A DOG'S LIFE

Today's subject is the virtues. They will make a change from Trump.

There is constant news of Trump because news, by definition, is something bad happening, and Trump, by definition, is something bad.

But because everyone's eyes are on the loathsome Trump, no one pays attention to the ordinary good things, the little nameless unremembered daily acts of kindness and of love (and that phrase feels, since it came to mind wholesale, like a quotation, but where it's from I can't tell you and I am loath to look it up because it would distract me from the rhythm of what I'm writing).

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However, I have now distracted myself from the rhythm of what I am writing, so I have looked it up and it turns out that it is, but for one word, from the works of dear old Willy Wordsworth. Interesting fellow, Wordsworth. When he was good he was very very good, but when he was bad he was awful (and that's a quotation too but this time I am definitely not going to pursue it. I have a column to write).

So, the virtues. They rarely make the news because they induce happiness rather than misery, and, as someone other than Wordsworth most memorably put it, happiness writes white. (I think it may have been Tolstoy, but please don't waste a stamp telling me I'm wrong. What matters is the truth of it, the lovely, economical three-word pith.)

A demonstrator at the White House in Washington DC earlier this month holds a sign protesting President Donald Trump's National Emergency Declaration. Photo/Getty Images
A demonstrator at the White House in Washington DC earlier this month holds a sign protesting President Donald Trump's National Emergency Declaration. Photo/Getty Images

We may think we know what the virtues are, but as a counter to the corruption, the greed, the vanity, the cruelty, the mendacity, the illiteracy and the sheer venal stupidity of Trump and Trumpists, let's try to identify some from first principles. To that end, here's a little exercise for you to do.

Make a list of a few people that you know, like and admire. Then suck the pencil for a bit and look up high to your left in the manner of a thinking person and seek to define precisely what quality it is that makes each likeable, admirable and so on. And while you do it I'll make a coffee and look up the author of happiness writes white. So take your time.

Intermission music.

There now. I'm back. I was wrong. It wasn't Tolstoy. It was Henry Marie Joseph Frédéric Expedite Millon de Montherlant, of course. Why didn't you tell me? But anyway, have you made your list?

No, of course you haven't. I realise that's not how things work here. How things work here is that I do the work. So I shall. Here's my list. Roger, Gren, Davy, Keith. One's dead. Another's a pseudonym. All four are blokes because most of my friends are blokes. And all four I've liked and admired.

The White House in Washington DC where US President Donald Trump resides. Photo/Getty Images
The White House in Washington DC where US President Donald Trump resides. Photo/Getty Images

Roger's dead. He abounded in virtues. But the greatest of them was his kindness. At social events Roger would deliberately seek out the least at ease. Then he'd put them at ease. He did this by taking an interest in them, by asking them gentle questions. And just by taking that interest he managed to make them feel well about themselves and be interesting. It was an extraordinary gift. And at its heart was kindness.

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Gren made me laugh. He made me laugh so much that breathing was difficult. We would go out for a silly expensive dinner and by the end of it I would be in pain from laughing. And what made me laugh was not jokes, of course - there is never anything secondhand in the truly comic. It was the precise use of language to skewer the truth. He said what wasn't said. And he said it with exquisite felicity.

Davy, on the other hand, laughed. He laughed unaffectedly, he laughed a lot and he laughed, above all, at himself. I've never known anyone who took himself less seriously. At the heart of both his happiness and his likeability were modesty and self-knowledge, which are, as it happens, the same thing. And all but idiots loved him for it.

Keith reasoned. You could actually see him doing it. Whereas most of us argue from a predetermined opinion, Keith argued from the evidence. It sounds obvious, but it's as rare as the kakapo. It shows what a mind can do if we use it, and it's beautiful to watch.

Reason, modesty, eloquence and kindness. They are not the only virtues by any means, but they're not a bad start. Each can render someone both likeable and admirable. And it will astonish no one when I point out that Trump is devoid of the lot. He cannot reason, he cannot frame a sentence, his only god is self, he bullies others, he doesn't laugh and he's about as funny as colo-rectal surgery.