The man bent over his guitar,
A shearsman of sorts. The day was green.
They said, “You have a blue guitar,
You do not play things as they are.”
The man replied, “Things as they are
Are changed upon the blue guitar.”
And they said then, “But play, you must,
A tune beyond us, yet ourselves,
A tune upon the blue guitar
Of things exactly as they are.
The Man with the Blue Guitar, Wallace Stevens
Introducing Donald Trump, player of the blue guitar. And yet there’s no guitar to be seen.
Such is the journey into the city of the surreal, where Trump Tower is not merely a hotel but a citadel, where truth rather than being the source of light, the foundation stone of society is like the tin can at our feet. To paraphrase Randy Newman’s I Think It’s Going to Rain Today, “think I’ll kick it down the street/that’s the way to treat a friend.’’
Except to guitar player Trump the truth is no friend. It is the enemy and so how the world enters his mind, is not how it leaves it. Things are changed. Indeed, everything is changed. And his justification is that all are fake, all are lies. He is, in his eyes (and were it not so serious it would be pathetic and a joke), the master. This is really the polite way of defining a despot in a democracy.
Donald Trump needs only to keep playing and singing from the same songsheet.
All this is known and has been said and written many times in the past year of his presidency. One wonders what will be the pivotal point, the turning point. Trump succeeds because he never stops strumming. He is in love with the thrum of his voice and he knows that – to turn the maxim on its head that a folk singer only needs three chords and the truth – he needs only to keep playing and singing from the same songsheet. Technology has been his great enabler. It’s impossible to imagine Trump succeeding pre-internet. His constant, relentless churning renders the contemptible boring and thus, having become so, it goes from being merely another in a long list to invisible. That is the sound of Trump’s blue guitar.
Wallace Stevens’ poem, published 80 years ago, was a meditation cum conversation on the imagination versus reality. It illustrated “the power of the mind over the possibility of things” and “the power that enables us to perceive the normal in the abnormal”. It wasn’t, of course, political, but strange times demand strange responses. It is a marker of these times that lines from a poem from 1937 can offer a morsel of comprehension and render slender meaning, and even consolation, for the words and actions of Donald Trump.
Steve Coll, writing in The New Yorker said that “judging from the President’s tweets, his definition of “fake news” is credible reporting that he doesn’t like. But he complicates the matter by issuing demonstrably false statements of his own, which, inevitably, make news.
“Trump has brought to the White House bully pulpit a disorienting habit of telling lies, big and small, without evident shame. Since 2015, Politifact has counted 329 public statements by Trump that it judges to be mostly or entirely false.”
The former host of Access Hollywood Billy Bush this week wrote in The New York Times: “The man who once told me — ironically, in another off-camera conversation — after I called him out for inflating his ratings: ‘People will just believe you. You just tell them and they believe you,’ was, I thought, not a good choice to lead our country.”
“People will believe you. You just tell them anything and they’ll believe you ”- Donald Trump
There you have it. Trump is keeping up the tradition of such fine fellows as Hitler (the big lie) and Goebbels with his variation (“The essential English leadership secret does not depend on particular intelligence. Rather, it depends on a remarkably stupid thick-headedness. The English follow the principle that when one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous.’’)
Trump is betting that such is the ferocity of his playing that he will drown out the truth for as long as it is advantageous to him. After that, he wouldn’t care. Altruism is not in his nature. Every piece of legislation, every policy such as it is, benefits his view of the world, his status and the conditions that nurture and propagate his position in society, be it the climate, the environment, tax cuts, welfare and immigration. Ultimately, one suspects, he sees himself outside of society. Perhaps that is what being president is all about to him.
It’s seen in a remark from John Dowd, Trump’s personal lawyer.
It was reported this week that Dowd said that the “President cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer” under the Constitution and “has every right to express his view of any case.”
As the NYT editorialised, citing Richard Nixon, “This will come as news to Congress, which has passed laws criminalising the obstruction of justice and decided twice in the last four decades that when a president violates those laws he has committed an impeachable offence.”
This is, in effect, taking Trump above the law. It goes to the man’s ego that Trump’s personal lawyer, and presumably himself, believes that this is so. It is not. Despite the trashing of the brand, the great virtues of America are its constitutional safeguards. They are beyond being changed, no matter how hard, long and loud this maniacal player keeps playing.