Demonstrations and marches – and I’ve been on a few in my time, beginning with Aldermaston (well, the Trafalgar Square bit) – can be terrific. There’s a great spirit of what I suppose you could call ‘solidarity’ there, mixing and shouting alongside people you agree with; making new friends, however temporary; reading new jokes (the placards); and getting some exercise in, to boot. Solidarity is an elusive atmosphere in our present-day ultra-individualist and fractured culture. Your first whiff of it as you emerge from the tube station into the crowd is like a stiff shot of whisky, or – I imagine – the first puff of a spliff. After it’s over, and the crowd has dispersed, you feel uplifted, warmed and strengthened by the support for your cause you’ve felt all around you, even at the darkest times. That can linger for a few days; until you start thinking: well, what on earth did that really achieve? Did it stop Britain developing its H-Bomb, or Blair from invading Iraq? Did it materially contribute to the fall of Apartheid? Or wasn’t it all, in truth, just a self-indulgent waste of time; in the Alt-Right’s new terminology, a ‘snowflake’ occasion?
Whatever the general truth may be of that rather depressing conclusion, I’m hoping it can’t be true in yesterday’s case. The crowds in Washington – mainly women for their own causes, provoked by the appalling misogyny of their new President, but joined by many men too, demonstrating against the same thing: isn’t women’s liberation also men’s liberation? as well as against the prospect of a Trump Presidency more generally – truly were amazing, and far larger than predicted; as were the scores of sympathy – ‘sister’ – demos in other cities and capitals nation- and world-wide. By all accounts far more people protested against Trump than attended his inauguration the previous day, and much more enthusiastically – certainly more entertainingly. Surely this must have some effect on an administration elected, legally but by a minority of American voters – 25% of the total possible electorate, and 3 million fewer than voted for Hillary – to give it pause for thought, at the very least.
Of course Trump isn’t the sort of person who pauses for thought – ever. He’s far too confident of his own instincts – he doesn’t have to read or be advised by ‘experts’, he says, because he’s ‘smart’ – and, essentially, vain. (As evidence of this, look again at that picture of him and our own dear Michael Gove giving ‘thumbs-up’ signs in Trump Tower, and in particular the framed pictures on his walls: most of them – including the sexy Playboy covers – portraits of him torn from the front pages of magazines like Time: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/internets-toes-curl-after-michael-9631162). But it’s this last weakness that I think might make him peculiarly vulnerable to the implications of events like yesterday’s Women’s March.
Part of his vanity consists in his insistence that he’s supported by virtually everyone in America apart from the ‘lying media’ and the despised intellectual – that is, book-reading – élite on the geographical edges of America; and even loved by the majority. In his election campaign he was always drawing attention to the huge crowds he gathered to hear him and chant his ridiculous catch-phrases: ‘Build the Wall!’, ‘Jail the Bitch!’, ‘Drain the Swamp!’ He lived by this, breathed it in, was warmed and enervated by it, just as we poor protesters were – temporarily – in Trafalgar Square. (So we can understand.)
But then yesterday came the hostile demos, which I don’t think he had predicted, or at least in such numbers; which is why he spent yesterday evening – when a new President should surely be concentrating on more important things – rubbishing the estimates of the numbers the ‘lying press’ were putting out, and even claiming that journalists were doctoring airborne views of his inauguration crowd to make it look smaller than it was, and in particular smaller than Obama’s. Of course it was smaller, and the number of protestors larger. Quite apart from that, however – the facts of the matter – isn’t it curious, and possibly alarming, that a President should be so obsessed with this kind of thing, a matter, only, of personal vanity, in his first day in post as ‘Leader of the Free World’?
We should have known. Remember the times on the election trail when he continually mentioned, quite irrelevantly, how ‘successful’ his Miss World competitions were, and mocked his successor on The Apprentice for getting lower ratings than he had? Together with his funny golden hair, and sensitivity about the size of his hands and other physical attributes, it seems to indicate a degree of sheer narcissism that goes far beyond any normal person’s, and might even be classed as ‘pathological’. One of the speakers at the Women’s March yesterday – Gloria Steinem (thanks, Kajsa) – listed a number of his faults, including delusions of grandeur, sensitivity to criticism, and the inability to separate fantasy from reality, which she thought might qualify as psychological illnesses. Narcissism should obviously be added to these. Does it make America’s new President mad? (Or madder than you need to be, to put yourself up for President?)
Whether yesterday’s demos will make any practical political difference, we can’t tell. If so, however, it will be by targeting this huge character flaw of the new President. What effect that will have on him and on all our lives in the next four years is a matter of guesswork. He’ll probably just deny it all as ‘fake news’; the ‘fantasy/reality’ thing.