I get on the telephone. I ring people up. ‘What the buggery just happened?’ we ask each other. Nobody knows. None of the conventional explanations seem quite enough. Was it the failure of capitalism? Was it the rise of social media? Did bloody Twitter make the difference?
‘All I hope,’ says one friend, ‘is that the poor Queen never has to sit next to him.’
‘Yes,’ I say. ‘State banquets for anyone else. Bhutan, Estonia, the People’s Republic of Absolutely Anywhere.’
We contemplate the horror of Donald Trump sitting next to the Queen. Then we contemplate the horror of Donald Trump. We discuss the elements of narcissism. It is such a doleful list.
After a while, I give up. I can’t read the news. It’s like one of those awful, nihilistic, purposely shocking novels that you’ve always avoided because you don’t want to sear your eyes with such shoddy prose. I read Persuasion instead, for the twentieth time. I need manners. I need wit and delicacy and good-heartedness and truth and a happy ending. I need sweet, kind Anne Elliot and dashing, adoring Captain Wentworth.
In the gloaming, down at the horse’s field, the good, quiet, trusting creatures eat their evening hay. I shake it into perfect piles for them and they breathe contentedly through their noses. An indigo mist is rising and a hunter’s moon sails, amber and serene, in a mauve sky. Everything is very real. The dogs dance and play, antic silhouettes in the fading light.
I think of the things one cannot change. Away across an ocean, a great country has been gatecrashed by a man of no mind, no manners and no morals. ‘America,’ I had said this morning, ‘gave us jazz and Dorothy Parker and Scott Fitzgerald and Hollywood and the Algonquin Round Table and Louis Armstrong, and now it gives us this.’
I wonder: will the world change? Perhaps the shock of the vulgar will make the good people, the brave people, the clever people stand up and do something magnificent. Perhaps, this time in four years, Elizabeth Warren, who is a real revolutionary instead of a fake one, who is a real femme du peuple instead of a prancing poseur, who is a proper human being instead of an empty suit, will be swept to power on a tide of relief. Perhaps the grown-ups will be the grown-ups. Swagger and bombast can only go so far.
I turn back to my book. ‘I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures. None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives.’ I think: I would not mind some calm waters.