The world’s most famous primatologist has revised her diagnosis of Donald Trump. During the presidential campaign, Jane Goodall had referred to the future president as an “aggressive chimp”. And exactly like a primate seeking dominance, Trump did indeed deploy bluster and bravado to reach the White House. This week, in an interview with Jezebel (formerly Gawker’s women-centric vertical), Goodall added “swaggering” to her earlier diagnosis, and observed that since swaggering chimps stand alone, they soon fall off the map. Chimps who form strategic relationships do better.
She made the observation just days before Trump’s debut speech at the United Nations, in which he undiplomatically disparaged North Korea’s maximum leader as “Rocket Man”, perhaps an allusion to a popular Elton John number. In that case, is Trump the ‘Honky Cat’ of another Elton song, who’s trying to leave behind his “redneck ways”? And if it just had to be Elton, wouldn’t ‘Circle of Life’ have been more appropriate for the UN General Assembly?
The reckless bombast grabbed all the headlines, naturally, putting in the shade a much finer speech by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who dismissed Trump with lofty contempt, warning against “rogue newcomers to the world of politics”. The UN website has the video and the Israeli newspaper Haaretz published the transcript, where he declares, “Our ambassadors are our poets, our mystics and our philosophers. We have reached the shores of this sode of the Atlantic through Rumi, and spread our influence throughout Asia with Saadi.” Soft diplomacy apart, he reasserted his commitment to Iran’s nuclear programme while insisting that his government would follow the path of moderation and peace — “a just and inclusive path, not peace for one nation, and war and turmoil for others.”
At home, the unspeakable has finally happened: Arnab Goswami has taken the vow of silence. It must be temporary for, to appropriate without permission a line from the great Dylan Thomas, his temperament causes him to rage, rage against the dying of the fight. Without permission, Goswami had appropriated some interesting minutes from the life of his former NDTV colleague Rajdeep Sardesai. Addressing a gathering far from the metros, he referred to an alleged attack on his car while he was allegedly covering the 2002 Gujarat riots. Sardesai protested that it was his car, and that he was inside it, and the crew assigned to the story backed him up.
How could Goswami imagine that he would get away with it, when Sardesai is so clearly identified with the Gujarat story? Maybe it was the disease that compromised Varun Gandhi and Abhijit Mukherjee — the peculiar belief that if you are away from the centre and among your own constituents, you are off-camera. Gandhi had spoken intemperately of communal violence, and Mukherjee had referred to the “dented and painted ladies” of the metros. Footage from both incidents had stayed in the headlines for weeks on end.
Goswami will find it equally hard to leave this debacle behind, and is wise to keep his lip securely buttoned. The like-minded have sprung to his defence in other media, but all they have managed is some feeble flanking movements in the la-la land of whataboutery. Meanwhile, the makers of Arnab memes are churning out an avalanche with the hashtag #ArnabDidIt. Arnab was apparently the last man on the moon and taught Rajinikanth how to do the cigarette flip to the lip. And the Constitution borrowed the word ‘republic’ from him, a copyright infringement which he will not contest because he only does battle with peers and giants.
Meanwhile, TV trolls who have created themselves in his image continue to fight the good fight. With their help, the main story of the Rohingya crisis, which is one of lakhs of poor people fleeing for fear of their lives, has given way to the subplot — radicalisation. Obviously, a tiny minority of desperate people shorn of dignity and helpless in the face of violence would be ripe for the picking, whether in Rakhine or Gaza. But it takes some moral gymnastics to turn that into the main story.
Now, to a couple of stories with the element of surprise, which appeared about the same time. Researchers in Munich studying burials have found that in Bronze Age Europe, men tended to stay where they were born, while women died hundreds of kilometres from their birthplaces. And the famous burial of a highly placed Viking warrior in Birka, in Sweden, has turned out to be that of a woman. Since she was buried with a strategic game board in her lap, she is presumed to be a commander. Bang go the ideas that stay-at-home men and women in uniform are modern, progressive, liberal innovations. Get used to the idea of a Norse woman travelling far to swing a battle axe into someone’s face, possibly another woman’s. Strangely, these stories did not get much play in India.
Outside genteel circles, gender politics is still a fraught subject here.