Trump as Godzilla
The woman puts the gun to my head and fires. My temperature is 37, low enough to allow entry. I am here at a computer store to buy a new keyboard. My old one has failed and is now unable to publish certain letters. My inability to process words on the page seems to reflect my inability to articulate thoughts and words in real life. Fuzzy corona-brain, exhaustion and residual stress is endemic. As I’m allowed entry the women crumples and hands the ‘gun’ to her manager saying “I can’t do this any more”. The virus has put unimaginable stress on us all and we won’t know the consequences until ‘after’ – though of course not knowing if there is an ‘after’ is one of the main drivers of our stress.
The news that Donald Trump and Melania have tested positive for corona virus was met with two immediate reactions: one of complete disbelief and the thought that this was a manufactured situation to escape electoral humiliation; and the hope that he would die. That these would be peoples first reactions is perhaps sad but it’s an indictment of the world that Trump has helped create, a world of dark cynicism and endless dystopian moments. In a world that is so radically destabilised already the revelations almost bring comic relief, an epic moment of pure karma for a ridiculous and pitiful man who is by his reckless ideology responsible for much human suffering. It is tempting to be so mesmerised by the phenomenon of Trump as to forget the very dark legacy he presides over: the massive increase in state violence, the call to arms to fascist militia, the persecution and detention of immigrant children, the relentless racism.
The consequences and revelations of the POTUS testing positive spill out. The rumour mills and conspiracy already suggests this is Trump’s own ‘Fake News’ and that the entire thing is manufactured to engender sympathy for a beleaguered incumbent already looking hopeless against even this, the most unconvincing of opponents. The plan, so this theory goes, is to blow Biden off the screens and turn the election into a ‘Pray for the President’ moment of redemption. In this scenario he will rise, Lazarus-like, just in time for a miraculous resurrection and second term. What’s more likely is that a man who seems to have confused good conduct in public health as a threat to his own masculinity, continuously flouted mask-wearing and hosted huge rallies against all advice has caught the disease because he’s an idiot.
The deluge of suggestions that he take his hydroxychloroquine – and other less kind suggestions – is I suppose payback for the toxic world he has created.
Some have suggested Trump is a Godzilla, a beast who draws strength from any attack, becomes stronger with the more chaos and violence that surround it. Godzilla you’ll remember can survive for years at a time under the sea, he can survive in hostile environments like other planets, outer space, and submerged in lava. He has bones denser than titanium, he has survived getting hit in the eye by the Human Torch and can devastate a city with his Atomic Breath. In this sense Sleepy Jo Biden was the ultimate candidate to defeat Trump by just letting him play-out his rage through TV, standing aside or down to let his energy deplete itself in a tirade of absurdity whilst nodding quietly in the corner.
The sense in which Trump-as-Godzilla – ridiculous but indestructible – has changed fundamentally by his testing positive for Covid-19.
His relentless attack on not just standards in public office but in the concept of truth itself, is now over. Reality has caught up with Donald Trump. His reign as a super-spreader of lies and disinformation is coming to an end, though the dire consequences of his time in office for America are likely to be seen for some time after his departure. The more likely outcome than his becoming ill being a clever stage-managed ruse is that it is the inevitable result of reckless stupidity. He is far more likely to spend his final weeks in office even more incapacitated and isolated than he already is, his ‘campaign’ such as it was now reduced to spewing out disinformation on pre-made television ads to play to his base and speaking directly to his supporters via his Twitter feed.
In an overlooked moment of the week that underlined the extent to which Trumps election campaign was already falling apart before his illness, Brad Parscale, his former campaign manager, was hospitalised when Florida law enforcement officials said he threatened to harm himself. Parscale was demoted as campaign manager in July as the president’s poll numbers crashed and was said to have been the fall-guy for the much-hyped campaign rally in Tulsa which attracted an embarrassingly small crowd after being hoaxed by Tik-Tok followers.
Parscale was accused of assaulting his wife and was arrested in dramatic fashion by on Sunday afternoon. The police talked Parscale out of his home in Fort Lauderdale after his wife called police to say that he had multiple firearms and was threatening to hurt himself. He was hospitalised on Sunday under the state’s Baker Act, which allows anyone deemed to be a threat to themselves or others to be detained for 72 hours for psychiatric evaluation. Trump’s demise – electoral or physical – is a descent of mythic proportions, and it was appropriate for the violence and absurdity of his regime that police body-cam footage was released of Parscale being taken down and handcuffed by police.
But removing Parscale from the campaign or Trump from office won’t solve everything. Trump is a product – and outcome of a dysfunctional society and a broken politics. He is a symptom not a cause and the brokenness will not be healed by his departure. Let’s hope that electoral defeat (if it comes) has a peaceful transition. After his call out to the Proud Boys and his previous endorsement of fascist militia, none of this is certain.
The journalist Martin Kettle has written: “It can seem overblown, but it now makes sense to ask if America is on the edge of becoming ungovernable, or if the rule of impartial law enforcement still commands respect.” One example of the long shadow of Trump’s reign is obvious; as the President’s regime attempts to rush through the conservative judge Amy Coney Barrett in place of the liberal Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the US supreme court before the presidential election on 3 November, the rule of law itself is being manipulated. The Supreme Court situation may become even more pivotal if the election result is not crystal clear and unambiguous. Kettle writes:
“In the long term, the Barrett nomination is aimed at creating a conservative 6-3 majority in the court, which may then start to undo abortion and other civil rights. But the overriding and immediate purpose is to construct a court that may rule on the result of the November election itself. If that were to happen, and if the court awarded the disputed election to Trump, the politicisation of American justice would be complete.”
Whatever the outcome of the election in November the process to heal and to have some process of reconciliation in America is likely to be a long one.
This is a dark epoch, not just a passing time of disease.
Within the context of Japanese culture, Godzilla’s exact origins are debated, but he is generally depicted as an enormous, violent, prehistoric sea monster awakened and empowered by nuclear radiation, a response and a nod to the atrocity of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In the same sense Trump is a monster created by the United States origin story of violence and imperialism and his departure and electoral defeat will not erase that truth. If Biden is able to defeat Trump at an election it seems unlikely that he will be able to defeat Trumpism and the trauma that it represents.