People often ask me why we haven’t seen a sharper rise in far-right activity north of the Border, and I always tell them the same thing: it’s because we have a very robust spoken-word poetry community.
It occurred to me to make that joke at the recent Trump rally in Glasgow – at which I performed – but then I remembered, jokes at the expense of the left are no laughing matter.
And, when it comes to Trump, the sensitiviites are understandable and justified. Trump is a man who fired the starting gun of his presidential campaign by conflating Mexican immigrants with rapists. In that now infamous press conference, he gave a green light to every possible variant of knuckle-dragger that it was safe to come out from under their rocks, as the whole idea of ‘Making America Great Again’ became a by-phrase for making it whiter.
Under the guidance of a certain Steve Bannon, this political slight-of-hand became the mechanism by which blame for the excesses of unfettered capitalism could be pinned on those very people for whom its toxic effects are most acute. Trump’s campaign was about deflecting responsibility for an economic model which favours the billionaire class onto some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the United States. African nations were described as “s***holes”, jovial admissions of his sexually predatory behaviour were laughed off as “locker-room” banter and Trump even managed to mock a reporter with disabilities. But these malignant stupidities were just the iceberg’s tip.
For now, let’s set aside the political dimension of Trumpism, the race-baiting and the conducting of US foreign policy on Twitter. Let’s park the fact that US withdrawal from the 2016 Paris Agreement on climate change – signed by nearly 200 countries to try and address global warming – is regarded by Trump as an achievement. And let’s pass over his beta-male slavishness to genuine Bond villains like Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin and his ill-fated executive order to pull up the drawbridge for people entering the States from a handful of majority Muslim nations.
Let’s forget about all of that and consider the primary reason Trump now sits in the Oval Office: his car-crash personality, from which even his most impassioned haters cannot avert their eyes. His madness is magnetic, his incoherence legendary. These personality traits made him an American celebrity, launched him into the presidential race and sustained his campaign. They are why he received more media attention than probably any candidate in political history.
Trump has famously admitted to never having a drink, citing his brother Freddy’s death from alcoholism as a powerful example of the harm this merciless condition can do. To my shame – and I recognise this may offend – sometimes I wish Trump would lift a drink. Not because I want him to die, or even to suffer, but because a quick descent into alcoholism might be the only thing that could humble a man of such apocalyptic grandiosity.
A common misunderstanding of alcoholism is that its effects are only present in the sufferer while they are drinking – that all a drunk must do is abstain and the problem is solved. In truth, addictive, compulsive behaviour is often triggered, not necessarily by lifting a drink, but by a certain personality type that becomes overwhelmed by the unmanageability it endlessly manufactures. A specific configuration of frailties and defects that most alcoholics share creates the kind of discord for which chemical relief becomes a temporary solution. Self-centredness, self-pity, resentment, grandiosity, a hyper-sensitive victim complex and a mindless pursuit of fleeting gratification become the combustible engine of our reactionary personalities. You don’t have to drink to suffer from alcoholism.
In this context, alcoholism is simply one of many words or phrases that describe conditions of mind, body and spirit which, if untreated, may embroil the sufferer in a torrent of emotional and psychological chaos. This unmanageability becomes the factory setting to which we return, sometimes because of adversity, sometimes through trauma or sometimes by sheer genetic or environmental chance.
People like me are the lucky ones. We turn to alcohol and drugs as a solution to our pain and become so battered and bruised – hurting so many others in the process – that we have no choice but to look those very defects of character in the eye. Failure to do so inevitably leads to relapse.
Many mental health professionals have speculated about Trump’s disordered personality. I’m not qualified to offer anything but an opinion. However, from where I’m sitting, Donald Trump could do with getting some recovery into his life. He bears the hallmarks of an obsessive, self-seeking, deeply vulnerable, spiritually disfigured human being, whose personality is so transfixingly unbearable that he’s managed to become the most powerful man in the world – because we can’t take our eyes off him.
Perhaps he reflects something back at us to which we could pay closer attention? For me, Trump is a mirror, a mirror in which I see clearly the kind of man I am capable of being should I become unvigilant in the face of my glaring absurdities.
At the Trump rally, I couldn’t offer any morally righteous insight. For it would have been deeply hypocritical. I just told the crowd that observing Trump’s behaviour made me want to be a better man. Drunk and sober, I’ve behaved poorly. I’ve lied to people to preserve a false self-image. I’ve mistreated those I love, whether family, friends or partners in relationships. I’ve engaged in ‘locker-room banter’ and co-signed misogynistic and racist “jokes”. For me to get up on stage and pretend I’m some paragon of virtue would be to engage in the very hubristic nonsense for which ‘The Donald’ is infamous.
I did all those things, without a modicum of self-awareness, because the ego I constructed to fortify my demoralising insecurities was so huge that when it came time to hear a bit of sobering truth, I was ill-equipped to take incoming calls. I wonder how many people, at these rallies across the country, are pondering similarly uncomfortable truths about themselves?
So, by all means, let’s condemn this man for his toxic rhetoric, his racism, misogyny and a political agenda that may change our world beyond all recognition. But if the personal is political, let us not lose sight of the excruciatingly inconvenient fact that Trump’s chaotic inner-world, despite his immensely visible power, wealth and success, is no more than an extreme example of that monster that dwells within all of us, should we become blind to the light of the truth of ourselves.