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Armando Iannucci: From satire to politics, Donald Trump has redrawn the rules

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’m not sure I could ever write a character quite like Donald Trump. Mainly because I’ve never encountered anyone like that and if I did I would think they were in need of professional help, not regard them as someone to laugh at. Political comedy only works if there are a set of rules to follow so you can point out how certain politicians are bending them but Trump is an anarchist. Even though he tweets “LAW AND ORDER!” so often, he thinks none of the rules apply to him. Selina Meyer from Veep, or even Barron, Trump’s 14-year-old son, would be better Presidents.

Trump isn’t anything to laugh given his inability to accept reality or take responsibility for upwards of 200,000 deaths from Covid. Those who previously thought he was riotously  entertaining have now woken up to the fact that this is life and death. The biggest factors driving people to vote for Biden will be not unemployment, not the pandemic, but fear and exhaustion. If anyone else behaved like Trump does, declaring A is now B or something that exists does not, their political career would be over but for some reason Trump has managed to make us think that his standards shouldn’t be measured against others. The level of genius Trump does have is as a salesman for himself. He has changed the way that political satire works – he is the entertainer spouting the fiction so the interesting comedians are those taking the opposite route, talking audiences through the facts like John Oliver and Seth Meyers do, with a journalistic edge. The roles have flipped.

I’m spending election night at home in Hertfordshire, which I am glad about because if it looks like it is going to be a squeaker I’ll want to be near a bed so that I can sleep into oblivion. I used to be excited about elections but there have been rather too many of them recently and I am now nervous and weary of them. It was unacceptable that Trump was elected in the first place. I am not sure I can go through that again.  I am an election geek so I read everything but then when Trump won I couldn’t read or look at the news for a month. I felt I had overdosed on it but without any reward.

I think Biden will win the popular vote and he may win the electoral college if all the ballots are counted but my concern is that it will be close and that this will be used by Trump on the night to shut down counts in key areas. Trump will deny that he lost, he’ll tweet for years about being the alternative President. I am sure I could write about Biden – he has always been known for not being able to stop talking. I don’t mind that, if the alternative is someone who will destroy the planet.

So many huge tectonic plates are shifting globally. In the UK, people are no longer interested in presentation or whether an argument comes across well; the pandemic has made us feel it’s the bigger picture that matters: does the government know what it is doing, because it doesn’t look like it does. Covid is the worst thing to have hit this country since the war. Usually in warlike situations there is some drive towards consensus, at least government discusses the security of the nation with the other parties, but that has not happened. You have a political party running a crisis according to their own set of values which are “let’s go with private instead of public all the time”. People want clear answers, why is the government not letting local authorities have a say, why must everything pass through Dominic Cummings’ desk, is the government spending all this money on its friends and connections – that is the emerging story with test and trace.

In normal circumstances all of this would be awkward; at a time like this it is actually shameful. Party political values are being used to determine how life and death situations are going to be dealt with. I am hopeful for the future in the sense that more people are questioning things they wouldn’t normally have questioned – like how localism and communities can work and how overcentralized government can be a hindrance at times. We have seen that local authorities, businesses and communities do have the power to get engaged. We have seen what they can do with free school meals. More communication between different levels of government is the one thing that needs to be addressed, right now. Not in a month’s time.Before the pandemic, Boris Johnson was taking a leaf out of the Trump playbook and shutting down anyone who criticised him, boycotting the BBC, Andrew Neil, the Today Programme, and arguing ‘We don’t need this old media anymore.”  

The only moment that was a bit like The Thick of It was when Matt Hancock came out and said we are going to get testing up to 100,000 by the end of the month and a picture was published of him with his aides and a whiteboard. Then it emerged they reached this figure by including 30,000 tests they’d sent in the post,  which is not the same as saying those people were tested. But the day of getting the figure out felt a little Thick of It. I don’t think anyone was laughing.  

For me, the only way of addressing what has been happening is to stand back. I’m writing a show for HBO set in the future and in space, the second series of Avenue 5, which neatly gets me out of having to face reality. But it is very much written under the filter of what has happened in the last eight months, inspired by the whole business of lockdown and the crisis of leadership we have seen globally – this is the stuff of dystopian fiction, the Trump administration’s science office declaring the pandemic a triumph, saying it has resolved it. It is a George Orwell, Aldous Huxley vision of a world where 2 plus 2 equals 5, and something that clearly exists is written down as not existing. The very fact that 3,000 people are dying a day in America and the President is annoyed that the pandemic is getting more publicity than him, is truly and unbelievably extraordinary.

Source: Evening Standard Business News

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