Donald Trump's gusto disgusts Australians for good reason
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Donald Trump's gusto disgusts Australians for good reason

Your columnist continues to probe the unfathomable mystery of why teeming millions of Americans voted for and continue to admire Donald Trump.

In spite of what seem to so many Australians Trump's daily atrocities of deed and tweet-expressed opinion, the monster's approval rating hovers around the 40 per cent mark. His disapproval rating is always in the mid-to-upper 50s but never clears 60 per cent.

For an Australian it can be hard to imagine being a Trump devotee.

For an Australian it can be hard to imagine being a Trump devotee.

Photo: Evan Vucci

For an Australian it can be as hard to imagine being a Trump devotee as it is to imagine being a Mormon (forgive me, for I am still yet to recover from going to see the mind-bogglingly blasphemous musical The Book of Mormon at a Melbourne theatre), or a bunyip, or a Bernard Tomic.

Amazed by this socio-political mystery (Australians could never love a Trump, so can we and our American cousin be a different species?) I read all I can on the subject of Trump's appeal. Now a ray of illuminating daylight comes in the form of Tom Shone's essay Why America Loves A Braggart. This ripper read is up and available online.

On to Shone's piece in a moment but first to the observation that Australians hate a man who blows his own trumpet (unless of course that man is Sweden's Håkan Hardenberger, the greatest living classical trumpet virtuoso and an occasional visitor to Australian concert halls).

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But the Swede is literally a blower of his own trumpet. We use the expression "blows his own trumpet" to condemn those who figuratively blow their own trumpets, bragging about their achievements.

Australians hate braggarts (perhaps because we are still rather polite and pommy and find loud, conceited people appallingly vulgar). When we suffer a braggart we accuse that he is "up himself" or that she has "tickets on herself".

If we and the shy, reserved English are ever vulgar enough to say a few words of self-praise we never blow them on a blaring trumpet. Rather, figuratively, we may blow our own flute, or coax a soft melody from our own lute. Far too modest and English to do any gay, abandoned bragging I realise that all my meek and modest (and so hopeless) advertisements for myself (for example in my job applications and in my Lonely Hearts profiles) have been blown on my own chalumeau. The chalumeau is a small baroque woodwind instrument that makes a barely audible sound suggestive of a small owl murmuring to itself under its breath.

Trump's bragging and Shone's analysis of it alerts us to how, in braggart-appalled Australia, our politicians take such extreme pains to sound modest. They are often surely at least as narcissistic as Trump (which is why they've been attracted to their unsavoury, ego-masturbatory profession instead of to more honourable callings, like journalism, banking, aromatherapy, Tarot reading, prostitution and plumbing). And yet, attuned to how much Australians despise a braggart our politicians keep a pragmatic cork tightly bottling up (at least in public) their true selves.

But Donald Trump ("I am a very stable genius") is always uncorked and is always bragging.

This very week he has bragged that the surge in the US stock market is due to him. Famous recent braggings include the boyish boast that his nuclear launch button is "much bigger" than Kim Jong un's teeny-weeny one.

In his piece about Trump's braggadocio Tom Shone lists some of the Trump-trumpetings of the presidential election campaign including "I will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created … I'm so good looking … Part of the beauty of me is that I'm very rich ... I win, I win, I always win."

But Americans don't find this obnoxious, Shone diagnoses, because Trump fits so well into the long history of American bragging and "boosterism".

"Trump's fame may have been incubated on TV and in the Twittersphere but his persona - big, brash, boastful - goes all the way back to the Wild West, and the tall-talking show-offs … Men like Paul Bunyan, the lumberjack who claimed he'd created the Great Lakes to water his ox and could eat 50 pancakes a minute. Or Davy Crockett, the pioneer from Tennessee who told Congress in 1857: 'I can walk like an ox, run like a fox, swim like an eel, yell like an Indian, fight like a devil and spout like an earthquake, make love like a mad bull…' "

"This is how the West was won: with boasting," Shone says.

"The truly American attitude, of course, is to suspect a hoax but still go along with it, just for the hell of it, to admire the sincerity of the con artist's comic spirit.

"This is Trump's appeal in a nutshell, for it resolves the seeming contradiction between assessments of his truthfulness with his immense popularity. Trump fans may not always buy what he is saying but they do appreciate the gusto with which it is said."

Yes, all this surely defines and explains a lot of what reserved, inhibited Australians find so shockingly obnoxious about Trump. But are we at fault? Should we wake up to ourselves, loosen our tight pommy corsets, and learn to admire the comic spirit of the con artist who blows his own trumpet with gusto?

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