Philip Roth’s Take on Trump

Destitute of all Decency

In an interview with the New Yorker this week, Philip Roth compares the premise of his book,  “The Plot Against America” with current political activities emanating from the White House in the wake of Trump’s installation as President.  In the plot in Roth’s book published in 2004, “victory upends not only politics in America, but life itself” and the same can be said today as we witness the changes afoot that will have global impact as well as domestically and not by any means in a good way.

It makes me wonder if those who welcome Trump’s plethora of announcements these last few days alongside his dissing of basic human values may well live to repent their support.  In just a few short years from now those who crowd around him in front of the cameras,  Paul Ryan and all those billionaire businessmen edging into the frame may struggle to dislodge that image from our minds.  Today, Roth describes America as “drowning in Trump’s river of lies”.  For sanity’s sake, my own view is that the chickens will come home to roost, and it’s just a matter of time before the President has a hissy fit when things don’t go ‘His’ way and he upends that iconic Resolute desk gifted to America by Queen Victoria in 1880.

When his downfall comes (bear in mind that famous truism that all political lives end in failure) it will provide scant satisfaction to those who despair at the sound of his latest pronouncement.  The shifting of the tectonic plates will have consequences which will reverberate long after Trump has retired to Mar-a-Lago and social mores are in retrograde.  A few years ago I bought a copy of William Blake’s magnificently illustrated book based on Dante’s Inferno and I am tempted to send it to team Trump though its significance and relevance might not be fully appreciated.

Last year my lovely niece took me to see a production of George Orwell’s 1984 in London’s West End and I was shocked by how disturbed I felt during the production and long afterwards. (I read the book oddly enough in 1984 but thought it was so far fetched to be ludicrous with little  relevance in a modern world.  How wrong was I.  The West End production was powerful, heart-thumpingly terrifying particularly when the lights went down and the theatre was blackest black even the emergency lights went off if I recall correctly and all part of the production.  Sometimes now, when I’m watching the news, I feel a similar vibe which is why I limit the amount of television news I can endure.  Because I’m a voracious reader, I’m still reasonably well informed.   Nevertheless I’m sure if my stress levels were measured by about 10.15 pm each night while the news is on,  common sense never mind medical intervention would suggest minimum exposure to TV news.  Somehow, reading for me is so much less intrusive in the living room than dire TV output.

On the outcome of the American election result, I vowed to stay as far away as possible from media intrusion on inauguration day and my preferred location on the day would have been WB Yeats retreat, Innisfree in the west of Ireland, as described in his poem ‘The Second Coming’* (all that verse resonates right now, see below) written in 1919 in the aftermath of World War 1, The Easter Rising and the French Revolution.  Sadly that trip was not possible but I managed to avoid news output all day and my equilibrium felt better for it.

On the eve of the election, I recall watching Doris Kearns Goodwin, the respected American historian being interviewed on Newsnight talking about the embarrassment Americans felt by the Trump phenomena.  “Every American abroad must have a blush of shame on their cheek”, she said in evident discomfort and that was before he won.  Therefore, I do have some sympathy for Americans on the basis that the majority of them by a 3 million margin voted for Clinton.  Although I can’t profess to be a huge Clinton fan either though her vast experience on the global stage must count for something.

In his interview, Roth describes Trump as “humanly impoverished”…. “ignorant of government, of history, of science, of philosophy, of art, incapable of expressing or recognising subtlety or nuance, destitute of all decency, and wielding a vocabulary of seventy-seven words that is better called Jerkish than English”.

By instinct and nature, I am a glass half full type of woman but it’s hard not to despair at my children’s outlook for the future never mind civilisation more generally.  Ultimately the trouble with Trump says Roth is that “he makes any and everything possible, including, of course, the nuclear catastrophe”.    Sleep well.



*The Second Coming

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity”.



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