Fran Lock responds to Trump's visit, in prose and in verse. See here for some of the ways President Trump has described immigrants.
I laughed until I cried
I don’t find Trump funny anymore. I used to. Or rather, I used to laugh at him, which is not quite the same thing. I laughed at his chip-shop saveloy complexion, his aerosol cheese hair, his Neanderthal attitude, his asinine pronouncements. There’s a lot to laugh at, on the surface, and in any case, isn’t laughter supposed to be a weapon and a remedy? A tool, a sword, a cure? Sure. “Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand” says good ol’ Mark Twain. Which sounds fine, but I’m willing to wager, had Twain lived to witness the long cross-continental shadow cast by Trumpnado, he might have felt differently.
Because we laughed at him, we laughed hard and long, and yet, lo and behold, here he is, a self-important perma-tanned juggernaut bearing down on the sick and the poor; on immigrant children, on people of colour, on women, on women of colour especially. And where did our laughter get us? Maybe it’s the thing we use to get us through, to let off steam, and that’s okay, it’s cathartic and it’s neccessary. But we need to stop kidding ourselves that humour on its own is an effective substitute for radical action. Laughter has value as praxis only when it’s used to reach people, to educate, to give us a positive spur to coalesce around and from which we can move forward. Otherwise, it robs its target of threat, of real, material menace; it reduces in scale that which faces us. Worse, it makes us complacent, and a little bit smug.
I saw this reflected not only throughout the American election and Trump’s already-too-long tenure as president, but also during my somewhat Londo-centric social media interactions during the run up to Brexit. And yeah, I laughed at the Facecrook posts knocking seven shades of satirical shit out of the diehard Brexiteers too, but laughter has its limits. We were talking to ourselves, congratulating ourselves on being clever and nice and not massively racist, and trusting that our being so, without actually doing anything would be enough. Wrong.
Same with Trump. And this one is personal for me. Actually, scrap that, it should be personal for all of us, especially now, in the wake of Brexit. Where America leads, Britain will follow, not just in terms of disastrous sabre-rattling foreign policy, environmentally suicidal climate denial, and a privatising nightmare we’re only now beginning to taste the poisonous fruits of, but in terms of the wider culture, the attitudes and ideas Trump’s bigotry legitimates. This should scare us all. Look at the parallels in immigration policy alone, the respective actions of both the Trump and May administrations in splitting up families through either detention or deportation. It’s enough to make you a little bit sick in your mouth.
But it’s personal for me in a specific way, in that somebody I love is an American citizen without the financial security to access the health care he needs either to treat his condition or to allow him to die without pain, and with dignity. Not that Trump created this situation, but his rhetoric embeds and enshrines the free market economy and the privatised for-profit health care system that is killing an entire uninsured underclass of American citizens. This is beyond shameful. This is beyond disgusting.
So I don’t find Trump funny anymore. I dread him. And I don’t find it funny that a large proportion of that very same underclass are the ones responsible for voting him into power in the first place. I find that nothing but sad, tragic in point of fact, and a massive indictment, not only of the competing political elites in America, but of us all.
“I’ve always made more money in bad markets than in good markets” gloated Trump in 2007, stating at the time that he was “excited” about the impending sub-prime mortgage crisis, because it afforded him the opportunity of personal enrichment. His first book, the ever-nauseating “The Art of the Deal” contains many other such gems, in which the tycoon describes the stock market plays that built his personal fortune, capitalising on catastrophe, exploiting the misery and misfortune of others, and cannibalising the repossessed properties and businesses of those less lucky than himself. Just in case anybody was in doubt: Trump couldn’t give shit one about you, and Trump couldn’t give shit one about poor white America either.
So why did anyone vote for him? And why would anyone who lived through the Big Society vote Tory twice? And what in God’s name is the deal with Farage, while we’re about it? A friend of mine has a phrase for it that often emerges in response to this question: TVC, or Turkeys Voting for Christmas. And there is a grain of truth in this, but it’s problematic too. It gives a name to the what, it doesn’t answer the why, and it’s frankly supercilious, at least it is perceived to be. This perception is a large part of the problem.
