Today is a big day for Mitch Benn; it’s his birthday. But he also has a message for those concerned by the presidency of ‘he who must not be named’: Stop clutching your pearls
If you’re reading this article on its day of publication, it’s my birthday. On January 20, I turn 47 years old, and that, as far as I am concerned, is all that’s happening today. Like Congressman John Lewis and (at time of writing) an increasing number of Democratic legislators, I will not be paying any attention to the goings on up on Capitol Hill.
I’m going to allow myself one last day of blissful, wilful ignorance before we all must face the new reality upon the following morn – or perhaps on Monday, since the incoming leader of the free world has announced his intention to take the weekend off. Where appeals to sanity and decency have failed, it looks like laziness might yet save us all.
And no I will not be addressing that rumour. It’s very possibly not true and there’s not much I can say about it, serious or satirical, that you won’t have heard already. There isn’t a single urination-based pun that hasn’t been kicked to death on the internet these last few days. And if it were true, his bedroom habits, like everyone’s, are nobody else’s business, even if they are most people’s bathroom habits.
Moreover (and here we come to the point I’ve been fumbling towards) even if it is authentic, it’s not, whatever the press say, a ‘scandal’. Not even if the broader, and more disturbing context is true; that we only know about it because it formed part of a Russian security service stitch-up operation which may just have been successfully concluded with the installation of a foreign intelligence asset in the Oval Office. Even with all that accepted, it’s still not a ‘scandal’. This is because there can be no scandal when the person concerned has no sense of shame whatsoever.
None of the varyingly gross and/or questionably legal things the gentleman in question has been accused of, or indeed caught doing, is any more gross and/or questionably legal than the things he has admitted to, or even boasted of having done. And not one of these boasts or admissions has occasioned him a moment of regret, remorse or inconvenience. His messianic popularity with his flock – and, more crucially, with himself – has not been diminished a jot by any of it.
I’m wondering at what point his opponents and critics will figure this out. They present ever more blood-curdling revelations with a this-will-finish-him-off-for-sure flourish, then stand slack-jawed when his bandwagon rolls heedlessly on. It counts for nothing; if someone could ‘bust’ him for something in such a way as to impede his progress on a practical level, involving some sort of un-ignorable sanction or disqualification, that would do the trick, but merely ‘exposing’ his misdeeds doesn’t achieve a thing. His supporters don’t believe it and he doesn’t care.
As regards the possibility of impeachment, to which many of my progressive pals on both sides of the pond are currently clinging with mounting desperation, two words of caution:
Word one: Pence. If the new chief were to find himself removed from office prematurely, we don’t (as some starry-eyed liberals seem to think) get Hillary Clinton after all; rather we get his number two, Mike ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Pence. Given his own record, to trade boorishness, vindictiveness and volatility for Pence doesn’t strike me as much of an improvement, if indeed an improvement at all.
Word two: Nah. As in, it’s not going to happen. The only body which can impeach a sitting president is Congress, and if you can envisage a Republican-controlled Congress choosing to defenestrate a Republican president in this day and age, then your imagination is rather more vivid than my own, and mine is pretty vivid.
I say ‘in this day and age’; a decade or so ago such a thing might not have seemed so unlikely. But given the levels of unyielding partisanship adopted by the GOP since, well, let’s see, about eight years ago, funnily enough, it’s pretty much inconceivable at the moment.
Every organisation which could cramp the incoming president’s style to any significant degree is firmly in Republican hands at the moment, including, apparently, the FBI. In many respects the incoming president’s utter shamelessness is one of the few things he has in common with the Republican Party to which he is a relatively recent convert.
As President Obama’s term ends, the media is replete with post-mortems on his time in office and assessments of his legacy. For my money, the greatest failing of his first term was his failure, or refusal, to accept the extent to which the Republican establishment was entrenched against him.
You can yearn to be a unifier rather than a divider, you can extend a whole tree’s worth of olive branches across the aisle, but if you carry on waxing positive about the possibilities of working in harmony with your opponents while these same opponents are openly undermining and dismissing you, spreading rumours about your legitimacy and indeed calling you a liar to your face, you start to look not so much optimistic as delusional.
This is the lesson we all have to learn for the next four years; yes, all of us. The president’s power may not (officially) extend beyond the USA’s borders but as we learned in the 00s, when America soils itself, the world gets the cleaning bill.
We may flatter ourselves that we’re Better People than the opposition, but that’s scant consolation when they’re in complete control, and the vulnerable members of society – the ones we’re supposed to be looking out for – are at their mercy.
Remember this: the other side cheats. They gerrymander. They bribe. They smear. They institute sweeping vote-suppression programmes based on mythical plagues of voter fraud.
They promise £350 million extra for the same NHS they’re in the process of eviscerating. They do all of this and more with a clear conscience because they flatter themselves that they’re tougher than us, that they can pull all this off in plain sight and we’ll be so pearl-clutchingly concerned with maintaining the moral high ground that we won’t even call them out on it. What do you think? Are they right?
That’s a question we’ll have to answer soon, and whether the world suffers a few years of indignity or an indefinite undignified future depends on how we respond. But for today, Happy Birthday to me.
Mitch Benn’s new tour Don’t Fear the Reaper starts at the The Spring, in Havant, on February 2. For more dates, see www.mitchbenn.com/gigs