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The spectacle of Donald Trump is getting old – even for his supporters

Donald Trump speaks with audience members after participating in an NBC News town hall event at the Perez Art Museum in Miami on October 15, 2020 - Credit: AFP via Getty Images

I read that Dame Julie Walters, having recently turned 70 and survived a brush with cancer, has said that she’s considering retiring from acting, although she might be tempted back to do Mamma Mia 3 if it happens.

What’s perhaps interesting about this announcement is the fact that it’s considered newsworthy at all… A woman in her 70s with a hugely distinguished career behind her (and, one rather hopes, a few quid in the bank) announces her intention to pack it in while she’s still young and well enough to enjoy herself… how is this news?

It’s news, of course, because it hardly ever seems to happen in showbusiness. Actors, musicians, comedians and other performers tend to keep on keepin’ on for as long as possible, well past retirement age and right up until they’re genuinely unable to continue.

I suspect a lot of this has to do with love for one’s craft; if you enjoy what you do for a living, you’re still fit and active enough to do it (and, crucially, people still want you to do it) then there’s no reason to stop. But it’s interesting just how few showbiz legends manage to quit and then stay quit.

One of the very few examples of a star who retired and (thus far) stayed retired is Sir Sean Connery; after having had, by all accounts, a thoroughly miserable time filming The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen in the early 2000s, and being crushingly disappointed by the film itself, Sir Sean walked away from the movie business and apart from a couple of voice-over jobs (including returning to the role of James Bond for a video game) he’s stayed away.

I can’t say I blame him; I too was hugely let down by that movie considering it’s based on one of the finest comic books ever written. The book, written by legendary comics curmudgeon Alan Moore and illustrated by the great Kevin O’Neill, is a scintillating, multi-layered work of genius; the movie is a tedious, shapeless mess.

It’s not that the film lacks action; the trouble is that it lacks almost everything else. If you watch it – and I wouldn’t bother – you get the impression that at some point there was a three-hour edit that actually had a plot and made a modicum of sense, but that in order to get it down to time the studio edited everything out except for the explosions and chase scenes.

There’s nothing quite so boring as relentless spectacle.

I was reminded of this last week when the viewing figures were announced for the two US presidential candidates’ duelling ‘town hall’ meetings, broadcast simultaneously by rival TV networks ABC and NBC. The expectation had been that Donald Trump’s programme, hastily set up at the last minute, would crush Joe Biden’s; that the inevitable ‘car crash’ of Trump’s intemperance and unpredictability would prove a bigger draw than Biden’s folksy decency. But when the ratings were published, Biden won, with 13 million viewers compared to Trump’s 10 million.

Car crashes only command our prurient attention because they’re freakishly rare. If there were a car crash every 50 yards or so, we’d lose all interest in them. We don’t stare at traffic, but if we’d just arrived from the 18th century we’d be agog at the sight of brightly coloured horseless vehicles charging past at incredible speed. We gaze at fireworks, but if there were a firework display every night that would just be what the sky looked like, as far as we were concerned.

So it is with relentless outrage; we’ve had five years of Donald Trump the politician (and the previous 20 or so of Donald Trump the celebrity) taking every opportunity to shock us all rigid with his race-baiting, his insults, his self-aggrandisement and self-pity, his disdain for anything remotely approaching statesmanship. But we’ve seen it now. We’ve seen it all so many times that not only do his opponents no longer find it alarming, but (crucially) his supporters no longer find it entertaining.

There’s only so many times you can hear a fake billionaire and most powerful man in the world defame people while complaining about how unfair his life is before it becomes utterly, wretchedly, miserably dull, and suddenly a bit of folksy decency seems very appealing.

Similarly, while Boris Johnson’s self-consciously affected scatter-brained persona might once have been a breath of fresh air in the overly-landscaped British political environment of the 2000s and 2010s, now it’s apparent that he isn’t actually faking the vague and distracted thing and may indeed simply be horribly out of his depth, that ‘fresh air’ is smelling very stale indeed.

Trump and Johnson are one trick ponies and we’ve all seen the trick too many times.