PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP is the Father of Nightmares. The logic of his administration is indistinguishable now from the logic of dreams: his White House minions prey to the same abrupt shifts of mood; the same lightning-fast transitions from elation to dread. America itself has become the prisoner of its President’s vagrant fancies: a place where trust and treachery grapple like celebrity wrestlers in front of a television audience of millions. The whole country teeters precariously on a narrow ledge of sanity while POTUS, gargantuan and grinning, bids it step out into the abyss.
Unwitting and unprepared, America and the world have been propelled back through time to the era of kings and emperors. Accustomed to living in a world from which the habits of obedience and obeisance have long been banished, the realisation that they are now as frightened and vulnerable as any of the inhabitants of those luckless nations on the margins of civilisation has come as quite a shock. Presidential pique can now upend lives as easily as presidential beneficence can redeem them. The world’s leaders have been reduced to mere courtiers in the planet-sized Versailles the USA has built for them.
How to respond when American foreign policy is driven by presidential whim? When international trade is reduced to a pile of chips in a testosterone-fuelled game of Texas hold-em? What to do when old allies are treated like the hired help and brutal dictators are treated to “The Donald’s” best real-estate advice? When the 400-year-old Westphalian System of sovereign states pursuing their national self-interest rationally and predictably is impatiently tossed aside? When did it become okay for the leader of the world’s “indispensable” nation to behave like a Mafia don?
It’s worse for those ordinary Americans who have yet to succumb to the fever-dream that is Trumpism. Americans with college degrees and what were once considered to be good manners. Americans who believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution and regard the Bible as a collection of moral metaphors. Americans who won’t have handguns anywhere near their children. Americans who read. For these Americans every heavy footfall in the public square sounds as close as their front door. They would call the Police if they weren’t so terrified that it’s the thud of policemen’s boots that woke them.
The true horror of Trump’s nightmares is that the people in them, the people doing the most monstrous things, don’t even know they’re monsters. Those Texas cops and border guards carrying the children away from their parents. Those minimum-wage workers in the camp canteens, dishing out the detainees’ food with friendly smiles. If asked, they would swear on a stack of Bibles that they are the good guys in their President’s movie. Except that it doesn’t pay to ask that sort of question, does it? Not unless the questioner wants to see the look of easy familiarity disappear from their eyes. Not unless he or she wants to see it replaced in an instant with the cold, gun-metal glare of hostility that Trump’s supporters reserve for his enemies.
That’s when the panic sets in. Trump’s press secretary, Sarah Sanders, is asked to leave the Little Red Hen restaurant in Virginia and liberal America cheers. But then the awful thought strikes them. What if Trump’s supporters decide to do something similar?
“How hard is it to imagine,” asks the Washington Post’s editorial writer, “people who strongly believe that abortion is murder deciding that judges or other officials who protect abortion rights should not be able to live peaceably with their families?” And that’s the thing, isn’t it? Knowing that whatever peaceful little protest the sort of Americans who watch The Handmaid’s Tale might make against Trump, can be answered in an instant by bearded men with bulging beer-guts toting pump-action shotguns and wearing “Make America Great Again” baseball caps to hide their male pattern baldness.
The Father of Nightmares has sired too many nightmarish children.