Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain.
This is the third and final list of comments from H O Morton on Spanish life, as he saw it 60 years ago, in 1955, in A Stranger in Spain. Some of them are patronising, some controversial, some insulting and some now plain wrong. But some are still valid and I leave readers to decide which for themselves. Personally, I don't doubt that Morton was one of a long list of Anglos who loved Spain, warts and all:-
- A reservoir of gloom and melancholy is the birthright of all Spaniards.
- It is an odd thought that every time one asks for a glass of sherry one may be invoking the name of Cesar.
- I never cared for sherry but did not dare to say so. [I'm with him on this]
- Solero 1847: The highest praise I could give it is that it didn't taste like sherry.
- Another thing I like about the Spaniards is their integrity. When they are good, they are very, very good.
- “This is the last country where people are courteous,” said the lady who knew Spain, “Though Spaniards can also be very rude. They can forget to answer letters; they can be late for appointments, or even forget them altogether; and they can be very inquisitive. But, face-to-face, they are delightful.
- It is remarkable how Spaniards seem to be able to leave their desks and their places of employment at any time they like.
- Kipling knew what he was about when he said that the important friends in life are taxi-drivers, policemen and hall-porters.
- Spain always has a surprise up her sleeve for you.
- In my opinion neither English soap nor English matches are as good as they are in Spain.
- The Spanish sense of human dignity rules out intoxication; neither is drink idealised and advertised as in Anglo-Saxon counties; nor is a drinker assumed to be a good fellow.
- I have learnt that upon such occasions it is a good idea to be as formal as possible. Until the formalities have been observed and a lot of resonant words enjoyed by all , levity or friendliness are out of place. [I have been known to say the Spanish are very formal, except when they are very informal].
- Midnight has no significance for Spaniards and Cinderella could mean nothing to them, for the ball would hardly have begun when the clock struck 12.
- Generally speaking, I found the best food in the poorer looking places.
- Spain is much addicted to the medieval vice of spitting and it is one of the last strongholds in the old world of the brass spittoons.
- Living for the day is, after all, the secret of Spain.
- Wearing shorts is considered indecorous away from the tennis courts or a beach.
- Lady Fanshawe noted in the 17t h century that when the Spaniards travel 'they are the most jolly persons in the world'. And that is as true today as it was then.
- Spanish women are more conservative than men in everything that affects their comfort, but more adventurous in anything that concerns their appearance.
- In these days of taxis there is something delightfully archaic in following the hotel 'boots' down a narrow road, while he wheels one's bags on a little trolley.
- Spaniards are utterly callous about making a noise at night.
- The legend of Spanish laziness has surely been spread by those who have never seen the peasants harvesting by moonlight, or the carpenters at their benches at 7 o'clock.
- In England we take the past in our stride and if it interferes with us we kick it out of the way; but in Spain the past is an indestructible mummy and sometimes it seems more real than the present.
- Even in the El Retiro park of Madrid I did not see more beautifully dressed children or so many wonderful old nannies – each one a Rembrandt – as I did in the Paseo de Espolón Viejo in Burgos.
- El Cid . . . the ideal Spaniard, the perfect 'guerillero', the incarnation of all the qualities the Spaniard loves best – bravery, temperance, magnanimity, fortitude and, of course. Christian devotion.
- Spaniards can be led on by a phrase or a smile but never driven.
- [San Fermín in Pamplona] I heard a band approaching and saw a procession come slowly into view which was to reveal the Spanish love of ceremony and formality, and also - I might add – the cult of dignity. For I never saw an occasion of this kind more free from those touches of humour or bathos which often attend them.
- The 'farmacia' is a tribute to the artistic sense of the Spanish and also to their love of drama and mystery.
- A sight which pleased me was a hot-chestnut man who roasted his nuts[sic] in the boiler of a model locomotive, an antique descendent of The Rocket, with a high smokestack from which real smoke emerged.
- Simplicity which we associate with other times is, after all, a part of Spain's attraction. It goes much deeper than being old-fashioned.
