Like most bullies, Trump favours hitting people when they are down. Understanding his deployment of sadism is fundamental to understanding his appeal. He brought together large numbers of people who would have liked to lash out, but didn’t have the courage. He made them feel that their anger and contempt – whatever its source – was legitimate. And, very importantly, he convinced people viscerally that the norms of civilised society were part of a rigged system.
When I went to look round President Viktor Yanukovych’s former estate, on a mild Sunday in October, the so-called Museum of Corruption was full of visitors. Children clambered onto giant his-and-hers thrones set up opposite the mansion; couples swooned over Italianate gardens; people solemnly fed alpacas. The Trump impeachment inquiry had recently begun. The editor of the Mirror Weekly, Julia Mostovaya, wrote that both Democrats and Republicans in the US were once again using Ukraine to play ‘domestic political golf’ with little regard for the country’s own interests – including its need, in the light of ongoing Russian aggression, to stay in the good graces of both American parties.