The Return Of The Political Dispatch
While I was at school I became obsessed with Watergate. I bought every book on the subject and tried to understand how the President of the United States could fall to the level of a common criminal, using the language and behaviour of a criminal. By the time I got around to G Gordon Liddy stubbing cigarettes out on his hands to prove his machismo and Rose Mary Woods limboing under her desk to show how she might have ‘accidentally’ erased the White House tapes with her toe, it felt as if I had entered an alternative reality filled with sinister, lying clowns.
Well, we all know how that panned out; with the impossible-to-predict inauguration of the Clown King himself, Donald Trump, a man who may do for America what Idi Amin did for Uganda. In the UK we were asking ourselves how a racist moron and an ADD-afflicted failed mayor could bamboozle a nation into voting for something impossible to enforce, but no-one has yet delivered a book on the subject of Brexit because, in true British style, nothing will be clearly resolved for years to come.
In America, where it all happens much faster, the initial post-mortems of the Trumpocalypse are already arriving, and one of the first out of the gate is from a respected writer described as ‘one of the most important voices in contemporary American journalism’, Matt Taibbi. His volume, ‘Insane Clown President: Dispatches from the American Circus’ goes on the campaign trail to chart the breakdown in trust between the media and its readers, the loss of a shared truth between right and left, the uncontested rise of ‘alternative facts’ and the abandonment of empirical choice by the populace. As an addition to his grand essay ‘The Great Derangement’, a gruesome and now horribly prescient study of life to come in the post-truth world, it’s a clear-eyed and unputdownable guide to how the POTUS has separated press from public.
Taibbi’s argument is that in a country where the powerless are reduced to shopping, choosing what to believe is like dropping items into an online basket; pick your own level of crazy and ignore anything that doesn’t fit this worldview. In a campaign dominated by explaining what to hate rather than what to aspire to, Trump brilliantly tapped into this new believe-nothing mindset. Just as no-one could explain why they voted for Brexit, the Trump voters are most swayed by the fact that Trump is not a politician. This helps explain why Jeremy Corbyn, a shoes-under-the-desk career politico if ever there was one, became forgotten while still in office.
Taibbi does not exculpate his profession, describing the way in which it became divorced from on-the-ground reporting by following political bandwagons from one controlled environment to another in endless cycles. It would be easy to simply damn the new media paradigm and the feral salesmen who are exploiting it in the White House, but Taibbi’s take also shows compassion for those left behind.
The book inevitably hits an abrupt stop in order to reach shelves, but I’m sure we’ll be able to read a further instalment soon, depending on how much more interesting it gets in Washington. I’m just glad there is somebody sane left to report it.