- The Renaissance, the Reformation, the French Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, and the Americanisation of life have not been the main influences in the history of Spain; and it is this older world that we sense and admire.
- One of the peculiarities of Spain is the humble restaurant, or wine shop, which looks to the stranger like the hideout of a robber gang.
- It is not unusual that the rougher the exterior the finer the manners to be met with inside.
- A young man sitting near me leaned over and, with that excessive and adhesive friendliness which sets English teeth on edge, said: “You're British, I guess?
- I came to the conclusion that industrialisation had cast its sombre shadow over Oviedo, and also that these northern people are more phlegmatic than the southerners.
- The things an angry Spaniard can convey with his hands are incredible.
- It seems to me that Spaniards often act from impulse, just as they have the feminine capacity for arguing, not with reason, but emotionally, giving one the helpless feeling that comes over a man who is trying to argue with an angry woman.
- Are young Spaniards ever spanked? I wondered.
- I signed those hotel papers which must eventually light the fires of police stations all over Spain.
- I wondered whether the Inquisition is responsible for the lack of intellectual curiosity one sometimes senses in Spanish life and a belief, perhaps held by some Spaniards, that dogma is more important than morality and that the formalities of the Church are all that are needed for the Christian life.
- We trooped across the square, pausing to talk in little groups, for few Spaniards can walk and talk at the same time.
- I watched the Catalan crowds, fascinated by their outward differences with other Spaniards. The women have not the superb carriage of the Madrid women; they do not walk as if they are carrying an invisible water-jar on their heads, but as if they are late for an appointment.
- All Spanish crowds give one the impression of mixed ancestry and here it is no different.
- I thought a lot about the dignity of Spain. It is a dignity founded upon a sense of the mystery of life and on the belief that man is made in the image of God.What is precious and noble about Spain is something which has been saved from an earlier world.
- “I feel that my soul is medieval” said Miguel de Unamuno, “and that the soul of my country is medieval: I feel that Spain has passed perforce through the Renaissance, the Reformation, the [French?] Revolution, learning from them, but never letting its soul be touched: and Spanish Quixotism is nothing but the despairing struggle of the Middle Ages against the Reformation.”
The new French president - M. Macron - is said to be 'short' but is actually 175cm(5' 9). This compares with Hollande at 170cm(5' 7) and Sarkozy at 165cm(5' 5). Napoleon was somewhere between 157cm(5' 2) and 170cm(5' 7). So, Macron is not that short, relatively speaking. But can anyone else see a pattern here?? Do the French really prefer their leaders to be below average height? Dwarfs by comparison with the nearby Dutch, the tallest people in Europe.
In 1946 George Orwell wrote a famous article about the debasement of the English language by politicians. This was a while ago and things are much worse now. I thought of his comments when hearing Jeremy Corbyn say yesterday: Labour will invest for the future. Who on earth invests for the past?
Talking about politicians and their language . . . An American observer - David Roberts - wrote this amazing article about Trump's thinking during the elections. And he's now written about our doomed attempts to understand how the man's mind works. Or, rather, the patterns that we'd like to see in his thinking. But which aren't there. You can find the article at the end of this post. Riveting stuff. It's a bloody good job that Trump isn't really a Putinesque tyrant, as Roberts wouldn't have long to live if he were . . .
Finally . . . In his book cited above, Morton gives advice on how to get boiled eggs for breakfast in Spain. He suggests using the Spanish phrase: dos huevos pasados por agua caliente por tres minutos. Given that huevos is the standard Spanish euphemism for testicles, I imagine he got some startled responses.
THE ARTICLE ON TRUMP
We over-analyze Trump. He is what he appears to be. There is no correct Theory of Trump.
Why did Donald Trump fire FBI Director James Comey so abruptly, in such humiliating fashion, with no plan to communicate the reasoning behind the move and no list of replacements ready?
Why did Donald Trump fire FBI Director James Comey so abruptly, in such humiliating fashion, with no plan to communicate the reasoning behind the move and no list of replacements ready?
It is the question that launched a thousand think pieces. Even Trump surrogates were not prepared to answer it. Sean Spicer literally hid in the bushes (sorry, among the bushes).
