I have a friend who is an expert in worldly things. She has seen more worldly things with her actual eyes than I can shake a stick at. (She was one of those ones who went out on the ground and did the work that the politicians would not or could not. She fought the good fight.) Every time I see her I say, ‘We have to talk about Donald.’
And then we stare at each other in astonished silence.
Sometimes, I make a few spluttering noises. Occasionally she lifts her eyebrows into her hairline. I wave my hands about. ‘But,’ I say, ‘what, how, who, what?’
At the beginning, all the armchair jockeys had an explanation. He was an extreme narcissist, he had borderline personality disorder, he was a raving misogynist, he had the first signs of early onset dementia. Someone actually went and studied his sentence patterns and worked out he had the vocabulary and syntax of an eight-year-old. I think that’s being quite rude to eight-year-olds.
Now, he has galloped far, far away into the endless prairie of the inexplicable. I have started to think that he may simply be catastrophically, operatically, heroically stupid, but that is not quite an explanation either.
Here is what an eight-year-old knows. Nazis are bad. People who love Nazis are bad. Running cars into crowds of people is bad. The leader of the most powerful nation the world has ever seen does not appear to know that. How can anyone not know that?
As I look at the pictures of the Nazi rally in Charlottesville, at the clean, shining faces with their rictus of undifferentiated rage and their glinting, fanatical eyes, I wonder what it is that they do love. Is it the flags? Is it the uniforms? Is it the strange salutes? Is it the swastikas? Hitler, like Donald Trump, turned out to be catastrophically stupid. He could have wiped out the British army at Dunkirk, but he made his tanks stop so the little boats came in and the Royal Navy raced to the rescue and the BEF, which was lost, was suddenly found. He could have wiped out the British Air Force, but he suddenly turned the Luftwaffe on London, so that the cratered airfields could be rebuilt and the courageous new cohort of pilots trained. He invaded Russia, even though he was a student of Napoleon. I could have told him not to do that when I was fifteen. Anyone who has read about Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow knows that there is one golden rule in war and it is: Don’t Invade Russia. Just don’t do it. Have a nice cup of tea instead.
He screamed and raved and popped pills and never took responsibility for his actions and trashed his country and let his people starve, in the end, and then killed himself because he couldn’t face the consequences. That’s before one even takes into account one of the most monstrous mass killings in history, as millions of Jews, Roma, gay men, and people with mental illnesses were herded into camps and shot and gassed.
I don’t see what there is to admire. I don't know why American in 2017 are saving those flags. Even on his own terms, Hitler failed, as the Master Race turned out to be a crashing disappointment. He blamed the Germans themselves at the last, for not being the Ubermensch he wanted them to be. His fantasy of dominance crumbled to dust. So what are those fanatical marchers marching for? Complete and utter failure and infamy on every level? I genuinely don’t understand.
And when Trump looks at them and refuses to condemn them in terms – ‘many sides, many sides’ – what does he see? Something that speaks, in a way I can’t comprehend, to his reptilian brain? His new moral equivalence is perhaps the most baffling thing of all, this bonkers invention called the alt-left. The only moral equivalence would be if there were squads of devoted Stalinists marching in opposition, dreaming of the show trials and the purges and the gulags. Does nobody, from the White House to the street, read any history?
Living with the inexplicable is unsettling, for most humans. The reason that people love fiction is that novels and plays give shape and meaning to the random happenings of life. There is Chekov’s famous rule: if the gun goes off in act four, you’d damn well better see it being loaded in act one. One of the first questions very young children ask is: ‘why?’ I don’t think one ever grows out of that question. If I can see a reason for things, then I can deal with them, even if they are bad and sad. But what is happening now is so far out on the wild shores of the unexplained that I can’t see any form or meaning to it. It is the abyss of meaninglessness and it makes my brain ache, and my heart too.
Why? I mean, really, why?