BY any standards, US president Donald Trump’s press conference last Thursday was unhinged.
It seemed a stream of consciousness, Dr Strangelove meets the socially insecure, bewigged captain of a tatty, back-of-beyond golf club. It was a mixture of glaring dishonesty and the kind of titanic hubris only someone absolutely unanchored could indulge — or imagine that anyone with the perception of a golf ball might believe. But Mr Trump’s vaudeville had a dark and calculated objective that looks as it may well be realised. It was so bizarre it was necessary to take pause to remember that this man is the leader of the free world and successor of Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Clinton, and Obama. Of course, some of those men lied — “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” — but it was hardly their default policy. Effortless dishonesty was not used to cow opposition.
Mr Trump’s amorality continued in Florida on Saturday when he said that Sweden had suffered a terrorist attack. Except there has not been any attack in Sweden this weekend. One of that country’s official Twitter accounts, run by a different citizen each week, was, naturally, confused. This week’s curator, a school librarian, responded: “Nothing has happened here in Sweden. There have not been any terrorist attacks here. At all.”
It is easy to dismiss Mr Trump’s evacuations, imagining them a rich gift to historians and psychiatrists, but behind the bling morality, the contempt for the truth and the hectoring-to-silence, Mr Trump and his alt-right reclaimers want to depose established, mainstream media and replace it with a media happy to cheerlead his objectives. All the better for them if they can clear the field, if they can shout opposition down until they are so slandered they cannot function.
It is tempting to look away and imagine dishonesty could never be so influential on this side of the Atlantic, even if it already has. Election campaigns allow exaggeration to trip over insincere promise, but last year’s Brexit vote was a victory for those who thought their objectives were more important than integrity — that the end justified the means.
We should not be too glib either; our standards are hardly impeccable. If they were, how could we explain the McCabe scandal, just the last in a litany — if the chilling allegations are confirmed — showing there is something pretty rotten at the core of our police force? How else could we explain the last four years, when the great majority of established politicians gave Maurice McCabe a cold shoulder rather than a fair hearing? This dishonesty may not shout as loudly as Mr Trump’s, but it is just as corrosive, just as dangerous.
Thankfully, there is a silver lining. Mr Trump is indeed making America great again. He has repeatedly kicked the sleeping dog of apathy. The civil organisations, some newspapers, the social justice organisations and unions that took far too much for granted have been shocked into something beginning to look like a rejuvenation, a revolt. Mr Trump’s boorishness and lies has re-energised liberal, tolerant America. How wonderful it would be if we could reach that point before a Trump gets a toehold in our public discourse.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved