Our columnist Jason Goodwin on phonies, Donald Trump, and being careful who you buy a used Mercedes from.


I’ve been reading Fire and Fury, Michael Wolff’s searing account of Donald Trump’s first year as American President, and it’s upset me and broken my sleep.

Obviously, Mr Trump only wants to be loved, but he thinks everyone is spellbound by his oratory. When he wanted to give the traditional comic speech at the Correspondents’ Dinner, even his own staff intervened and flew him off on Marine One to inspect a wheelbarrow factory instead. Even then, Mr Wolff says, he kept asking for updates on the jokes.

What I’m trying to say is that the President’s phoniness is so obvious to everyone but himself that the pathos of it strikes like pain. People of that sort can unwittingly do much what they like because the cruelty in contradicting their tragically over-constructed self-image is simply too great for ordinary mortals to inflict.

I had a Mercedes once, which I bought for £700 off a friend who couldn’t fit it in her new garage. It was, as Mr Trump might say, a great car, the best: long, low, extraordinarily comfortable, quiet, automatic, leathery and the last of the big saloons to be built in West Germany, apparently, before unification.

It was a peculiarly unappealing shade of pale tan, which I liked. A Middle Eastern friend said they were known as Beirut taxis.

Of course, if everyone had had one, they’d have been able to open up those Alaskan oil fields years ago. Eventually, a mechanic managed to trick me into believing that the car was beyond repair and I got rid of it.

“From the moment I saw the car, I knew it was a bad idea and from the moment the man selling it opened his mouth, or earlier, I knew I was going to buy it.”


Before long, however, I wanted it back. I got onto eBay and found one I liked the look of. Although it was more expensive, and merely blue, it was even longer than the old one. I didn’t really need it, so I thriftily closed the computer and forgot about it – for three whole days.

Then, I found myself passing through Poole station and, on an impulse, jumped off the train and went to find it. From the moment I saw the car, I knew it was a bad idea and from the moment the man selling it opened his mouth, or earlier, I knew I was going to buy it.

He was small and stout with a Capt Mainwaring moustache, of the sort I assumed had died out in Hove in the 1970s. He dyed his hair yellow, without much enthusiasm or application, and wore a bounder’s blazer with big buttons. ‘We call her The Duchess,’ he smirked, patting the bonnet of the car, which was sheltered beneath a sort of plastic lean-to. ‘I really only take her out now to collect visiting speakers who come to address our gatherings at the Masonic Lodge. Adds a bit of tone,’ he added, and winked.

His throaty voice was phoney. His priorities were unappealing. His hair was fake. Even the car, when he took me for a spin, was cronk. ‘Yahss, I keep that little bottle of oil in the boot to give her a top-up now and then. Her only fault.’

He was lying and I knew it, but his lies were so egregious I couldn’t quite bear to call him out. I simpered. I even allowed him to deliver the car personally and then drove him back to the station with my money in his pocket. A week later, the car came to a halt on Chideock Hill, billowing smoke.

The moral is that we must learn to suffer the transposed shame and stand up to these men of straw, otherwise we end up without wheels and governed by Trumps forever.