Donald Trump has many faults, but one that upsets many people is his habit of lying. He’s accused of sexual bullying, even rape by a whole series of women, and his response is, they’re making it up. He says Theresa May didn’t take the advice he gave her, which would have meant a successful Brexit, and that Boris Johnson is a very good friend of his and would make a really good prime minister. Then next day he declares that Theresa May is doing an excellent job, couldn’t be better, blah blah blah. Some people would concede that he does what he says he’ll do, unlike most politicians. But you’ll remember he said he’d build a wall to keep Mexicans out of the US and that Mexico would pay for it. You figure that’s likely?
There’s a danger here, and that is, we’ll see Trump as unique. He is in some ways – his constant tweeting, his name-calling of political rivals – ‘Lyin’ Ted Cruz’ and ‘Crooked Hillary Clinton’, – his enthusiasm for more guns being available in schools. But because the man is repulsive, we can slip into thinking that all his defects are unique.
His sexual activities – or boasts about same – aren’t unique among American presidents. Dwight Eisenhower had an affair with his secretary and driver Kay Summersby, Warren G Harding had a steamy romance with the wife of his good friend and another with Nan Britton, a campaign worker thirty years his junior, Woodrow Wilson had a jolly time with one Kay Peck. And the list goes on – JFK, LBJ, George H Bush, Bill Clinton, even George Washington. Trump is just the latest in a long line of presidents who couldn’t keep their pants on.
“But his lies!” you say. “His ‘alternative facts’. His constant denial of reality and his brazen lack of concern when his lies are shown up.”
Yes, that’s true. There’s an arrogance about Trump’s lies which make you want to hit him with a shovel. But they shouldn’t make you forget. Lying – it’s what most politicians do. Don’t you remember the joke about knowing that George Bush was lying because you could see his lips move? And how Bill Clinton turned to the cameras and told the American people “I did not have sexual relations with that young woman [Monica Lewinski)”. Or the wall of lies that surrounded FDR’s health for much of his time in the White House. More recently, we had Thatcher telling us that the 1981 hunger strikes were “the final sting of a dying wasp.” And you’ll remember John Major’s impassioned “It would turn my stomach” to meet with the IRA, even as his minions were busily doing just that.
I could go on, and yes, sure, so could you. So maybe we should confess that it’s not so much Trump’s vanity and his misogyny and his lies that make us want to hit him with something. It’s the strutting, preening way that he does it that pisses most of us off. He is to politics what Christiano Ronaldo is to football : very very clever at what he does, but the Mussolini-strut way he does it makes you want to be quietly ill.