Donald Trump: the worse it gets, the funnier it is, writes Sam Leith

Sam Leith
Awkward: Donald Trump failed the shake Angela Merkel's hand: AP

Come for the authoritarianism; stay for the memes. That seems to be the way that most of us — those, at least, not yet batty with rage or tearful with despair — are managing our reactions to the progress of the Trump presidency. Every time The Donald meets a foreign leader the internet spawns a million reaction gifs. There’s the Shinzo Abe eye-roll after that bizarre 20-second handshake; there’s Justin Trudeau’s heroic handshake resistance; there’s the look of suppressed mortification on Theresa May’s face as she realises that the world’s media are filming her holding Trump’s paw like a psychiatric nurse taking a patient to Legoland…

Here is a President so far out of his depth that all he can see above him, you might imagine, is the murky orange blur of Iain Duncan-Smith’s armbands. He’s a TV President. He came to power on the strength of his ability to grab attention and entertain — and, to be fair to him, he has delivered on that one promise at least. Were those of us overseas not all vaguely worried about being thoroughly impoverished or irradiated in an accidental war, there’d scarcely be a downside. Every day brings some fresh hilarity. He thinks what? He said what? He insulted who?

The looks on Frau Merkel’s face in the footage of her press conferences with Trump are a thing of wonder. Connoisseurs will be arguing for years to come over which was best. The not-quite-neutral look she threw the press pack after Trump, hunched in his chair like a stropping toddler, affected not to have heard her offer of a handshake? Or the frown of pitying contempt she made in response to his crass remark that being wiretapped by the Obama administration was “something we have in common, perhaps”?

They are both versions of what I think of as the Tim-from-The-Office face: that fourth-wall-breaking look to camera, mastered by Martin Freeman, which combines utter incredulity with glum resignation. They say: “Nothing surprises me any more, but just look at the state of this.”

In Frau Merkel’s case she appears to be thinking something like: “Jeepers. I spend my entire life engaged in international diplomacy and democratic politics. I run the largest European economy. I am one of the most powerful and important women in the world. And now, in the early autumn of my years and at the peak of my career, I’ve flown halfway round the world in order to be insulted in public by this tangerine sex-case. And what’s more, I have to suck it down because he’s only the President of the United States of America. Stone me, what a life.”

Laughter, it’s commonly said, is a psychological defence mechanism. Saying that Mr Trump is ill suited to be President — that he has no regard for truth, no calling to public service, no ethical foundation, the temperament of a spoilt child and the brains God gave a brussels sprout — has become quite needless. Nobody persuadable needs persuading.

If the only thing left is to cross our fingers and get our giggles where we can, so be it. The more serious it all gets, the funnier it gets too.

The skeleton in Chuck’s cupboard

All singin’, all dancin’: the legendary Chuck Berry in familiar flamboyant pose in 1970 (Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy)

Jolly good at the guitar and singing, was Chuck Berry. Brilliant lyricist, dancer, influence on countless rock bands, progenitor of the best scene by far in Back to the Future, and — brilliantly — giver to Keith Richards what Damon Runyon called a bust in the snoot. Hail, hail rock ’n’ roll.

That said, he did get done in 1962 for transporting a 14-year-old girl across state lines for immoral purposes. It doesn’t make his music any less good — but as icons of our own fall to Operation Yewtree, it might be worth waiting to see if other skeletons tumble out of his closet before giving him the full canonisation.

Posh folk really do live in their own wee world

Tatler, the world’s first fully postmodern magazine, has rebooted Nancy Mitford by drawing up a list of 28 words only posh people use. They are: bins (binoculars), marvellous, jolly, rather (as an exclamation), beastly, terribly, bate, yonks, tight (as in drunk), blotto, seedy (for unwell), gigs (for glasses), bind (as in a tricky situation), jersey, ass (of a foolish person rather than a backside), golly (exclamation, not jam mascot), bugger (person, not activity), rugger, brick (for a solid citizen), ravishing (attractive, not rapey), slut (slovenly rather than slapperish), bad luck, shriek (of laughter), master or mistress (for a teacher), thrilling, bore, sups (supper, not “what’s up, yo”), and devoted.

I must be poshish because I use about half of them, about a quarter without conscious irony. But as I’m sure Tatler knows, really posh people say “smart” or “grand”. They’re publishing the list, I suspect, as a way of tricking ghastly arrivistes into thinking they can pass. The 28 real words only posh people use will be a more closely guarded secret than that.

* NHS trusts, it was reported yesterday, have warned the Government before the new financial year even starts that there isn’t a hope of meeting their targets. Chris Hopkins, of the industry body NHS Providers, says: “We have a body of evidence showing that, with the resources available, the NHS can no longer deliver what the NHS constitution requires of it.” Treated within four hours at A & E? Dream on. Planned surgery for chronic conditions within 18 weeks? Forget it. One doesn’t like to use phrases such as “death spiral” in this context — but they don’t half present themselves. Thank goodness for Brexit. That £350 million extra a week can’t come soon enough.

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