Originally published in Critic
It’s more obvious when an American is not being genuine. They can’t hide it from us. Chiefly, it’s the accent. We’re so conditioned to hearing it try and sell us things. If the transatlantic Beeb accent broadcasts the truth with authority, the piercing North American accent represents the superpower’s authentic fakery.
How can something be so homely (a mother that feeds you with honesty) and so pretentiously insincere (a spiteful juvenile lying to you) at the same time? At once unveiled and veiled. Indeed, the country has a child as President – one whose metaphorical womb you would not catch me in – but he has a ‘beautiful’ family, the highest degree of traditional values, so everything is okay.
He’s an idiot. But around Trump are a cohort of smart, authentic fakes, who live and thrive in the DC swamp he says he’ll drain. Trump revels in his exposed contradictions, plunges in and out of his scandalous explosions like a masochist and sucks energy from the sheer mass reproduction of his own image. The agents of deceit, however, still try to cling to the idea of tricking people, of nuanced performance. They know that we know but they don’t care and they carry on anyway.
Cosmopolitan magazine’s 1982 ‘America’s Sexiest Man’ centrefold model, and the new ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa is one such actor. Scott Brown, born 1959, was the first US Senator (current or former) to endorse Trump’s run (Jeff Sessions’ Wikipedia page probably says the same, but hey). Brown owns a timeshare on the Caribbean island of Aruba and – if you haven’t already heard him tell you fifty six times – his daughter, Ayla, is a country singer who was on American Idol.
He gets around. He’s everything. Scott Brown is the perfect American. I dare you to read his Wikipedia page and tell me he is not a wholesome patriot. Rags to riches. American Dream? Been there, done that. He’s done everything; hanging out (and, he assures us, not taking cocaine) at New York’s Studio 54 in the golden days, being a Reservist and doing a tour in Afghanistan, playing basketball, having a really tough up-bringing, playing gigs with Cheap Trick. So perfect it hurts. The model. “There’s more to life than politics.”
“I’m a triathlete, so I swim, bike, run, lift […] I’m hitting the Freyberg Pool after this,” Brown told Radio New Zealand’s Kim Hill the other weekend. “Wow, I feel tired already,” Hill replied.
The hour-long interview was reported by Stuff and the Spinoff as an epic take-down of Brown by Hill. Hill is known as a tough journalist. Everyone remembers her famous 2003 battle with the outrageously hoity-toity arsehole, John Pilger. I wouldn’t call the interview with Brown a ‘takedown’ or a ‘knockout’ but it was fiery at times (when Brown wasn’t guest DJ, introducing a song he wrote for his wife and hired some guy down in Nashville to sing).
What the RNZ interview did, though, is penetrate Brown’s façade and finally challenge him to defend the child in the White House. I guess it was about time our news media asked him to. (Forget the media, imagine if our government actually stood up to people.)
Previous encounters with Kiwi news media had featured Brown talking about all the “exciting” sweet-as trade deals we’ll have. Along with the usual pleasantries: “New Zealand has always been ferociously independent and I respect that, blah blah”. The age-old seduction, a Pacific rimming: an American knows about us!
Changing gears from his daughter’s sports life to his President, Kim Hill challenged Brown: “Talking about women, one of the main problems that people have had with your President is his apparent misogyny. You don’t think that?” Brown’s hilariously absurd response: “I think he’s got great kids and he’s got a loving wife.” Half a minute later, Brown was trying to use a usual deceptive talking-point: “but Hillary’s treatment of Bernie!” Then Hill said ‘pussy’ on national radio while describing Trump’s caught-on-tape admission of sexually assaulting women. “We all make mistakes.” Of course.
At one point, responding to Hill bringing up a possible Trump impeachment or resignation, Brown said, “It’s not even a political reality, so why waste time on it. […] I don’t deal in hypotheticals.” I hate this rhetoric with all my soul. It’s pretty much politicians’ go-to magic words of escape. How is one meant to have principles or ideals when they don’t ‘deal in’ hypotheticals? Besides, regardless of petty morals, any student of Machiavelli knows a politician should prudently strategise for inevitable bad fortune.
Elsewhere in the interview, Brown seemed baffled that Hill would even mention Trump’s finances, asking, “You think the President needs to make money? He’s already a billionaire.” If Trump is a billionaire, chances are – and I’m certain – he will never be happy with the amount of money he has. “He’s not making any money,” Brown assures us. “For you or me to be judgemental as to why and how somebody’s taking care of their financial affairs I think is inappropriate.” Mate, bud, Scottie, chief, we’re talking about the bleeding President of the United States, the Leader of the Free World.
Look at the New York Times’ regularly updated ‘Tracking the President’s Visits to Trump Properties’ and tell me it’s not dodgy that he’s spent around a third of his time as President at his various properties, with paying guests who paid expecting they’d run into him.
Case in point: the patricians of the Republic and super-mall CEOs who were present at Mar-a-Lago while Trump guessed his way through a Korean missile crisis. Paying tribute to your liege no longer gets you protection – it affords you appearances and shiny feelings of importance and ceremony.
Returning to Brown. Graham Greene’s ‘quiet American’ was a naïve, but dangerously powerful, idealist. A gentleman who just somehow falls into the role of neo-colonialist. “A dumb leper who has lost his bell, wandering the world, meaning no harm.” Brown is a mutation of Pyle. Brown represents ‘smiling assassin’ writ large. He can lift weights, start at the bottom of the heap and finish with a cushy ambassadorship and have a beautiful, genuinely smiley family and still sit there defending a child in the White House. We know all of this and yet he functions just the same. Maybe that’s the “beauty of democracy”.
In conclusion, Scott Brown is a really nice guy. I’d still go ‘round his gaff for a barbie,’ grin and let the illusion of all-American meat patties and matters of national security come over me.