The verb “obambulate” – to walk around – could have been coined to ridicule President Obama’s indecisive approach to foreign policy. But it wasn’t. And Donald Trump, if he were less of a blunt instrument, could have used it effectively to make fun of what he considers to be weak presidential leadership. But he didn’t. The clever or poetical use of words to score telling blows against opponents is an art he has not mastered. His catch-phrase – Make America Great Again – may appeal to an audience of recently dispossessed blue-collar workers but otherwise lacks the nuanced subtlety and precision of lines such as, say, Bob Dylan’s ...they may call you Chief/But you’re gonna have to serve somebody...
But if the Republican candidate has not capitalised on the power of word-play, the same can be said of the Democratic candidate, who appears to have ignored the open goal offered to her by the word “trumpery”, defined as: 1, something showy but worthless; 2, nonsense or rubbish; 3, deceit; fraud; trickery. And “trump” which, in colloquial English, means fart. I may be getting carried away with personal demonization here when I should be making judgements more impartially based on policies, but it’s an easy rut to fall into as concrete proposals are submerged in the cut-and-thrust of campaigning. Precisely how, for example, would President Trump propose to reverse the fortunes of the Rust Belt manufacturing towns, home to so many of the unemployed who have put their faith in his powers? Does the New York property developer really have an economic formula to counteract the industrial decline which has impoverished them? I think not: but desperation, not logic, drives their thinking and the certainties spouted by a blustering liar are the straws to which they cling. Obamacare? Who needs it?
From my perspective there are some scary things coming out of America – and I don’t just mean masked Halloween clowns. Having just seen Louis Theroux’s My Scientology Movie I worry that swathes of its population show that tendency to moral certitude which is characteristic of ignorance. This is not to single out America for judgement but, because the current Presidential election focuses our attention on its global power and influence, the spotlight shines brightly upon it right now. Trump epitomises my worry precisely because he projects the kind of unquestioning moral certainty that is the hallmark of an uncivilised person. All human progress has been the work of those who have questioned or doubted current moral values, not of men who have whooped them up and tried to enforce them. The more uncivilised the man, the surer he is that he knows precisely what is right and what is wrong. My recommended antidote to this condition, should the patient be willing, is a dose of metaphorical obambulation, by which I mean the healthy exercise of consideration of all aspects of the human condition; or, in other words, education. On current form there is little chance of converting Trump to this way of thinking: he is, whether he knows it or not, living proof that politics comprises “the systematic organisation of hatreds” (Henry Adams, 1838 – 1918). He is a small man and “when small men begin casting big shadows, it means that the sun is about to set” (Lin Yutang 1895-1976).
It may be coincidence that the committee in Sweden just awarded the Nobel Prize for literature to Bob Dylan, but I prefer to imagine that they intended a kindly and timely reminder to Americans that there is good stuff in their cultural cupboard with which to counter the wearisome, blind-alley rhetoric of their political discourse. There is someone who can prick the bloated bubble of self-aggrandisement that contains Donald Trump with nothing more than a catchy tune and a pithy, home-truth, such as: You got a lotta nerve/To say you got a helping hand to lend/You just want to be on/The side that’s winning. I hope they’re paying attention over there.