By Andrew Donaldson
IN a recent Sky TV interview, Ann Widdecombe, a former Tory MP who emerged from retirement to throw in her lot with Nigel Farage’s ultra-nationalist Brexit Party, helpfully suggested that science may one day “produce an answer” to being gay.
There is some concern about Widdecombe’s expertise in such matters, and not just because she is a reactionary embarrassment in the European Parliament; she is also a 71-year-old spinster who boasts she is still a virgin and, besides a few dates with fellow students at Oxford, has never been romantically involved with anyone.
Quite why she should now choose to bother people in their pants is a little baffling. Thankfully, it does appear that science has perhaps other, more pressing concerns on its plate at the moment.
Nevertheless, Widdecombe’s remarks did prompt this pithy comment from a Guardian reader: “If science can be used to help understand people’s sexuality maybe it could also be used to discover what makes some people bigots.”
Now, and provided that science can spare a moment or two, this may well be an inquiry worth pursuing, especially with regard to supporters of Donald Trump: why is it, we may wonder, that all reason should suddenly disappear from these people at the merest criticism of the American president?
It’s common cause that he is unfit for the job: he is a racist, a misogynist, a vulgarian, a coward, a bully and a blowhard. Yet they insist otherwise.
Among his many other faults, he is mendacious, narcissistic, megalomaniacal, immature, insecure, petulant, rude, incurious, uninformed, ill-mannered, opinionated, emotionally-stunted, contrarian, self-serving, pugnacious, bombastic, nationalistic, intemperate, self-deluding, thin-skinned, disloyal, incompetent, sociopathic, cruel and uncritical of his own behaviour.
He also cheats at golf, eats junk food in bed, has peculiar hair and, more alarmingly, is an over-dyed threat to world peace.
In short, and as Dr Seuss may once nearly have said, this Potus is a Scrotus.
But any attempt to draw attention to these shortcomings — on those rare occasions, say, when you may suspect that Trump is himself not doing enough in this regard — results in startlingly sudden, often furious and illogical reactions from defenders of the orange menace.
At such times, the miasma of unreason is enough to shake even the surest faith in books. So swift is the stripping of critical faculties it’s as if one is forever cured of clever with a dunk in the dumb.
Over time, though, one learns to ride the rush that comes with the rage and there is some pleasure in goading such people, especially on social media. Think of it as bear-baiting — only without bears.
This week, as you’re no doubt aware, Trump was in the United Kingdom and Ireland and participated in events to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings.
There was some grumbling about this, given his own military record: he had obtained a deferment exempting him from duty after a diagnosis of a bone spur in his foot.
The deferment was his fifth. The previous four had been for reasons of education. Trump graduated from the Wharton School of business at the University of Pennsylvania in May 1968 with a degree in economics.
But it wasn’t all poring over the squiggles and numbers, and the strapping 1.88m tall 22-year-old was an impressive college athlete in rude health, playing football, tennis and squash before taking up golf.
That spur came in a nick of time, though. In his graduation year, the US ramped up its military presence in Vietnam, drafting some 300 000 men into service.
The calcium deposits on his heel were “not a big problem”, he later told a biographer, “but it was enough of a problem … You know, it was difficult from the long-term walking standpoint.”
And, just as it had arrived, it mysteriously disappeared — and without surgery. “Over a period of time,” Trump said, “it healed up.”
But the spur would return — figuratively at least — in Trump’s protracted feud with the late John McCain, an ugly business that continued even after the Republican senator’s death from brain cancer last year.
McCain, a former US Navy pilot, was shot down over Vietnam in 1967 and spent almost six years in a Hanoi prisoner of war camp where he was routinely tortured. He was frequently derided by Trump, who once mocked the Arizona lawmaker’s service record by saying, “I like people who weren’t captured.”
Little wonder, then, that McCain had a dig at the heel. “One aspect,” he said, “of the [Vietnam] conflict … that I will never ever countenance is that we drafted the lowest income level of America, and the highest income level found a doctor that would say that they had a bone spur. That is wrong. That is wrong. If we are going to ask every American to serve, every American should serve.”
Trump’s ongoing animus towards McCain resurfaced last month during a visit to Japan, when it emerged that the White House had asked the US Navy to hide a destroyer based in Yokosuka harbour named after the senator and his grandfather, a World War II admiral, lest the ship appear in photographs of Trump arriving to address American servicemen.
So fearful were officials of a Potus meltdown that even sailors from the USS John S McCain were reportedly barred from Trump’s address because their uniforms bore the ship’s insignia.
Perhaps it’s overly simplistic even going here, but one wonders what those who stormed the beaches at Normandy would have made of such weaselling.
One D-Day survivor is 94-year-old Harry Billinge, who was a royal engineer with the South Wales Borderers. He was on duty again this week, posted with his medals outside a souvenir shop in the French town of Arromanches-les-Bains as part of a Normandy memorial fund-raising drive.