The thing is, the answer is pretty obvious. The implications are terrifying, but the motivations are not complicated.
Trump did it because he was mad[angry].
He was mad that people on his TV keep talking about the Russia investigation. He was mad Comey didn’t back him up on his ludicrous claims that President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower, even when people on his TV were criticizing him for it. He was mad Comey hasn’t been more loyal, convinced Comey was to blame for his bad ratings. So he fired Comey.
That’s the picture the Washington Post paints (with 30 sources!), as well as Politico. But it remains extremely difficult to accept or internalize.
I wrote a tweetstorm about this (click here to see the full series). So I thought I’d flesh it out a bit here.
Why is it so hard to accept that Trump is acting out of pique, on impulse, because Comey on his TV gave him bad feels?
On Twitter I talked about “theory of mind,” a basic capacity humans develop around the age of 2 or 3 to recognize that other people are independent agents, distinct minds, with their own beliefs, desires, fears, etc. We learn to “read” behaviors as evidence of those internal states.
And because we are relentless pattern seekers, we are constantly developing theories of people, seeking to explain what they do through reference to their beliefs and plans.
This has badly misled us with Trump. Much of the dialogue around him, the journalism and analysis, even the statements of his own surrogates, amounts to a desperate attempt to construct a Theory of Trump, to explain what he does and says through some story about his long-term goals and beliefs.
We badly want to understand Trump, to grasp him. It might give us some sense of control, or at least an ability to predict what he will do next.
But what if there’s nothing to understand? What if there’s no 'there' there? What if our attempts to explain Trump have failed not because we haven’t hit on the right one, but because we are, theory-of-mind-wise, overinterpreting the text?
In short, what if Trump is exactly as he appears: a hopeless narcissist with the attention span of a fruit fly, unable to maintain consistent beliefs or commitments from moment to moment, acting on base instinct, entirely situationally, to bolster his terrifyingly fragile ego.
We’re not really prepared to deal with that.
There is clearly something wrong with Trump. But exactly what he is — or, if you prefer to medicalize it, what he has — is a matter of some controversy.
In a recent Rolling Stone article, Alex Morris explores the battle within the field of psychiatry over whether to diagnose Trump at a distance. (Vox’s own Brian Resnick also has a great piece on it.)
The nub of the disagreement comes down to whether Trump has a disorder.
There are nine traits used to identify narcissistic personality disorder (things like “requires excessive admiration” and “has a grandiose sense of self-importance”). Fitting five or more is considered sufficient for diagnosis. All nine describe Trump’s public behavior with eerie accuracy.
But a disorder, by definition, inhibits normal functioning, impedes success. And Trump is inarguably successful. He’s one of the most powerful people in the world. Whatever kind of personality he may have, some psychiatrists argue, he can’t have a disorder. He’s doing well for himself.
Whether you see this as evidence of Trump’s fitness or evidence of the power of inherited wealth in America, I’m not sure it makes much difference from a citizen’s point of view. Whether or not Trump has NPD, he clearly has the NP part.
Like all extreme narcissists, he feels a gnawing sense of inadequacy and thus requires constant adulation, admiration, and reinforcement for his oversize, hypersensitive ego. Like all extreme narcissists, he is exquisitely attuned to offense, to any hint of being the dominated party or the loser, and incredibly vengeful when he feels he’s been crossed (which is frequently).
Like all extreme narcissists, he sees every interaction, every situation, as a zero-sum contest in which there will be winners and losers. Like all extreme narcissists, he is prone to building a fantasy world in which he is always on top, always the winner. And like all extreme narcissists, he sees other people only through the lens of how they reflect or affect him.
But Trump is not merely a narcissist. There are other things going on.
Many narcissists are quite well-regulated. Using other people to one’s advantage takes not only in-the-moment charm but an ability to think ahead, as in a game of chess. Succeeding requires fooling other people, and fooling other people requires an ability to hold a complex social map in one’s head, to sustain a consistent performance over time.
Trump does have some crude cunning to manipulate people in the moment. He can sense what they want and what will elicit their approval.
