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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Emma Brockes

Digested week: Trump’s oddness helps him elude categories like ‘old’

Donald Trump raises his arm to acknowledge supporters
Donald Trump on a visit to Ames, Iowa, last Saturday. Photograph: Charlie Neibergall/AP


It can be hard to remember sometimes that Donald Trump and Joe Biden are approximately the same age – Biden is 80 to Trump’s 77 – so that if one is too old to lead the free world, categorically the other is, too. Even among sensible observers, however, this is not how the age conversation shakes out. On Sunday night, Biden arrived for a state visit to Vietnam, kicking off a tour of Asia, and on Monday the New York Times splashed with a headline that played on the idea of the president as a doddery old man: “‘It is evening, isn’t it?’ An 80-year-old president’s whirlwind trip”.

Biden was, in case it isn’t obvious, breaking the ice with the press corps with a little joke about jet lag, and if it wasn’t funny it was also, it seems safe to assume, not an indication that he’s losing his marbles. As Hillary Clinton discovered in 2016, the difficulty facing Biden ahead of next year’s presidential election is that anyone who comes up against Trump has the disadvantage of being held to standards from which Trump himself is excused. If the former Republican president were to show signs of age-related cognitive impairment, to paraphrase Dorothy Parker, how could we tell? In the context of Trump’s ceaseless flow of absurd non sequiturs, it is meaningless, or more accurately, impossible, to talk about “slips”.

There is something else going on, too, which has to do with the relative physicality of the two men. Trump’s hair, girth and permatan don’t exactly telegraph good health, but his aspect is so unclassifiably strange as to elude conventional categories such as “young” and “old”. When he stumbles or uses two hands to lift a bottle of water, for example – things that would land Biden in trouble for his age – Trump’s overall oddness encourages observers to put the incident in the weird, not the old, column. This helps him, obviously, and as the election draws nearer, Trump will continue to hammer an opponent only three years his senior for being too unthinkably ancient to govern.

The Princess of Wales is sniffed by a dog in a hallway
Picture caption of the week 1: ‘Honestly, if I’d known this is what it was, I’d have never applied to St Andrews.’ Photograph: Kin Cheung/AFP/Getty Images


With so much grim satisfaction coming out of Hollywood this week, September might henceforth be ringfenced and promoted as Schadenfreude Month. To kick off awareness, consider the celebrity couple Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis, apologising this week after it emerged they had lobbied a judge on behalf of their old pal Danny Masterson back when he was just another Hollywood actor facing allegations of rape. Last week Masterson, formerly of That ‘70s Show in which Kutcher and Kunis both starred, became a convicted rapist starting a 30-year sentence, a different proposition altogether and one that put the couple in an awkward position.

Kutcher and Kunis, who at the best of times exude a self-satisfaction so dense you could dribble it into a mould and fashion a scented candle out of it, appeared on Instagram in dowdy clothes and no makeup – sincerity isn’t hot, people – to remind those tempted to despise them that when they’re not speaking up for friends accused of violent sex crimes, they strive to “support victims” in their work. And anyway, they didn’t intend to “undermine the testimony of the victims.”

How that sits alongside a character reference in which they described Masterson as “an outstanding role model and friend”, an “extraordinarily honest and intentional human being” and a man of “innate goodness”, while emphasising his opposition to drugs, in apparent reference to testimony from the two victims that Masterson drugged them, remains, along with so many other questions about the pair – are they the most tedious couple in Hollywood? Will Bad Moms get another sequel? Is Kutcher talking about his investment portfolio better or worse than Brad Pitt talking about his interest in architecture? – tantalisingly unclear.

Vladimir Putin points while standing next to Kim Jong-un
Picture caption of the week 2: ‘And then I told him to turn off Starlink over Crimea.’ Photograph: Mikhail Metzel/AP


You might think being a gushing apologist for a man facing multiple rape allegations is a hard act to beat, but roaring up the inside lane on Wednesday comes Drew Barrymore, challenging Kunis and Kutcher for the title of this news cycle’s most awful (I’m not including Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un on his armoured train) with the strike-breaking return of her daytime talkshow.

Even without the strike, the return of the Drew Barrymore Show, in which the 48-year-old actor pulls a series of incredulous faces, sits adorably on her feet and laughs with the intensity of someone performing for a fully internalised audience, might be considered an act of aggression. As it is, Barrymore’s decision to return to filming in defiance of the WGA writers’ strike, and without the show’s three unionised writers triggered an instant backlash. (Among other things, she was disinvited as the host of the National Book Awards.) On Instagram, Barrymore defended her decision by saying: “I want to be there to provide what writers do so well, which is a way to bring us together or help us make sense of the human experience,” a line that certainly underscored the peril of extemporising without unionised help.


To cleanse ourselves of all this, let’s look to a different sort of celebrity, Angela Rippon, as she gears up to appear on Strictly Come Dancing this autumn, in the God love ’er spot previously occupied by Esther Rantzen and Gloria Hunniford. Rippon, 78, will be the oldest contestant and also, by reputation, the loveliest. Sorry to get like this but just saying the words “Angela Rippon” has a soothing effect on the spirit, as does the memory of Come Dancing, the sedate precursor to the current show that she hosted from 1988 to 1991. Despite loathing it at the time – it had terrible Sunday night vibes and for any child of the time carried about it, like the theme to Grandstand, a faint whiff of death – I look back on it now and am instantly calmed.


Back to politics, and Sean Penn, who correctly assesses that one very real victim of the situation in Ukraine is Chris Rock. Following a logic trail made up, presumably, of booze-soaked raisins, Penn told Variety this week that if Volodymyr Zelenskiy had been invited to host the Oscars, Will Smith would never have had the opportunity to jump on stage to thump Rock. Alas, America was too cowardly to give the Ukrainian leader its greatest platform, only offering him the chance to meet an old man at the White House.

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