Billinge was not entirely happy with the hordes of overweight re-enactors dressed in US army uniforms and armed with smartphones. “They all take photographs,” he told the Times, “but they need to put some f***ing money in the tin.”
It was particularly annoying, he added, that all these Americans were in a British sector of the invasion “but they keep my fallen comrades alive so it’s a good thing and a bad thing.”
This more or less describes the presidential visit. As far as he was concerned, however, it was all a good thing. American royalty, the Trumps, got to rub shoulders with their British counterparts, the Windsors, and it was all very, very grand and what have you.
There was the visit to Westminster Abbey (a “special place”) and a banquet at Buckingham Palace with the Queen (a “great, great woman”) who was pointedly “neutral” in her toast on Monday evening, telling Trump:
“After the shared sacrifices of the Second World War, Britain and the United States worked with other allies to build an assembly of international institutions, to ensure that the horrors of conflict would never be repeated. While the world has changed, we are forever mindful of the original purpose of these structures: nations working together to safeguard a hard-won peace.”
Some commentators have suggested this was a bit of a royal bitch-slapping to remind her guest that, although he dressed like a waiter in an ill-fitting white-tie suit, he nevertheless shared a commitment and a responsibility in maintaining a post-war democratic order and that his petty assaults on the principles and practices of that order were quite shabby and not at all appreciated.
Trump has been particularly vicious in criticising what he termed “the utter weakness and incompetence of the United Nations” and has said the organisation is not “a friend of freedom, it’s not a friend even to the United States of America where, as you know, it has its home.” This after he’d slashed US contributions to the UN’s cash-strapped peacekeeping operations by about $220-million.
There was further idiocy. A brief, 15-minute courtesy call to Clarence House and the Prince of Wales turned into a 90-minute ordeal as Charles struggled to convince Trump of the perils of climate change. He was particularly concerned that the US was pulling out of the 2017 Paris climate agreement when, in fact, it could do more to help the global environment. All in vain, sadly, for the exchange appeared to have little impact on Trump.
As the president later explained, “I believe there is a change in the weather and it changes both ways … I did say [to Charles], ‘Well, the United States right now has among the cleanest climates there are, based on all statistics.’ And it’s even getting better because I agree with that — we want the best water, the cleanest water. It’s crystal clean, has to be crystal clean, clear.”
The US, he continued, was not at fault here, but other polluters. “China, India, Russia, many other nations, they have not very good air, not very good water, and the sense of pollution,” he said. “If you go to certain cities you can’t even breathe.”
Despite the denialism, Trump was not totally tin-eared about the Prince’s pleas. “What moved me,” he said, “is his passion for future generations — he’s not really doing this for him.”
Poor Charles. You almost feel sorry for him. Mocked for reportedly talking to trees, and now this: talking to an idiot. But, having sorted out the environment, Trump was then off to Dublin to deal with the post-Brexit Irish backstop which, as he suggested to the taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, would be a bit like the one he envisioned for Mexico.
“I think it will all work out very well, and also for you with your wall, your border,” he told a joint press conference. “I mean, we have a border situation in the United States, and you have one over here. But I hear it’s going to work out very well here.”
When Varadkar tried to point out it was key policy to avoid a border with Northern Ireland, and that his government certainly didn’t want a wall up there, Trump responded over him, “I think you do, I think you do. The way it works now is good, you want to try and to keep it that way. I know that’s a big point of contention with respect to Brexit. I’m sure it’s going to work out very well. I know they’re focused very heavily on it.”
The biggest point of contention here is the absurdity of the border with Northern Ireland. It is 500 kilometres long and has about 200 road border crossings. Some roads cross it two or three times. It bisects people’s land, their business and even their homes.
There is a two-storey property in the Northern Ireland county of Fermanagh, for example, where it runs through the back yard. Parents here look out a window in one country and see their children playing in another. It runs through a nearby village hardware store and service station; customers fill up with petrol on the republican side, but pay on the UK side. The business has a different official address on each side of the border, and pays taxes on both sides of the divide.
This, Trump believes, can be solved with a hard border? Little wonder then, that Varadkar was described as looking “visibly uncomfortable” during the press conference.
But, away from all the pomp and acrimony, and returning to our theme, Potus did get in some quality Twitter time. He called out London mayor Sadiq Khan for being a “stone cold loser”, labelled entertainer Bette Midler a “washed up psycho”, and dismissed the demonstrations against his visit in the customary manner:
“… Tremendous crowds of well wishers and people that love our Country. Haven’t seen any protests yet, but I’m sure the Fake News will be working hard to find them. Great love all around. Also, big Trade Deal is possible once UK gets rid of the shackles. Already starting to talk!”
