Nudge, nudge

No, this isn’t about those photographs of Mrs Trump naked in bed with another woman. Let bygones be bygones, I say, and anyway she wasn’t Mrs Trump then, much less America’s First Lady.

Nor do I intend to discuss Mr Trump’s bizarre insistence on securing a woman’s docility by grabbing her feline companion. Whatever works, I say, although personally I’m allergic to cats.

The nudge that attracted my attention at Easter wasn’t at all figurative. It was a very physical poke delivered by Mrs Trump’s elbow in Mr Trump’s ribs.

The couple were at the time on the White House balcony, kicking off the traditional paschal egg roll, which I understand is a big event in the US. So big in fact that a rousing rendition of Stars and Stripes was called for.

However, when the military band launched into the anthem, Mr Trump committed the ultimate sacrilege of forgetting to put his hand over his heart. Yet it’s the lot, nay sacred duty, of any good wife to keep her man on the straight and narrow.

Hence decorously patriotic Mrs Trump, née Melanija Knavs, delivered her elbow strike, that standard blow from the repertoire of violence and, it seems, of mnemonic devices. The poke focused Mr Trump’s senescent mind, and his right hand immediately shot up across his body to the left side of his chest. Propriety observed; face saved.

Now my sympathy is in this case with Mr Trump. Not only he but any male subsisting in the happy period between puberty and senility would rather put his hand on Mrs Trump’s heart than on his own.

Such a gesture would have real meaning, physical, lyrical, amorous – even respectful, for beauty has been venerated ever since the time of Greco-Roman antiquity. Mens sana in corpore sano, they used to say, and Mrs Trump’s corporis is very sano indeed, as those photographs prove.

Having thus got my vicarious jollies, I’d now like to strike a less frivolous note by reiterating my sympathy for Mr Trump. For the ritual that slipped his mind isn’t particularly praiseworthy.

Standing up for a national anthem, not only one’s own, is a simple courtesy, as is keeping silent while it’s being played. Thus one ought to rebuke English football fans who accompany the visitors’ anthem with synchronised shouts of “If it wasn’t for England, you’d all be krauts”.

But also insisting on various salutes is, well, rather un-English, for lack of a better word. (One of the scariest documentaries I’ve seen is that of the England football team greeting Hitler with the Nazi salute at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.) Actually, better words do exist, such as insecure, provincial and neo-pagan.

This is akin to a middle-aged married couple who feel compelled to demonstrate how much they love each other by engaging in public foreplay. Real love, like real patriotism, needs no such displays.

I’m treading a fine line here since it would be silly to deny the significance of some institutional symbols and rituals. As with most other things, however, this is largely a matter of balance and taste.

A married couple demonstratively unable to keep their hands off each other are often trying to prove to others and themselves something that ideally shouldn’t need proof – provided they’re secure in their feelings. The same goes for countries.

You’ll notice that old European commonwealths keep their patriotic gesticulation down to a minimum. It’s unthinkable, for example, that a crowd of Englishmen would parade hand-over-heart reverence when God Save the Queen is played.

Nor can one easily imagine, say, Theresa May ending a speech with “God bless the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland!” – and she’s probably more religious than Donald Trump, who wouldn’t dream of omitting the equivalent lapidary phrase.

States deriving their legitimacy from centuries of tradition don’t require such outward manifestations of piety – only upstart states in need of self-assertion do. Most of them are nasty, and they demand patriotic fervour pari passu with their nastiness.

All you have to do is look at the newsreels of Soviet, fascist or Nazi pageantry – their respective styles have much more in common with one another than with any practised by civilised countries.

I’m not equating the USA with the USSR, Mussolini’s Italy or Hitler’s Germany. But they do have one thing in common: they’re all products of post-Christendom modernity. As such, they tropistically reach for pagan totems – more than commonwealths whose roots are deeper.

The commonality was rather visible until December, 1942, when the Americans hastily ushered in the hand-over-heart salute to replace another one: an extended right arm, palm down. That Roman ritual had been in use since 1892, but half a century later the Americans realised that some recent associations had made it untenable.

Why did the Americans have to wait a whole year after Pearl Harbour to abandon the compromised salute? After all, the country had been at war with the contemporaneous practitioners of it since 11 December, 1941.

Perhaps the feeling was that it wasn’t the ideology of Nazism and fascism that was to blame for the ongoing carnage, but some individual Nazis and fascists. You know, those alienated loners on cannabis, precursors of today’s Muslim – nay Islamist! – murderers who supposedly have nothing to do with their religion.

Or else coming into play was the philistine relief that the carnage was happening elsewhere. Still, a year after America joined the war was an inordinately long time to ponder such matters.

Perhaps Winston Churchill was a bit reticent when suggesting that America and Britain were “two nations divided by a common language”. The watershed may be much deeper than that.

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