Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Republic of Trump

Achtung Schweinehund! For you ze democracy is over!


So, the Male Trailing Spouse, a card-carrying member of the elite press, accurately predicted the presidency of Donald J. Trump way back in the summer of 2016. Am I upset about the rise and rise of a right-wing populist? No. I'm kind of glad to be living in an authoritarian country once again. Nine years in Thailand, a country where you had to watch what you said, what you did, where you went and what you did there, turned out to be good prep for life in the newly minted Republic of Trump. Suffice to say, I am thoroughly warmed up for a new reality in which everything is unpleasant or bad.


Dystopia Now? Not quite, old chap. The protagonist of a fictional dystopia is almost always unable to question the social and political order of the Brave New World in which he or she is living. The protagonist of a dystopia, in other words, is trapped and unable to escape his or her reality. The funny thing is that nobody round here, in Atlanta that is, seems to give a flying hoot about the prospect of being trapped in an America on lockdown. The ordinary American taxpayer is far too complacent, uncomprehending and brow beaten to plan his or her escape from the Republic of Trump. And why should they? For the world of 1984 has only just begun.


Trump's 1987 portrait

There's been a lot in the "elite press" about dystopian novels, like George Orwell's 1984, selling out on Amazon. It brought to mind past events in Bangkok -- where reading 1984 in public after the May 2014 coup could get you nicked by the junta (I kid ye not). Trump's USA is not quite Thailand, or Winston Smith's grey reality in Oceania just yet, but, that said, there's a lot about POTUS .45 that reminds me of Big Brother. He doesn't like facts. He rejects science. And he just wants to be an omnipotent and infallible father figure loved without question by the unwashed ranks of America.


But Trump isn't as clear cut as a modern day Big Brother. Trump is new. He's something else. A mash up of various fiends from satirical fiction. One ogre that comes to mind is "Shagpoke Whipple" from Nathanial West's 1934 novel A Cool Million. Whipple is a former U.S. president who takes advantage of an economic Depression to return to power as an elected dictator. Whipple is a "simple man." You don't get no "highfalutin' talk" from him. His leather shirted "National Revolutionary Party" promises full employment and "America for Americans! Back to the principles of Andy Jackson and Abe Lincoln." Donald J. Trump and "Shagpoke Whipple" have quite a bit in common, which is why a half forgotten gem like A Cool Million is well worth reading. 


There's much of Trump in the tyrannical president protagonist of Sinclair Lewis' 1935 novel It Can't Happen Here. Published when totalitarian and fascistic governments were busy consolidating power in Europe, it tells the story of a firebrand politician, "Berzelius Windrip," who runs for high office on a populist platform. Like Trump, Windrip wants to restore the prosperity of the white working class (the "League of Forgotten Men"), he whips up jingoistic sentiment, and scoffs at the "lies" and "highbrow intellectuality"of the mainstream press. Once Windrip moves into the White House, he morphs into full fascist dictator mode, jails political opponents and demands, "louder, more convincing Yeses from everybody about him." The book sold 320,000 copies when it was first published in 1935. It has sold 45,000 copies since the November 9th election.


Why the sudden boom in sales of dystopian fiction from the 20th Century? Failed by mainstream journalism, the Trump administration has American liberals looking for new bearings in old classics like A Cool Million, It Can't Happen Here, 1984 and Brave New World. In these uncertain and changing times, the sentimental and conscientious liberals are looking for an objective truth, one to define the new chaos of mass propaganda ("alternative facts") and demagogic populism. Then again, if more Americans had actually read some good old fashioned dystoptian fiction in the first place, then maybe the real-life likes of "Berzelius Windrip" wouldn’t have ended up as the 45th President of the USA... 


I will leave the last word on Trump's fictional alter-egos to the author Philip Roth. "Trump is just a con artist. The relevant book about Trump's American forebear is Herman Melville's 'The Confidence-Man,' the darkly pessimistic, daringly inventive novel -- Melville's last -- that could just as well have been called 'The Art of the Scam.'"Ah, another old book but not a dystopian fantasy. Melville's 1857 novel, set aboard a steamboat going down the Mississippi to New Orleans on April Fool's Day, concerns "a stranger," a highly skilled flimflam artist with a penchant for disguise, shaking down his fellow passengers. He doesn't do it for much gain. He only does it because he can get away with it. The novel wasn't well received when it came out and Melville stuck to poetry thereafter. It might be a good time to read it again. 



Until next time... 



The Male Trailing Spouse