I must admit to being largely undisgusted by Donald Trump’s behaviour. Plenty of the American president’s actions are bad, of course, and the man is a grotesque Geordie Shore parody of fake tan and hair. But he’s never viscerally bothered me.
On this point I’ll part company with many readers, who will fairly cite a lengthy charge sheet of disgusting behaviour: the lying, the locking kids in cages, his general shadiness. You could retch, I agree; I just don’t.
Psychologist Jonathan Haidt is one of several academics that has drawn links between our disgust reflexes and moral judgements for years, but I don’t think you need science to spot the overlap between being grossed out by food and by immoral behaviour. Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells is the archetype, but you can be disgusted of anywhere.
Except for me, at least largely. Politicians rarely disgust me, even if they irritate, baffle or bemuse me often. If you believe Haidt perhaps that’s because I have libertarian or ultra-rationalist inklings, and am fairly insensitive to gross things. Put another way, my moral instincts are a tad nerdy.
Despite all this, I found myself lying in bed on Wednesday morning, having only slept three hours, disgusted at Trump’s attempt to violate his country’s democracy. Since that speech in the east coast’s wee hours he has repeated allegations of postal vote fraud – or mail-in ballots, for the Yanks – as his legal team try to overturn the election result before it’s even been fully tallied.
The United States has a shonky record of depriving citizens of their rights to vote. In recent years it’s the Republicans who have been accused of gerrymandering and voter suppression, though the Democratic National Committee shows the blue team aren’t pure either and the evolution of American democracy is largely a history of hucksters.
I don’t claim Trump is unique in his molesting of American democracy then, but there was a tangibility to his speech on Wednesday that makes it easy to retch at. He alleged fraud without evidence, claimed victory without evidence, and pledged to legally contest the matter to steal an election.
Were I cool about it I’d note that he’s been a shit since well before his presidency. I could also reply there is something fundamental in disrespecting a vote, because it means disregarding people’s right to choose who leads them, and more importantly who doesn’t. But ultimately I am just disgusted.
Parallel distaste has long been shared by progressives on both sides of the Atlantic about Trump, Brexit and our own prime minister Boris Johnson. The likes of the New York Times saw many similarities between Britain’s exit from the European Union and Trump, often with comic results. Remoaners likewise rarely passed up a chance to compare Boris with Donald.
Yet, in that moment on Wednesday, Trump was a remoaner. A fairly-held election had gone against him, and his immediate impulse was to reach for the lawyers. The game had been rigged against him, he complained, and legitimate votes should be disregarded. Gina Miller would be proud.
Doubtless opinions have already been published heralding a turn against populism, even if many are irked with the American public because Joe Biden hasn’t won the presidency by a wider margin. (The gap may prove larger once every vote is counted.)
Both miss the point. If democracy is merely about shepherding voters into the right pen, why bother? The process is supposed to disappoint newspaper editors, think tank wonks, and the politicians whose careers it routinely destroys.
Cast aside like a B-list celebrity, Trump’s loss is the latest toast to that principle. His disgusting attempts to cling onto the presidency are a fitting end to a retched reign.