But he lacks any ability to hold beliefs, commitments, or even deceptions in his head across contexts. (On Twitter, I compared him to a goldfish.) He is utterly unable to step back and put his gut emotions in larger perspective, to see himself as a person among people, in social contexts that demand some adaptation. He is impatient with attempts to influence him to take a larger view — he demands one-page memos, for instance.
Matt Yglesias says that Trump lies all the time. And it’s certainly true that he says false things all the time. But even to say “lie” seems to suggest a certain self-awareness, an ability to distinguish performance from reality, that Trump shows no signs of possessing.
Trump does have consistent attitudes, and that has given his actions some consistency. Above all, he is utterly terrified of, and hostile to, weakness.
Fear of weakness helps explain why Trump mocked John McCain for being taken prisoner, why he mocked a disabled reporter, why he’s been so consistently racist. Somewhere in his reptile brain, he views being captured, disabled, or persecuted as weakness, as being dominated.
It also explains his fondness for autocratic strongmen — the ones who dominate.
But these attitudes, these instincts, do not seem to yield persistent beliefs or principles. Trump is highly attuned to dominance and submission in the moment, but each moment is a new moment, unconstrained by prior commitments, statements, or actions.
Trump defies our theory of mind because he appears to lack a coherent, persistent self or worldview. He is a raging fire of need, protected and shaped by a lifetime of entitlement, with the emotional maturity and attention span of a 6-year-old, utterly unaware of the long-term implications of his actions.
Grappling with the truth of Trump
We are not accustomed to having someone so obviously disordered in a position of such power. Trump is surrounded by people — not only members of his administration but Congress, the press, pundits, conservative ideological groups, industry lobbyists — eager to invent stories to make sense of his behavior.
Politicos and journalists need a story in which Trump’s stumbling and grasping can be construed as a savvy media strategy, a “distraction” from some other wrongdoing he has going on, or a “pivot” from his current omnishambles. Those are all versions of political maneuvering with which they are familiar. They need for Trump to want things, to be after things, to have a plan.
Politicians, journalists, analysts, the public — everyone wants some kind of story, some Theory of Trump. And so Trump surrogates try to provide it, scrambling to weave a coherent narrative around his careening, erratic lies.
But there’s no 'there' there. He’s lunging this way and that, situation by situation. Firing Comey? Trump just got mad. He wanted Comey and the Russia investigation off his TV. There’s no deeper story than that.
This is an utterly terrifying conclusion. A Machiavellian Trump — one who was merely acting the fool, manipulating the public and media in service of some diabolical long-term agenda — is less frightening than a purely narcissistic and impulsive one.
No agenda guides him, no past commitments or statements restrain him, so no one, not even his closest allies (much less the American public or foreign governments) can trust him, even for a second. He will do what makes him feel dominant and respected, in the moment, with no consideration of anything else, not because he has chosen to reject other considerations, but because he is, by all appearances, incapable of considering them.
This makes him, as many others have noted, extremely vulnerable to being manipulated by whoever happens to talk to him last, whoever butters him up and makes him feel important. (And that includes the TV.)
It’s one thing when that involves a wild Twitter accusation or the firing of a staff member. All Trump’s crises so far have been internal and self-inflicted, more or less.
But what will happen when he gets into a confrontation with North Korea, when Kim Jong Un deliberately provokes him? Will his response be considered and strategic? Will he be able to get information and aid from allies? Will he be able to make and keep commitments during negotiations?
There’s no sign of hope for any of that.
More likely he will prove, as he has in literally every confrontation of the past several years, congenitally unable to back down or deescalate, even if doing so is clearly in everyone’s best interests.
More likely he will be desperate to maintain face and will listen to whatever his security staff whispers in his ear.
More likely he will make rash and fateful decisions with insufficient consultation and no clear plan.
That’s who he is: a disregulated bundle of impulses, being manipulated by a cast of crooks and incompetents, supported by a Republican Party willing to bet the stability of the country against upper-income tax cuts. We need to stop looking for a more complicated story.