I was recently driving on the autoroute from Lausanne to Geneva when the traffic slowed almost to a halt. The cause of the slowdown, as I discovered shortly afterwards, was an accident on the other carriageway. My first thought was how morbid people were to slow down to “rubberneck” the accident, but I then found myself doing exactly the same. I couldn’t resist looking across the central reservation. I really didn’t want to look, but I couldn’t resist.
I had the same feeling recently when I read Fire and Fury, the fly-on-the-wall account of the Trump presidency by Michael Wolff. When the book was published I had no intention of reading it, but a friend gave me a copy and, well, I couldn’t put it down. The author has been accused of making some of it up. Maybe he did, but I came away from the book thinking, “You couldn’t make this up”.
I remember reading years ago Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and a phase from it repeatedly went through my mind while I was reading Fire and Fury, “The horror! The horror!” Conrad’s book formed the inspiration for the film Apocalypse Now with Kurtz played by Marlon Brando. His character’s final words, “The horror! The horror!” were a judgment on his life and have become a classic in the history of cinema.
Luckily, the traffic accident on the other carriageway did not look too serious: a couple of damaged cars, but no ambulances and apparently no one hurt.
I read somewhere that the reason we humans rubberneck traffic accidents is part of our almost continual assessment of risks: we need to evaluate the risk of a similar accident happening to us. Perhaps that explains the success of Michael Wolff’s book: we all want to assess the risk we are running with President Trump in the White House.
After the accident I drove a little more cautiously than before, but other drivers obviously assessed the risk of an accident differently than I did. I soon had drivers “pushing” me along from behind and I gladly took an opportunity to move across to the slow lane. But then the slow lane got a little bit slow for me; I soon became bored and moved once again to the fast lane. A few minutes later I had another car “pushing” me along from behind.
As I moved back once again to the slow lane it occurred to me that this was another metaphor for life. Unlike most of the other drivers on the road that morning I was in no hurry. I had plenty of time and the slow lane was pleasantly stress-free. I could admire the scenery, listen peacefully to the radio, and it didn’t matter if I was ten minutes late to my lunch in Geneva.
But as soon as I decided that, I found myself almost unconsciously back in the fast lane—again with someone in a hurry pushing me on from behind. In that moment I decided that I was just like Trump: my own worst enemy.