We continue to watch America unfold these days, and marvel. Albrecht Dürer, who on being shown some of the productions of the New World on a visit to Antwerp, wrote in his journals of the ‘subtle ingenuity of people in strange lands’, was referring more to the material than to the political culture of the Amerindian peoples, but the phrase is apt. The subtle ingenuity of ‘alternative facts’ lies at the heart of the Trump project, for all the president’s superficial stupidity and credulity. We have to assume that he and his slightly freakish team of advisors know what they are trying to achieve.
But the fact that there might be a scurrilous logic to the Trump programme does not mean that at surface-levels of organisation, it isn’t all a bit Alice-in-Wonderland. Here, for instance, is a transcript of part of a speech Trump made during his campaign. Cicero it aint.
“Look, having nuclear—my uncle was a great professor and scientist and engineer, Dr. John Trump at MIT; good genes, very good genes, OK, very smart, the Wharton School of Finance, very good, very smart —you know, if you’re a conservative Republican, if I were a liberal, if, like, OK, if I ran as a liberal Democrat, they would say I’m one of the smartest people anywhere in the world—it’s true!—but when you’re a conservative Republican they try—oh, do they do a number—that’s why I always start off: Went to Wharton, was a good student, went there, went there, did this, built a fortune—you know I have to give my like credentials all the time, because we’re a little disadvantaged—but you look at the nuclear deal, the thing that really bothers me—it would have been so easy, and it’s not as important as these lives are (nuclear is powerful; my uncle explained that to me many, many years ago, the power and that was 35 years ago; he would explain the power of what’s going to happen and he was right—who would have thought?), but when you look at what’s going on with the four prisoners—now it used to be three, now it’s four—but when it was three and even now, I would have said it’s all in the messenger; fellas, and it is fellas because, you know, they don’t, they haven’t figured that the women are smarter right now than the men, so, you know, it’s gonna take them about another 150 years—but the Persians are great negotiators, the Iranians are great negotiators, so, and they, they just killed, they just killed us.”
(Watch him deliver the ‘speech’ here).
What is he talking about? No doubt psycholinguists could make much of its fantastical babble. I don’t have the patience. Politics is an amplification of all social transaction, and in all social transaction there is always, I suppose, a coded distaff between the underlying intent and the surface noises used to realise that intent. But all I am getting here is a deeply insecure man talking about how smart he is and how dangerous his enemies are.
So, perhaps we should come up for air for a moment. Here is Vladimir Horowitz playing Robert Schumann’s ‘Von Fremden Ländern und Menschen’ (‘Of Foreign Lands and People’), from his collection Kinderszenen (Scenes of Childhood) where Horowitz manages an extraordinarily controlled interplay between the melancholy, nostalgic depths and the child-like surface simplicity. Which gives you, if not hope (Horowitz died nearly 30 years ago; Schumann more than 160), then a memory of what hope once felt like.