World

TRUMP, THE UNPRESIDENTED: Louis Cyphre in the Cathedral

In which the author goes in search of the real Donald J Trump, by virtue of the evidence arrayed before us at George HW Bush’s funeral. The truth is out there.

There was that picture, the one whose narrative, subliminal messaging, semiotic content, and the just plain framing of the image in the context of the event all around it captured the moment precisely. No, it wasn’t the amazing picture of Vladimir Putin and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman giving each other high fives like two street-wise, pick-up basketball players in the ‘hood, after a really great “run and gun’ play that left their opponents standing there with their mouths agape. It is that other picture. You know which one, of course. It is the one with a whole row of sombre-faced living former presidents and their first ladies, along with President Trump and his wife Melania, all together in the front row, at the funeral of the late president, George HW Bush, in the Washington National Cathedral. The rest of the pews were filled with a gathering of the prominent and (the now and formerly) powerful in Washington – and around the world – but the presidential line-up was the money shot. The funeral came with all the pomp and ceremony we associate with a final farewell to a major public figure. The magnificent sounds of the military orchestra and choir filled the church. And warm, funny, and very personal eulogies evoked the long, eventful life of GHW Bush and his close-knit family world. The eulogies – from historian Jon Meacham, former Senator Alan Simpson, GHW’s son George W Bush, and former Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney – all spoke about their own relationships with the late president. The prayers were movingly read by the priests of the cathedral, and the congregation joined in as requested, to allow the sound to swell upward. And they read – or recited from memory – The Apostles Creed, a statement described to me as one of the most fundamental statements of Christian belief and theology, regardless of Christian denomination. It seems likely that all 3,000 or so people in attendance joined in at that point in the service, and Jewish or Muslim attendees almost certainly held up the printed programme and read it silently for interest and to join in with the rites of public civility (or perhaps silently recited their own respective eulogy for the dead). Wait a minute, now; hold on here. There is one person who clearly did none of those things. And one person who looked bored, irritated, or distressingly disrespectful of the whole thing. That of course was – no points for guessing correctly – none other than Donald J Trump. (We shall give his wife, Melania, a pass on this, as she was raised in an officially atheist society, at least until arriving to try her hand – so to speak – as a model in New York City). So there it was, the Trumps came in to sit down after everyone else was seated. He shook hands – a little stiffly, perhaps – with the Obamas, but that was it. No connection to the Clintons, to George W Bush (or the rest of the Bush family, at least in public), or to the Carters. Oh, C'mon! A funeral, live on global television, is simply not the place to show your boorish disdain to your predecessors, their spouses, or their families. And pretty much everybody else in that cathedral. Simultaneously. Live on your television monitor, on streaming, or available for later replay. Viral. And it just got worse as the funeral proceeded. Each time a speaker described the Bush humility, or the warmth of his personality, the Trumpian physiognomy got a little darker, and less and less warm; the eyes ever icier. That Trumpian jaw was ever more firmly clenched, with cheeks bulging; his posture that much less comfortable – alternating between being slumped forward to avoid the implicit criticisms of his own demeanour by comparison, or with his arms crossed pugnaciously in front of his body to ward off those psychic arrows being fired at him by all those comparisons. But then I realised why. This really wasn’t Donald Trump. This really was Beezelbub, Shatan, Applegate (see below), el Diablo, Lucifer, Mephistopheles, Dan Patch, the Imp of Darkness. He had simply taken on human form in the way of those characters in an SF story who is actually a shape-shifting, ammonia-breathing, malevolent force. If you looked carefully, you might just possibly have seen a very faint, greenish-yellow-hued sulphuric vapour trail right behind Trump as he came in from some secret passageway to take his seat. That might have explained the shudder on the part of some of those seated first. That, of course, is what would have happened if he was in fact who I say he was. Even the best shapeshifters always get one detail wrong. And then, of course, there was the matter of his unwillingness to say those prayers, and the fact that he kept looking around to see the escape route from the church. As I understand it, one of the classic ways to sniff out the devil is to ask them to read a prayer. They can’t, lest they lose their diabolical powers. And of Melania? Well, it has taken me a while to sort out, and while I first thought she was a rock-solid, dead ringer for Liz Hurley in Bedazzled, the problem is that Hurley’s character is actually a feminine version of Shatan, not Beezelbub’s little helper. And so that is why it pays to be a fan of the great 1950s Broadway musicals. Damn Yankees is the key here. The basic plot follows all those Faust stories, only in this case, the hero is a fan of the hapless Washington Senators baseball team that can never catch a break against their hated rivals, the Yankees. Joe Boyd wants a win so much as a fan that his deep desire summons up Applegate, who offers him a chance to become a great player to help his team win the pennant in exchange for his soul. Boyd is crafty enough to insist on an escape clause – he can opt out before 9 pm ahead of the last game, and the deal is off, but without that big win. As Boyd wavers, Applegate sends his slinky henchwoman, Lola, into the fray to keep Boyd on the plan through a last seductive effort as she sings, Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets. The role has been played on stage and film by the very leggy Gwen Virdon and then, more recently, by Bebe Neuwirth. In the end, Boyd opts out but still wins the game as a middle-aged Everyman; returns home to his wife, and Applegate and Lola are out. Now if Donald Trump were just a man with a dyspeptic temper, foolish ideas, craven behaviour to dictators, and a desire to destroy the planet through global warming, that would be one thing. But what if my deduction IS correct and he really is here on the planet on a mission from elsewhere? Who has made the Faustian bargain with him, and what are they getting for it? And can they be convinced to exercise the opt-out escape clause in time? DM

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