Reviews — From the August 2016 issue

Don the Realtor

The rise of Trump

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In valediction, two characterological footnotes.

First, Trump and violence. As we know, he has championed mass deportations, torture, and murderous collective punishment; and then there are the bullying incitements at his Nuremberg-like rallies. . . . When did Trump become a fan of the kinetic? There is nothing substantial on this question, or on any other, in Crippled America. In The Art of the Deal he describes one of his rare interventions in the fine arts: he gave his music teacher a black eye (“because,” Trump bafflingly clarifies, “I didn’t think he knew anything about music”). But otherwise he comes across as someone naturally averse to the wet stuff of brutality; the chapter-long reminiscence entitled “Growing Up” quite convincingly suggests that it was the father’s rough way of doing things (rent collecting in assault conditions) that made the son decide to quit the outer boroughs. I think the taste for violence has come with the taste of real power. It is something new in him — a recent corruption.

Second, the connected topic — Trump and women. This isn’t new. This is something old that has recrudesced, an atavism that has “become raw again.” This is a wound with the scab off. And now he just can’t hold it in, can he, he just can’t stop himself — out they come, these smoke signals of aggression. And he is being empirically stupid. The question you want to ask Trump is clearly not “If you’re so smart, how come you ain’t rich?”; it is “If you’re so rich, how come you ain’t smart?” Has something very grave happened to Trump’s I.Q.? He’s been worrying about it, too, it seems. Responding on the air to David Cameron’s opinion of his ban on Muslims (“stupid, divisive, and wrong”), Trump touchily (and ploddingly) shot back: “Number one, I’m not stupid, okay? I can tell you that right now. Just the opposite.” Don’t you blush for the lavishness of his insecurity? But Trump is insecurity incarnate — his cornily neon-lit vulgarity (reminding you of the pinups on Lolita’s bedroom wall: “Goons in luxurious cars, maroon morons near blued pools”); his desperate garnering of praise (Crippled America quotes encomia from Travel and Leisure, Condé Nast Traveler, BusinessWeek, and Golf Digest, among many other outlets); his penile pride.

To Democrats at least, “Crossing the Line: How Donald Trump Behaved with Women in Private,” the detailed analysis in the New York Times (fifty interviews with “dozens of women”), was a sore disappointment. All we got from it was Miss Utah’s “Wow, that’s inappropriate” (Donald’s introductory kiss on the lips). Trump was born in 1946. Almost every reasonably energetic baby boomer I know, women included, would be utterly destroyed by an equivalent investigation; we behaved far more deplorably than Trump, and managed it without the wealth, the planes and penthouses, the ownership of modeling agencies and beauty pageants. The Times piece, in effect, “flipped” the narrative: the story, now, is one of exceptional diffidence — and fastidiousness (obsessive self-cleansing is a trait he twice owns up to in The Art of the Deal). A gawker, a groper, and a gloater; but not a lecher. In Trump’s Eros one detects a strong element of vicariousness. Once again he resembles that Greek antihero: “What you hope / To lay hold of has no existence. / Look away and what you love is nowhere” (Ted Hughes, Tales from Ovid).

Trump’s sexual bashfulness is an interesting surprise. But where, then, does it come from — the rancor, the contempt, the disgust? It is as if he has never been told (a) that women go to the bathroom (“Disgusting,” he said of a Clinton toilet break), and (b) that women lactate (“Disgusting,” he said of a lawyer who had to go and pump milk for her newborn). Has no one told him (c) that women vote? And I hope he finds that disgusting too, in November. This race will be the mother of a battle of the sexes, Donald against Hillary — and against her innumerable sisters at the ballot box.

Visitors to the United States in an election year are touched by how seriously Americans take their national responsibility, how they vacillate and agonize. They very seldom acknowledge that their responsibility is also global. At an early stage in Trump’s rise, his altogether exemplary campaign staff decided that any attempt to “normalize” their candidate would be futile: better, they shruggingly felt (as they deployed the tautologous house style), to “let Trump be Trump.” As a lover of America (and as an admirer of the planet), I offer this advice: Don’t shrug. Don’t stand by and let President Trump be President Trump.

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

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