Al Gore: No lie can live forever
PUBLISHED: 14:30 20 August 2017 | UPDATED: 11:18 21 August 2017
PA Wire/PA Images
Former US vice president talks Trump, Brexit and climate change denial.
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Thanks mainly to the success of the Putin-Trump-social media anti-truth triumvirate, I have no way of knowing if there is any veracity in the story that President Trump has a special Fox News ‘nice about POTUS, nasty about his enemies’ file prepared every day. But you don’t have to spend much time on his twitter feed to guess that there might be. In Trumpland, the only news that counts is news that makes him look or feel good; the only opinions that count are those that chime with his own.
On a recent check to see whether his latest tweets showed any less narcissism than the norm, one looked hopeful – it just said “God Bless the USA”, with a stars and stripes emoji and a link to a three-minute film. Ah, I thought, a tribute to great people and institutions of America. But no, it was a compilation of photos of Trump, set to the kind of song that the USA would enter for Eurovision were they allowed to take part. “There ain’t no doubt I love this land – God Bless The USA.” The whole mix was cringe-worthy.
As a mental health campaigner, I should be careful with my use of the N-word (N for Narcissism that is, not the N-word that Trump’s white supremacist supporters wish they could still use in polite company). American psychiatrists tend to steer away from public analysis of public figures. This is as a result of The Goldwater Rule, born in 1964 when a magazine called Fact ran a front-page headline about Republican Barry Goldwater proclaiming: “1,189 psychiatrists say Goldwater is psychologically unfit to be president!” You’ve got to love the exact number.
The magazine quoted psychiatrists’ views that the presidential nominee was megalomaniac, paranoid, psychotic, schizophrenic. Goldwater lost the election, but won $75,000 in a defamation case which effectively put Fact out of business.
Since Trump became President, debate has started in US medical circles as to whether the Goldwater rule against public analysis of politicians is making the nation’s psychiatrists fail in their duty by not drawing attention to the evident psychological weaknesses of their elected Commander-in-Chief.
That is a debate for another day. For now, back to Trump’s (alleged) Fox News file of stories that make him look and feel good, and his enemies look and feel bad. We can assume that the one stating that former Democrat Vice-President Al Gore’s latest film on the environment, An Inconvenient Sequel, had “bombed” at the box office would be among them.
Yet dig a little deeper, and you see that their claim was based largely on two facts – that it was the 15th highest-grossing film of the previous weekend and it took $1million, compared with $50m for the original, An Inconvenient Truth. Now, I don’t know about you, but 15th, for a documentary, seems not bad to me. And the $50m was a total take over many months for a massive surprise hit that won him an Oscar, not one weekend.
Their own “bombed” story was further undermined when they revealed that the launch was restricted to cinemas in a small number of big cities, not the whole country. So a more accurate, admittedly less grabby, headline might have been: “Al Gore’s new film doing not bad considering...”
I saw the film when it was premiered in Cannes, and interviewed Gore for GQ. Trump came up a fair bit. I reminded him that at the start of the new film, we hear Trump saying “the Paris talks are a waste of time, what is Obama doing there? I’ve had it up to here with Al Gore.” Gore launched into an imitation of Trump (“The Nobel committee should take back the [peace] prize ...’”) and started to laugh.
At the time, Gore was engaging in what he called “constructive” dialogue with the new President, aimed at getting him to stick with the Paris accord on climate change. He admitted he was not hopeful, and a few weeks later, predictably enough, Trump pulled out. Used to setbacks, not least the one that saw the Supreme Court take the White House from him, Gore vowed to fight on, and work round the President if he didn’t want to have people work with him. “No single person can stop this climate movement,” he said.
We have grown used to calling the American President “the most powerful man on earth”. But even before the decision was taken, I sensed Gore’s strategy for Trump was to focus on the power he doesn’t have, as much as the power he does.
“The courts have stopped some of his initiatives, like the immigration ban,” he says. “Congress has refused thus far the health care proposals. We have seen a law of physics appear in the world of politics. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” He predicts serious decline for the Republicans in the mid-term elections. He predicts “the wall” will not be built. He predicts Trump will not last the course. He is convinced the climate change tipping point is near, Trump or no Trump.
