In Trump We Trust

Trump's platform? Arrest Castro; Oprah in the Cabinet; no hotels for China, among other modest proposals.

The America We Deserve
Renaissance Books; 286 pages, $24.95

To truly play humor straight, you have to be straight, which is what makes Donald Trump America’s greatest living comedian. He’s everything Andy Kaufman might have been if he’d forgotten that he was Andy Kaufman and really become the characters he played. The key to Trump’s brilliance as a parodist is his total lack of irony. Double meanings escape him. He’s truly unambivalent. A lounge-lizard Nietzschean, he sees the world as raw material for his own advancement. He’s a sort of innocent, a primitive. According to his immaculate animal logic, doing well is also doing good, for there can be no distinction between the two. Success is its own entire justification. It is that is. And our winners should be our leaders.

As befits this master of unconscious camp, the only jokes in Trump’s campaign book, The America We Deserve, are unintended, which is what makes them so hilarious. The title, for instance, which seems straightforward at first but reads, at second glance, like a reproach. (Spare us from what we deserve, we want to scream.) Then there are Trump’s comparisons of himself with the founding fathers. Jefferson had wisdom and talent, sure, but how would he have fared, Trump asks, in a negotiation with foreign bankers? (Students of Jefferson might say rather well.) And on it goes – a series of brilliant lines, uttered with absolute sincerity, that send up the campaign-book genre itself. Like Kaufman doing Elvis, Trump does a job on the literary form that it may never fully recover from. If only for this, the man deserves our thanks.

Let’s start at the end of the book and work forward. All candidates seek endorsements from famous types, but Trump, in the Epilogue, titled “Roll Call,” does the old-school politicos one better by offering various icons his endorsement and suggesting that they’ll reciprocate. He promises roles in the government to celebrities like Oprah and Spielberg. An all-star Cabinet. These folks are his friends, after all; they’ll heed his call, possibly after he’s softened them up with flattery. “Another person I’d call has a familiar name: Hoffa. That’s Jim Hoffa, the new president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.” Trump admires him, he writes, because “his knees don’t jerk.” Another fantasy appointment whose unlisted number Trump pledges to dial up is General Electric CEO Jack Welch, “a guy who is brilliant, who understands American business inside and out in a profound way, and who is also a great communicator.” The implication throughout the chapter is that these superachievers and zillionaires owe Trump favors and see him as a brother.

Trump’s language in the book sounds like a cross between a Mafia don’s and an old ballplayer’s. One hears him spitting out chew between clipped sentences. He’s always asking the reader to let him be frank, then going ahead and being frank anyway. Sometimes we don’t want him to be frank, like when he writes about bombing North Korea if its dictators don’t get with the program. Sure, it might unleash thunderclouds of fallout if we hit their nuclear reactors, but Trump feels it’s a gamble we ought to take. And Castro? The man’s a menace. Just arrest him. As for China, it’s Trump’s way or the highway. China is not currently a country, he lets us know, where he’d even consider opening a hotel – the ultimate dis.

Walk deafeningly and carry two big sticks – that’s the essence of Trump on foreign policy. It takes guts to advance such positions, he insists, though the reader suspects that what it really takes is confidence that you’ll never have to follow through on them. Trump is more nuanced on domestic issues – so nuanced, in fact, that often he makes no sense. His idea of campaign finance reform is to ban soft money outright while removing all limits for personal contributions. “Free speech is, alongside freedom of conscience, at the very foundation of our society. And when you say a person can only speak to the tune of $1,000 you may be severely limiting his vocabulary.” Why should money talk when it can yell? And just so we’ll know exactly who’s buying us out, Trump calls for a sort of national ticker tape listing the identities of donors and the amounts of their bids. One imagines the Internet might play a role here, resulting in online influence peddling that will be open to the general public. (Capital-gains-tax reduction. Ask: 3 and 1/8.)

It’s funny stuff, made funnier by Trump’s deadpan. He knows as well as the other candidates that no one reads these campaign books, anyway. No one with an open mind, that is. No one who’s undecided. They’re for fans. And since Trump being Trump is what the book’s about, the man proposes a nationwide lottery to rebuild the country’s espionage capabilities. Hey, why not? Trump’s health-care proposal – a single-payer system that even Hillary might shy away from – at least has the virtue of being huge. Trump likes huge. That goes for taxes too. Trump wants them big: a onetime levy of 14.25 percent on anyone worth over 10 million dollars. Daring us to figure his net worth, he lets on that such a tax would cost him, personally, hundreds of millions. He’s willing to pay it, though. He’s also willing to give up his casinos if he’s elected, or place them in a trust. Easy come, easy go. That’s how the big boys play it.

One way candidates distinguish themselves is to let us in on their obsessions. For Gore, it’s global warming. For Bush, it’s phonics. And for Trump, it’s urban terrorism. Though otherwise supremely confident, Trump turns neurotic and phobic at the prospect of briefcase nukes and hip flasks full of anthrax. Apparently, this is a family hang-up; Trump repeatedly cites a relative who obsessed about the issue, too. Aside from filling the cities with high-tech sensors, though, Trump doesn’t seem to know how to deal with terrorism other than to worry hard about it and hire enough spies to blanket the globe. One almost pities Trump here. The fellow is petrified. One wonders if the reason he covets the White House is that it’s the only place he can imagine feeling physically safe. Trump is only human, after all, as he’ll be the first, and last, to confess. Even he can’t quite get over his soft spots – for orphans, for family farmers, and for anyone who doesn’t have a hotel chain all his own. And that’s his book’s greatest joke, its masterstroke: Trump seems to think he’s writing out of pity, and campaigning because he cares. Sure, he’s self-centered, but that center is large enough to contain us all. Other candidates say this but don’t believe it. Trump believes it. I mean it: The guy’s hysterical.

In Trump We Trust