’s interest, and it was only once the press got hold of the various warnings about him that Trump fired him.
Then there’s the ungodly spectacle of watching communications professionals lie for Trump, and Trump proceeding to undercut them on Twitter. Poor, beleaguered Sean Spicer was reduced to hiding in the bushes after the great toupee fired the head of the FBI, who was investigating his links to Russia, allegedly because he’d been nasty to Hillary Clinton. (Schadenfreude aficionados may well appreciate this video of Flynn, who has just pled the fifth after failing to negotiate immunity, leading chants of ‘Lock Her Up’ on the grounds that she was a security risk.) Talking head after talking head insisted that the firing had nothing to do with Russia, only for Trump to go into an interview and say it did.
One aspect of the saga I’m especially enjoying is watching the intelligence professionals that Trump once compared to Nazis, not to mention the former FBI Director Trump described as “a nut job”, royally screw the orange bloviator through a series of leaks so epic they’re more waterfall or, indeed, dambuster than golden shower. (Of the famous meeting where Trump not only gave away an Israeli intelligence asset to the Russians, allowed a Russian state photographer access to the Oval Office, but described James Comey as “a nutjob”, one source said, ‘He thinks he’s playing chess when he’s actually playing checkers.’)
And then there’s the royal tour! It appears that our own dear Queen wasn’t wildly enthusiastic about millions of Londoners turning out to chant obscenities at Trump as he rolled down the Mall in a golden carriage, and the state visit has been put off indefinitely. (Who can blame her? At over 90, surely her strongman-wrangling days are over.)
Still, Saudi Arabia, where dissent, like women driving, gay sex, alcohol and witchcraft – hilariously looked after by the same government division as cyber-crime – simply doesn’t happen, was overjoyed to host the Trump, amid, umm, lashings of the sort of gold and chandeliers that would, as the great man remarked when comparing a mural in his gilded penthouse to the Sistine Chapel, “be very much in place in terms of quality” in a Trump Hotel. (Fun fact? Public beheadings, after football matches, are the only form of public entertainment allowed in the famously conservative kingdom.)
There was a lot to love in this state visit. I especially enjoyed darling Ivanka’s fake feminist visit to a business run by a female entrepreneur, one, no doubt, pulled up by her bootstraps just like madam herself, and her pronouncement that the Kingdom was making good progress on women’s rights (Human Rights Watch differs). Then there was the glowing orb, which someone decided would be a good look for King Salman, whose features resemble nothing so much as an especially racist Disney genie, the Egyptian dictator Abdel al-Sisi and Trump to gather around like so many super-villains in a Marvel out-take.
And then there was Israel, with a whopping 30 minutes allocated to Yad Vashem, and an entire three hours devoted to the Palestinian side of the Israel-Palestine conflict Trump hopes to resolve in one fell swoop of the diplomacy for which his Twitter feed is of course, the most salient advertisement. Next up? The Vatican, where an already tired Trump, who travels like the world’s most fractious toddler, will endeavour to diplomatically handle the Pope, with whom he already has beef.
And, meanwhile, stateside, the Russia investigation rolls on. Is there anyone Trump HASN’T asked to call off their investigation? Has Trump himself been bought, or was it just key members of his campaign? And will it, finally, turn into Watergate, as per dear John McCain?
One can only hope. Because, please, pretty please, sweet Jesus please, I’d really like to get some work done.
Caricature by Donkey Hotey on Flickr’s Creative Commons