Because Trump’s election to president wasn’t a victory for the Republicans, so much as it was an epic failure by the Democrats to engage with or even acknowledge an entire swathe of the voting public. Clinton in the States and the liberal left in Britain treat the white working-classes as an inconvenient embarrassment, with the act of going out into their communities a hazard to be gone through, or, if at all possible, utterly avoided, their interactions stage-managed, choreographed, curtailed. Politicians seem to think that ignoring a prejudice means it will go away or, at the very least, be rendered irrelevant in the grand scheme when the votes are tallied. Nobody in mainstream politics is making the effort to reach these people, to have the difficult conversations. It’s hard to listen, and having listened, challenge. It’s easy to life, to sneer, to write people off as bigoted or ignorant without ever having to examine where that ignorance is springing from, how that bigotry was socially engineered. The difference between the right and the liberal left at this moment in history seems to be between pandering to a prejudice and pretending that it doesn’t exist.
Trump, Farage, and May to a lesser extent, all of their poisonous ilk, at least give the illusion of listening. It’s cynical and it’s manipulative, but it is permitted to thrive because it does so in a vacuum. Generations of politicians have impoverished education, and stripped analytical thinking out of successive curriculums because it was politically expedient to do so. And now there is a working class, a mobile vulgaris, it’s safe to hate, safe to laugh at, because they – we – are nasty and racist and uncouth and ignorant.
My hope for Corbyn’s Labour is that he / they will listen. And I mean really listen, not just parrot back a few stock phrases and tell people what they think they want to hear. To be a good politician, a good leader, is the same as being a good friend; it’s having the courage to say I hear you, and I understand, but I think you’re wrong and this is why. It’s to trust people with the truth, to empower them to make their own choices, even if they’re wrong, even if it fucks your career. More than even we need a selfless human, not a career politician, and definitely not some narcissistic Day-Glo tycoon.
I kind of like the Trump baby blimp, and I enjoy constructing elaborate streams of invective. Fun is fun, and sometimes we need it, because the fight, and the reality of that fight is pretty grim. But it’s also real. Trump isn’t as harmless as a baby, and he isn’t some amusing Clouseau-esque buffoon. He’s a predator, in every sense, and an arch manipulator. We deserve better, all of us. Even those who voted for him. Especially them.
first among monsters
his face is fighting itself on the slim, convex
tv. supremacies and syndromes, telescoping
salaries, a loan-shark in a camel coat. i’ve seen
him before. eats medical waste. his home alone
cameo. dry hump and humvee and nonplussed
pussy. spasm in the hand in a parking garage.
advancing his havoc in hotel lobbies. tiepins
redouble their diamonds when he walks by.
a whiplash lust in daterape heels is blotting
her mouth on a monogrammed towel. she slips
inside a gideon bible. she cannot hide. he has
greased the big idea, and now he’s snapping
on the latex glove. the dagger dipped in butter,
saturated fats. the consistency of silence is
fries, is coke, is foie gras, fillet of risk. cracked
gasket, holocaust denial. his name a blister
on your lip. a round, white pain you pick at,
repossessed, persistently ill-starred. decipher
this wayward light, entangled or refined. glows
like a desktop monitor. a private light he
reinvests in cancer. and now he’s twice
his teeming size, trailing success like the stink
of fish. you are the meat he profits off. a vile
star flounders, the sky cannot contain such
omens. your pockets repurpose another
stone. a gravel-desperation. an aggregate,
a currency. these arteries constrict, teeth
erode like empires. meshback cap. the klan.
the slang. the threadneedle whispers
of politics. his lapels are rehearsing a flag.
each suck of air is a new, less graceful
Fran Lock Ph.D. is a writer, activist, and the author of seven poetry collections and numerous chapbooks. She is an Associate Editor of Culture Matters.