And because Donald Trump the candidate appears likely to become the nominee of the Grand Old Party of Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan, we owe it to ourselves to ask in what sense and for whom he represents a triumph.
One thinks of a segment of the American population angered by the Obama years and feeling vengeful.
One thinks of the white supremacist, segregationist, nativist strain represented by the Ku Klux Klan leader whose noisy support Trump was so hesitant to reject last week and for whose constituency Trump may be a make-or-break candidate.
And one easily gets the sense, when trying to take seriously what little is known about the Trump platform, of a country turning in on itself, walling itself in, and ultimately impoverishing itself by chasing away the Chinese, Muslims, Mexicans, and others who have contributed to the vast melting pot that the most globalized country on the planet has alchemized, in Silicon Valley and elsewhere, into prodigious wealth.
But, as is so often the case with the United States, there is in the Trump phenomenon an element that extends beyond the American national scene.
And one is tempted to ask whether Trumpism might not also be the harbinger—or perhaps even the apotheosis—of a truly new episode in world politics.
I watch the head of this Las Vegas croupier, this kitschy carnival performer, coiffed and botoxed, drifting from one television camera to another with his fleshy mouth perpetually half-open: you never know whether those exposed teeth are signs of having drunk or eaten too much or whether they might indicate that he means to eat you next.
I listen to his swearing, his crude speech, his pathetic hatred of women, whom he describes, depending on his mood, as bitches, pigs, or disgusting animals.
I hear his smutty jokes in which the careful language of politics has been pushed aside in favor of supposedly authentic popular speech at its most elemental, which apparently is the language spoken by the organs located in the pants. ISIS? We’re not going to make war against it, we’re going to “kick its ass.” Marco Rubio’s remark about his small hands? The rest is not so small, “I guarantee you.”
And there is the worship of money and the contempt that accompanies it, which have become, in the mouth of the serially bankrupt billionaire and con artist with possible ties to the mob, the bottom line of the American creed.
And then there is the impression one gets of mental junk food full of fatty thoughts that threaten to crowd out the lighter cosmopolitan flavors contributed by the myriad traditions and practices that have formed the great American pastoral.
And finally there was that moment in the sequence about small hands when even an ear untuned to the subtleties of that pastoral might have caught (though in a version soiled and disfigured by the abjectly low level of the exchange) the famous line from E.E. Cummings, the American Apollinaire, which was quoted in the most beautiful scene of Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters: “Nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands … “
Confronted with this leap forward into coarseness and pettiness, one thinks of Silvio Berlusconi.
Of Putin and the Le Pens, father and daughter.
One thinks of a new International, not of communism this time but of vulgarity and bling in which the political landscape shrinks to the dimensions of a television stage; the art of debate collapses into catch phrases; people’s dreams are made over into bombastic and bespangled illusions; the economy takes the form of the grotesquely physical contortions of verbally deficient Uncle Scrooges who despise anyone who thinks; and striving for self-fulfillment deteriorates into the petty swindles taught in the now-defunct Trump University.
I meant it when I said an International with a capital I.
A globalization of corruption.
The ultimate face of a cartoon humanity that has chosen the low, the elemental, the prelinguistic in order to ensure itself a universal triumph.
A universe of fakery in which one consigns to the oblivion of a now-obsolete history the precariousness of the exiles, migrants, and other voyagers who, on both sides of the Atlantic lake, have built the true human aristocracy, which, in the United States, is that great people composed of Latinos, eastern European Jews, Italians, Asians, Irish, and, yes, Anglos still dreaming of Ox-Cam sculls now cleaving the waters of the Charles.
Berlusconi invented this cartoon world. Putin claimed to man it up. Other European demagogues are hitching it to the foulest forms of racism. As for Trump, he gave us his tower, one of the ugliest in Manhattan, with its clunky, derivative architecture, its gigantic atrium, its 25-meter waterfall to impress the tourists—a Tower of Babel in glass and steel built by a Don Corleone from the dregs in which all of the world’s languages will indeed be fused into one.
Careful, though. The new language is no longer that of the America we dreamed would be eternal, the America that has sometimes breathed life back into exhausted cultures, but rather that of a country with balls that has said its goodbyes to books and beauty, that confuses Michelangelo with an Italian designer brand, and that has forgotten that nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands.