In 2019, Jeremy Hunt, who once hid behind a tree to avoid the press on the way to a party, said politicians boycotting Donald Trump’s state visit were exhibiting “virtue signalling of the worst kind”. Was Hunt also virtue signalling last week, then, when he conceded that Trump “shames American democracy”? Or have the goalposts, already too narrow for even the slender Hunt to hide behind convincingly, moved?
Trump himself once called our prime minister, Boris Turds Johnson, “Britain Trump”, with characteristically unpunctuated precision. In the light of Trump’s inevitable immolation of American democracy, Turds’s handlers now seek to distance our prime minister from his admirer, every white supremacist’s favourite reality TV host. Last week, the Times ran an article, headlined “Johnson is not Trump’s transatlantic twin”, by the Spectator’s James Forsyth, whose wife, Allegra Stratton, is Downing Street’s press secretary and whose principles are above question. Once the journal of record, it seems the Times is now the journal of whatever Downing Street’s press secretary wants the record to say. And there are efforts afoot to rewrite that record.
Celebrities’ photo albums have long been cleansed of pictures of lighthearted moments shared at charity fun runs with Jimmy Savile. And I have destroyed both the Super-8 films and the doodles of the woeful 36 hours I and the Australian standup comedian Greg Fleet spent in the Flinders mountains, north of Adelaide, in 1997, feasting with regret on the flesh of the tragic victims of a light aircraft crash that we alone had survived.
But our politicians’ historic fondness for President Exploding Tangerine Hitler will be harder to forget. There’s no need to deploy the deep fake technology or distorting social media of the Tories’ last election campaign to find a photo of America’s self-styled Mr Brexit posing in his Liberace’s lavatory lift with a clearly engorged Nigel Farage and his Ukip, Breitbart and Leave.EU colleagues. It’s there as plain as the nostrils on Michael Gove’s nose. But Farage’s friends weren’t alone in bending Trump’s brain farts to their own agendas and appeasing his own special brand of home-fried fascism.
In January 2017, a delighted Michael Gove became the first British journalist to visit the “warm and charismatic” new American president. Gove was even accompanied by Rupert Murdoch, a fact he chose to hide in his subsequent BBC interview and newspaper article, where he propagated Trump’s Nato lies unchecked. Gove described ascending the phallocratic Trump Tower in a golden lift, “operated by an immensely dignified African American attendant kitted out in frock coat and white gloves. It was as though the Great Glass Elevator from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory had been restyled by Donatella Versace, then staffed by the casting director for Gone With the Wind.” Charlie and the smooth glass surfaces, working as a team!
Two-faced Gove’s frivolous tone, suffused nonetheless with a strange strain of snobbery, attempts to socially distance himself from Trump’s lowbrow idea of luxury, while simultaneously revelling in the proximity of such immense wealth, however garish its elevator, however dignified its African American. But Gove emerged from the summit holding in his hand a piece of paper promising Trump would facilitate Brexit by doing “a trade deal with the UK absolutely, very quickly”. Gove is the Neville Chamberlain of nowhere. Where is your chlorinated chicken now, Brexiter? For I have in my hand Joe Biden’s souvenir Irish shillelagh, a confiscated lorry driver’s ham and cheese sandwich and a space where some M&S Percy Pigs should have been.
I wonder if Gove recalled the enjoyable afternoon he spent squatting on top of Trump’s enormous golden shaft of power when watching another immensely dignified African American, this time a government security guard, being chased up the stairwell of the Senate by a mob of Confederate-flag-waving Trump supporters wearing T-shirts celebrating the Holocaust with the Nazi death camp motto “Work brings freedom”. As Gove might have written, it was as though the Singin’ in the Rain scene from A Clockwork Orange had been restyled by Charles Manson then staffed by the casting director of The Hills Have Eyes. Oh! The charisma!!!
Turds got off to a better start than Gove in his approach to Trump, declaring in 2015 that the pussy-grabbing humanity-tumour was “clearly out of his mind” and a man of “quite stupefying ignorance that makes him, frankly, unfit to hold the office of president of the United States”. Back then, Turds, who has no actual discernible values beyond steamy ambition and refrigerated cowardice, was mayor of London. And Mayor Turds was playing to the focaccia gallery of the Trump-loathing London liberal elite, who fell one by one for his cheeky Have I Got News For You persona like a succession of statues of slavers in a Bristol dock. Once Trump was president, Turds simply tried on a new opinion, discarding the conviction-filled prophylactic of his spaffed beliefs like the condoms he obviously never wears.
By January 2017, Turds, who himself compared the EU trading block to the Nazis innumerable times in print, condemned critics of his new “friend and partner” for “trivialising the Holocaust” by comparing Trump to Hitler, subsequently saying that the president deserved the Nobel peace prize. But the trajectory of Trump’s rise to date mirrors that of Hitler’s, albeit a bright-orange Hitler with an undying fondness for disco hits. And Johnson himself has not been above weaponising fabricated culture wars, from the Proms to slavers’ statues while ridiculing “Romanian vampires” and “tank-topped bumboys”, to court the support of the worst people in Britain. Turds’s apparent ignorance of Hitler’s rise is inexcusable, especially as most cable channels are devoted entirely to endless loops of documentaries about him. Maybe Turds needs to brush up on how a populist leader could dehumanise minorities and liberals to gain power. But, worryingly, I suspect Turds already did that a few years ago.
King Rocker, a film about the Birmingham post-punk band the Nightingales, by Stewart Lee and Michael Cumming, premiers on free to air Sky Arts on Saturday 6 February at 9pm. Watch the trailer here