American essayist Joshua Wolf Shenk, writing in the Los Angeles Review of Books, quotes Trump himself as a prologue to his plumber’s psycho-cleansing of the mental pipe work of the US Presidential candidate. The prologue reads:
Nobody builds walls better than me.
Thus Shenk begins exploring, bleaching and flushing amidst the U- and S- bends of perhaps the most highly-rated, yet least loved, candidate the Republican Party ever ran for America’s, and arguably the World’s, top job.
Shenk dismisses the standard versions of Trump: the narcissist, the ‘fool’, the crass truth-giver, the con, the know-nothing, while acknowledging that what you see and hear is very much the case. Trump is demagogic, xenophobic, sexist, a know-nothing and a liar. Shenk asserts that to properly plumb Trump, we need more than bare-faced reality.
I think we need to read him like a character in fiction.
Shenk reaches for metaphors, psychologists and philosophers, to arrive at his view that Trump is an absolute, subjective, executive idealist. Thus, he is both appealing and dangerous.
Shenk’s key insight is his focus on Trump’s use of the word ‘disgust’.
It’s impressive how often he uses the word, and how varied are his uses. “Rosie O’Donnell is disgusting” (“disgusting both inside and out”). “These weak-kneed politicians are disgusting.” The “system” is “disgusting.” Reporters are “disgusting, horrible people.” Windmills are “disgusting.” Trump is often disgusted by female bodies. Hillary Clinton’s bathroom break was “too disgusting” to talk about and he told a lawyer who needed to pump breast milk, “You’re disgusting.”
In Shenk’s terms, it is this fundamentalist disgust that gives us Donald Trump. Of course, Trump is not alone in basing his being on disgust. Many people hold views that proceed from disgust at difference and who then act in manners that show no discernment or control, in the ‘spitting out the broccoli’ behaviour of the five-year old.[pullquote]Trump is demagogic, xenophobic, sexist, a know-nothing and a liar. Shenk asserts that to properly plumb Trump, we need more than bare-faced reality.[/pullquote]
Trump is good at ‘spitting out the broccoli’ actions. He made a name for himself saying ‘You’re fired!” He wants to say “You’re under arrest” to his competitor, Hillary Clinton, the principal target of his, and many others, disgust.
Shenk is somewhat confused as to whether Trump’s views follow from his disgust or whether his disgust follows from his political views. He may be at the S-bend of Trump’s mental plumbing when considering that, but he is in good straight piping when he notes that Trump sees two sides to every story and that only one of them is right. His side.
In Trump’s world, every wall does have a right side.
Trump only takes advice from himself, spoken about in the third person, as if he is the Grand Narrator of his own life, and of ours, in his very own novel.
“I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain…”
Trump is always prepared to offer us his greatest accolade. He is prepared to give us his name. He is prepared to brand us.
It also seems fairly easy for him to incorporate something into his identity — just as he puts his name on buildings, properties, resorts — and then cast it out: the signs can always be removed; the bad deals quickly forgotten.
Trump’s conversations are solely with himself, not with others, not with the world and are often in contradiction of what he professes to be about.
But Trump doesn’t seem to care about building things. His businesses are basically shell games. His main sense of the value he’s created — I mean this literally, according to his defences of his estimated net worth — is his name.
For Shenk, all of this matters because it goes past the simple manifestation of Donald Trump, the individual. It will not pass with his passing, because it is part of the national myth for Americans.
We have two primal narratives as a nation. We’re inclusive, we’re a nation of immigrants, we’re out of many one, etc. But the United States is also that place that kicks ass and goes home, that repels incursion, that stands gloriously apart and separate.
Those narratives stretch wider than the United States of America in today’s globalised world. And Trump-level disgust at the other ultimately begins with disgust at the self.
For metaphor, Shenk might look to Chancy Gardiner, as played by Peter Sellers in the film version of Jerzy Kosinski’s novel, Being There. There he’ll find Trump-like disgust acted out with less bombast, in a more chilling, minor key, with the same bottom-line questions posed to us all.
The ending of the novel/film? The selection of the new president? Who benefits? Plumb that one.