Reviews — From the August 2016 issue

Don the Realtor

The rise of Trump

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And so we turn to Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again, a bestseller so recent that it includes a dig at Megyn Kelly. But first a word about the cover.

“Some readers,” writes Trump sternly in his opening sentence, “may be wondering why the picture we used on the cover of this book is so angry and so mean looking.” Only the other day, he “had some beautiful pictures taken” — pictures like the one that bedizens The Art of the Deal — in which he “looked like a very nice person”; and Trump’s family implored him to pick one of those. But no. He wanted to look like a very sour person to reflect the “anger and unhappiness that I feel.” And there he is in HD color, hammily scowling out from under an omelet of makeup and tanning cream (and from under the little woodland creature that sleeps on his head).

Harper’s readers will now have to adjust themselves to a peculiar experiment with the declarative English sentence. Trump’s written sentences are not like his spoken sentences, nearly all of which have eight or nine things wrong with them. His written, or dictated, sentences, while grammatically stolid enough, attempt something cannier: very often indeed, they lack the ingredient known as content. In this company, “I am what I am” and “What I say is what I say” seem relatively rich. At first, you marvel at the people who think it worth saying — that what they say is what they say. But at least an attitude is being communicated, a subtext that reads, Take me for all in all. Incidentally, this attitude is exclusively male. You have heard Chris Christie say it; but can you hear a woman say, in confident self-extenuation, that she is what she is?

Fascinating. And maybe there’s some legible sedimentary interest in “Donald Trump is for real.” Or maybe not. As well as being “for real,” Trump has “no problem telling it like it is.” To put it slightly differently, “I don’t think many people would disagree that I tell it like it is.” He has already claimed that he looks like a very nice guy, on page ix, but on page xiv he elaborates with “I’m a really nice guy,” and on page 89 he doubles down with “I’m a nice guy. I really am.” “I’m not afraid to say exactly what I believe.” “The fact is I give people what they need and deserve to hear . . . and that is The Truth.” See if you can find anything other than baseless assertion in this extract from the chapter “Our Infrastructure Is Crumbling”:

In Washington, D.C., I’m converting the Old Post Office Building on Pennsylvania Avenue into one of the world’s greatest hotels. I got the building from the General Services Administration (GSA). Many people wanted to buy it, but the GSA wanted to make sure whoever they sold it to had the ability to turn it into something special, so they sold it to me. I got it for four reasons. Number one — we’re really good. Number two — we had a really great plan. Number three — we had a great financial statement. Number four — we’re EXCELLENT, not just very good, at fulfilling or even exceeding our agreements. The GSA, who are true professionals, saw that from the beginning.

That’s the way the country should be run.

Before we turn to the naked manifestations of advanced paranoia, we had better tick off the ascertainable planks in Trump’s national platform; they are not policies, quite, more a jumble of positions and intentions. On climate change: he would instantly desist from any preventive action, which is “just an expensive way of making tree-huggers feel good.” On immigration: he tries to soften the edges, but the nativist battle cry is intact and entire (“Construction of the wall needs to start as soon as possible. And Mexico has to pay for it”). On health care: he would stoke up interstate competition among insurers, and let the market sort it all out. On governmental style: he would restore “a sense of dignity to the White House,” bringing back the old “pomp and circumstance.” On religion: “In business, I don’t actively make decisions based on my religious beliefs,” he writes, almost comatose with insincerity, “but those beliefs are there — big-time.” On gun control: here, Trump quotes that famously controversial line about the necessity of “well regulated militias,” and then appends the one-word paragraph, “Period.”

But by now the one-word paragraph has taken up long-term residence in Trump’s prose:

People say I don’t provide specific policies. . . . I know that’s not the way the professional politicians do it. . . . But there’s nobody like me.

Nobody.

Or:

I have proven everybody wrong.

EVERYBODY!

If we agree that referring to yourself in the third person is not usually a sign of psychological well-being, how do we assess the following?

Donald Trump builds buildings.

Donald Trump develops magnificent golf courses.

Donald Trump makes investments that create jobs.

And Donald Trump creates jobs for legal immigrants and all Americans.

Well, Martin Amis thinks, for a start, that the author of Crippled America is a lot crazier than the author of The Art of the Deal.

Martin Amis is aware that Crippled America was published on November 3, 2015, at which point only a couple of blatant no-hopers had quit that crowded field.

Martin Amis is sure that Crippled America, if updated by Trump the nominee, would be dramatically crazier.

And Martin Amis concludes that after a couple of days of pomp and circumstance in the White House, Trump’s brain would be nothing more than a bog of testosterone.

Emotionally primitive and intellectually barbaric, the Trump manifesto would be a reasonably good sick joke — if it weren’t for one deeply disturbing observation, which occurs on page 163. Every now and again Americans feel the need to exalt and heroize an ignoramus. After Joe the Plumber, here is Don the Realtor — a “very successful” realtor, who, it is superstitiously hoped, can apply the shark-and-vulture practices of big business to the sphere of world statesmanship. I will italicize Trump’s key sentence: after he announced his candidacy, “A lot of people tried very hard to paint a bleak picture of what would happen.” New paragraph: “Then the American people spoke.” We remember the bitter witticism about democracy: “The people have spoken. The bastards.”

Who are they? Paradoxically, the constituency of America’s foremost Winner is to be found among America’s losers. White, heterosexual, and male, they have discovered that the prestige of being white, heterosexual, and male has been inexplicably sapped. At the same time they imagine that their redemption lies with Trump, Inc., which has the obvious credentials (“We manage ice-skating rinks, we produce TV shows, we make leather goods, we create fragrances, and we own beautiful restaurants”) to turn it around for the non-rich and the non-educated (as well as for the non-colored, the non-gay, and the non-female).

Telling it like it is? Yes, but telling what like what is? What he is actually telling us is that the residual Republican hankers for a political contender who knows nothing at all about politics. In 2012, Joe the Plumber, Joe Wurzelbacher, failed to win his race for the Ninth Congressional District in Ohio. In 2016, as I write, Donald Trump has odds of nine to four (and shortening) for the U.S. presidency.

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has published fourteen novels, most recently The Zone of Interest and Lionel Asbo: State of England.

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