Book review: Trump and Me by Mark Singer – a lot of laughs but then horror

Trump and Me is a viciously entertaining demolition of the branding savant with the peach pompadour who was to become the Republican party nominee for the most powerful elected office in the world

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 July, 2016, 7:45am
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 July, 2016, 7:45am

Trump and Me

by Mark Singer

Penguin

4 stars

From Brexit to terrorist massacres to the deaths of globally beloved musicians, 2016 has been a dispiriting year, and nothing about it has felt more dispiriting than the obligation to pay attention to the supremely asinine ramblings of Donald J Trump.

Through the vehicle of his unlikely presidential run, Manhattan’s most insecure billionaire has finally found a way to force the silent majority – those who would rather eat glass than watch his TV show – to pay attention. It feels like a dick move, but then the dick move is quintessentially Trump. There is probably a ghostwritten book “by” Trump called The Art of the Dick Move.

In 1997, for the purposes of a New Yorker profile, the writer Mark Singer was forced to pay attention to Trump for an extended period of time. As David Remnick, the magazine’s current editor, makes clear in his wry introduction to the lightly expanded version of this piece, issued in a nice-looking hardcover as Trump and Me, Singer would rather have been doing something else.

This is understandable, but luckily for us he endured and produced a viciously entertaining demolition of the branding savant with the peach pompadour who was to become the Republican party nominee for the most powerful elected office in the world.

Twenty years ago, Singer discovered what we have all been struggling with throughout this election cycle: the fact that on some fundamental level there is nothing to say about Trump. This is true mainly in the sense that he is a relentlessly hard-working salesman for himself, and has been so extensively covered by the media that there is nothing new to add. But Singer’s conclusion has deeper implications: he found his subject to be “a fellow with universal recognition but … a suspicion that an interior life was an intolerable inconvenience”.

The profile-writer seeks, on the whole, to solicit revelations, but back then Trump appeared, as he does now, to be a man whose hidden depths are all shallows. He likes money and “a piece of ass”. He plays golf. He tells lies, lightly and without shame. The price of his ubiquity seems to have been a sort of self-negation, his reduction to a persona – that of the cartoon millionaire, or as Singer puts it “an opera-buffa parody of wealth”. Introspection would be fatal to this fragile psychological projection. It would kill the brand.

Trump’s lying (not to mention his racism, his misogyny and his placid ignorance of more or less everything that is not ass, money or golf) ought to disqualify him as a presidential candidate. His obvious personal flaws make him unsuited to be commander-in-chief, and his past dealings and obscure personal finances suggest that he does not have what the primmer sections of the US establishment term “the moral character” for high office.

But Trump does not seek the good opinion of whiners and losers. It is often forgotten that he is a lifelong student of the power of positive thinking.

Trump is a proud nativist: a century ago he would have been screaming about Catholics and communists as well as the Chinese. We see this man who looks as if he has been sculpted out of a block of gouda cheese, and we hear the roar of acclaim, and the truth becomes somehow a secondary thing, an appendage, the chimera’s vestigial tail. Certainly truth, understood in a minimal way as a shared public standard for authentication, something that can be checked and agreed on, is irrelevant to Trump, and to the forces for which he provides a mask or figurehead.

This election (and other similar currents around the world) has the potential to open the way for someone or something entirely unanticipated. Singer gets a lot of laughs out of Trump – the ridiculous apartment, the humourless pomposity – but Trump is not the point. At best he is a sorcerer’s apprentice with little understanding of the forces he professes to control. At worst, he’s a sort of teetotal Yankee Yeltsin, a clown clearing the way for a future American Putin, someone with the potential to make a bonfire of the Enlightenment values that provide a fragile international barrier against savagery and horror.