“So you are confident the US system will hold up against whatever he does?” I ask. “I would substitute the word hopeful for confident,” he replies. “Because the degradation in the conversation of democracy and the hacking of democracy presents a new set of risks that are daunting. The system of checks and balances can work but only if the people in these institutions rise to that challenge. That remains to be seen. I am hopeful they will.”
This kind of ‘work round Trump’ approach was put even more dramatically in a Q and A session I did recently, where a questioner said: “Surely instead of obsessing about Trump every time he tweets something silly, we should just ignore him?” The applause suggested considerable support for the notion, but it is very hard to ignore any President, perhaps especially one so unpredictable and – with apologies to the American Psychiatric Association – so evidently self-obsessed, possibly to the point of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
In a book he wrote in 1992, Gore suggested the lowest rung in the moral hierarchy is cynicism, which he defined by short-range thinking and cheap manipulation of images and slogans. “Is that not how Trump won?” I suggest.
“It is an approach that characterises the politics of a lot of people these days,” he says. “We saw it in the Brexit campaign. We’ve seen it here in France where it was rejected. I hope it will be rejected in Germany. It has been narrowly rejected in Austria, the Netherlands. There is now evidence that antibodies are appearing in the body politic.”
Like most politicians – again Trump and Putin appear to be the exceptions – he sees Brexit as a huge error for the UK, though he understands some of the reasons, not least inequality. But he also sees a link to climate change.
He explains: “Long before the civil war in Syria began from 2006 to 2010 80% of livestock were killed by the drought, 60% of farms were destroyed, 1.5 million climate refugees were driven into their cities where they collided with another 1.5 million from the Iraq War. And there were Syrian ministers saying ‘this is going to cause an explosion, we cannot deal with this’. And soon thereafter the civil war – which had other causes as well – erupted and opened the gates of hell, and the refugee crisis, which also had other causes, began to shake the foundations of the European experiment.
“Of course there were many causes of Brexit, but one of them was this, and the most powerful ad in the campaign was that billboard showing the endless lines of refugees at the borders of Europe with the implicit message ‘do you want them coming here?’ And of course it was cheap and low, but it evokes responses that people have to understand. This region of France voted for Le Pen. Why? Because of the history of migration from North Africa. I am not expert in French politics but that was one of the factors.”
With Trump and Brexit part of the same populist phenomenon, and President Putin exploiting both, he shared my surprise that so many “ordinary Americans” are not more aghast at the idea of Russia interfering in the US election. As for his explanation, we come full circle.
“It is partly about Fox News and the alternate reality constructed and maintained by a monolithic conservative/wealthy elite force that has dug in and wants to present and maintain an alternative reality, in which the climate change crisis is not real, other things are imaginary, non-existent threats are lifted up.”
But he believes the alt-right climate change deniers can be beaten. “Decades ago when doctors and scientists produced a consensus that smoking causes lung cancer and other diseases, tobacco companies spent a lot of money, they hired actors and dressed them up as doctors, and put them in front of cameras with a script on the teleprompter to say (mimics) ‘Hi, I am a doctor, and I smoke cigarettes myself and there is absolutely no problem’. You can look them up, they are astonishing. They spent far more money than the medical community could ever come up with to combat that.”
Climate change deniers like the billionaire Koch brothers, with Trump as poster boy, are using the same playbook, Gore says. “They hired some of the same PR people – not everyone in PR is reputable, Alastair [smile] – to do the same thing. They have pseudo scientists, it is a major cottage industry now to fund climate change denial. And one of our greatest journalists a hundred years ago, Upton Sinclair, he said it is hard to convince a man of something if his salary depends on him not understanding it. The large carbon polluters are seeking to extend their current business plan just as the tobacco companies did. Eventually it caught up with them, there were lawsuits and they were required to finance the positive campaigns to stop young people from taking up smoking. And the same thing is going to happen with the carbon polluters. Martin Luther King once said ‘no lie can live forever’. That is still true.”
Let’s hope he’s right. About climate change. About Trump. About Brexit.
Full GQ interview – www.gq-magazine.co.uk
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