When people ask me what the mood is in DC these days, the only word I can come up with is ‘surreal’. Everyone in this town — including almost all the Republican senators — knows Trump is guilty as charged over Ukraine, and then some. The evidence is overwhelming. And seeking to get a foreign power’s help in a domestic election is such a textbook case for impeachment — the Founding Fathers were obsessed with foreign meddling — it really should be over by Christmas. It won’t be because of Roy Cohn.
That legendary lawyer had a simple technique whenever his clients, Fred and Donald Trump, were sued. He would sue back. And Trump has a simple technique when accused of anything: immediately accuse the accuser of the exact same thing. His response to Hillary Clinton accusing him of being a puppet for Putin in the last debate in 2016 was an instinctual and reflexive ‘you’re the puppet’. When that fails, he simply instructs others not to believe what they see with their own eyes.
So when it emerged that the FBI had investigated the Russian operatives close to the Trump campaign in 2016, Trump described it as a deep-state Democratic ‘coup’. When the independent report came out last week exonerating the FBI from the partisan charge, Trump declared the report actually confirmed it. I mean, why not? When the edited transcript of his call to the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, showed a direct quid pro quo, Trump described the call as ‘perfect’. Again, why not? When an impeachment inquiry revealed Trump’s obstruction of justice, Trump in response barred any of his associates from testifying, thereby obstructing justice. After a while, it all becomes bleary. Which is, of course, the point. Shamelessness is a hell of a drug.
In a probably related development, you can’t go anywhere in DC now without smelling cannabis. The city legalised it five years ago, and the residents of this increasingly wealthy place have responded with gusto. I got my medical marijuana card a while back — tell them you’ve got HIV, and they stop asking questions — and it’s a revelation. Instead of vaguely asking your weed dealer whether that baggie is full of indica (downer) or sativa (upper) strains, and not getting a very reassuring answer, you get to shop online and pick out whatever you want. There’s data for every taste: the percentage of THC (the part that gets you high), of CBD (the part that relaxes your body), tips that tell you which strains help, say, insomnia or anxiety or appetite, and a whole variety of delivery methods — old-school joints, tinctures, oils, vape cartridges, and on and on. Capitalism has done wonders. The percentage of the vote in DC that went to Trump in 2016 was 4.1 per cent. That’s not a typo. And so the need for some relief from the hourly gaslighting, trolling, norm-breaking, trash-talking from the White House may explain weed’s popularity. In our post-truth, postmodern American emptiness, you’ve got to numb yourself somehow. And the great thing about weed replacing alcohol is that potheads, unlike deranged public drunks, tend to stay home on the couch with a bag of Cheetos. Saturday nights have never felt so calm.
’Tis the season for me to get depressed. Yes, I’m one of those people who find the holiday season the darkest time of the year. Ever since some truly miserable family Christmases in Sussex, where I grew up, it has always tipped me into despond. Part of it is the feeling that you’re living in a one-party state for at least a fortnight. That was Christopher Hitchens’s complaint — a stifling, oppressive orthodoxy that you will be merry… or else. Well, what if I don’t bloody well feel merry? Why should I have my mood dictated by anyone but myself? So I have largely abolished Christmas in my life, and it is liberating. I do go to Mass, it is true, but never that hideous, endless midnight version. Otherwise, nada. I send no cards, have no tree or any decorations, and neither give nor receive gifts. It’s easy for me to do this, I realise, because I have no kids. But that’s all the more reason to dissent without a smidgen of guilt.
At this time of year, I usually escape to somewhere tropical. Miami was my main destination for years. In my old clubbing days, I remember one Christmas morning that I was dancing in a club Madonna owned, and felt as if I’d finally banished the last traces of Dickensian mawkishness and sentimentality still lingering in my English soul. This year, I’m headed to visit an old friend who works in the US embassy in Casablanca. I’m sure I’ll find a church, but in a Muslim country, there’s a small chance that for a whole seven days I won’t have to hear ‘Last Christmas’. Sheer joy.