Many of his supporters agreed with the “fake news” sentiment. When I posted a news report on the London demonstrations on Facebook, the columnist Rhoda Kadalie, South Africa’s own Kellyanne Conway, immediately reacted: “all faux outrage.”
Which was not the case, so I replied, “No, it’s genuine, Rhoda. He’s a disgrace with mental problems and shouldn’t be allowed out in the world.”
With that, the goading was underway, and you can follow the thread here.
Kadalie, it must be said, has a respected record as an activist, writer and academic. A former UDF member, she went on to establish the Gender Equity Unit at the University of the Western Cape and was elected to the Human Rights Commission by President Nelson Mandela in 1995. In June 1999, in recognition of her contributions to society, she received an honorary doctorate from the Faculty of Social Sciences of Sweden’s Uppsala University.
She went on to become a popular media commentator, praising in particular Afrikaans journalism at a time when the English press was eviscerating itself. Her decision to emigrate to Santa Monica, California, was considered a profound loss to the commentariat and, in January 2018, Die Burger devoted a front page feature on her departure in its Saturday supplement.
In recent years, however, she has emerged as an ardent, if irrational Donald Trump supporter, which makes goading Kadalie all too easy. I did manage to get her to snap, as it were, on Facebook by simply posting the links to some of the many news reports on the concerns of American psychiatric professionals on Trump’s mental health.
She took the bait rather easily, and posted some illuminating comments, a few of which I will now share as a public service to illustrate the horrifying lapses in thinking that comes with dabbling in Trumpism:
“All you Trump haters just prove how conservative you are, wanting an establishment politician who will perpetuate the corrupt status quo. Trump is a counter-intuitive anti-establishment politician. The entire corrupt establishment is united in wanting to destroy Trump. They’re not used to a president un-beholden to Wall Street, lobbyists, big donors, corrupt Hollywood, and even more corrupt media.”
This outburst startled one FB friend, who asked, “What happened to you?”
Nothing, Kadalie replied. “I have just become more sophisticated living in a first world, unlike you trapped in a hell hole with your parochial self-righteous views.”
Another poster, one Truida Prekel, also wondered about Kadalie’s transition to the dark side. “Rhoda,” she wrote, “you must be the only intelligent person that I know who seems to be impressed by Trump. Amazing. But to each his or her own.”
“That’s because you live at the southern tip of Africa,” she replied, “a parochial hell hole that knows nothing. The arrogance of ignorance is SA’s worst scourge.
“If SA had a Trump SA will be a helluva third world democracy to emulate. In my long track record I have only supported racists, nazis, bigots, homophobes and the dumb.
“Btw. 63 million voted for him more than SA’s entire population. I can give you a string of super intelligent people who like Trump.”
Prekel was suitably impressed. “You are lucky,” she said, “to know such intelligent people in the USA! I do also know many highly intelligent people in the USA. And none if them would agree with you. And because I respect you — please don’t be arrogant and Trump-like and insult anyone who disagrees with you. We are not uninformed or ignorant. We just see things very differently from you.”
Kadalie then pointed out how clever she was. “I am a social scientist trained to look at social and political phenomena. No one ever says ‘I am interested in your views now that you live there.’ O, it’s the constant bludgeoning of faux outrage, hysteria and self righteousness. I was asked to write on SA from abroad and I refused…”
Unfortunately the rest of this post deteriorates into nonsensical gibberish. But she made herself quite clear in this one:
“Listen I have analyzed SA politics for decades and I WAS NEVER WRONG IN MY ANALYSIS. ONCE I WAS TAKEN TO THE OMBUD AND I SMASHED THEM. SO I TRUST MY POLITICAL INSTINCTS MORE THAN MOST POLITICAL ANALYSTS. BTW I WAS ONE OF THE FEW IN SA WHO PREDICTED TRUMP WOULD WIN WHILE ME MEDIA COLLEAGUES RIDICULED ME. WHEN HE WON THEY COULD NOT BELIEVE THEY GOT IT ALL WRONG SO THEY CALLED ME FOR COMMENT AT WHICH POINT I TOLD THEM TO F*** OFF.”
Once you get them screeching and cursing in capital letters, you have won the battle. One-nil, then, to the Grouse.
 Some social warriors would regard this as a form of trolling, but they would be wrong. Trolling is defined as creating discord on social media by posting inflammatory or off-topic messages in online communities. It’s all good, then, provided you remain on-topic in your own comments thread. Besides, as Helen Zille has pointed out, the good guys must fight for a space on social media. “Let’s keep building the liberal ecosystem on Twitter,” she has said. “It grows every day. Don’t let the risk of being labelled ‘racist’ frighten you. The adjective has lost all meaning, and is the last refuge of scoundrels who cannot engage a debate on its merits. A luta continua.”