I recently reviewed Mike Davis’ The Monster Enters (2020), an update of his book, The Monster at the Door (2017), which was a warning that we were terrifyingly close to suffering a flu virus pandemic that could wipe out millions of people, unless the world worked together to develop a universal vaccine (suspending the profit motive for the common good); the updated Enters addresses Covid-19, and its novel features, while continuing to maintain that we are still due for a bird flu pandemic and that, in fact, we may have entered a Pandemic Era. Davis pleads for scientific, political, and social preparation for an inevitable catastrophe ahead, given humanity’s continued destruction of habitats and ecosystems, driving unknown viral monsters our way.
We just don’t seem to care. Since before 9/11, when our government didn’t seem to act on repeated warnings of an imminent terrorist attack, resulting in a ‘lockdown’ of our democracy in a surveillance state that includes a repossession of the Internet by its founders, the Department of Defense, to fight a cyberspace war with enemies known and unknown — the first shot fired in earnest being Stuxnet, a near-homophonic expression of Sputnik, the Russiam satellite that terrified the US military back in 1957, spurring the Internet and acting as a declaration of the Cold War and the arms race that has followed. Now, the Internet is full of viruses, spies — domestic and foreign, governmental and corporate — and undetectable rootkits. The Cold Warriors are back.
But more disturbing to me than pandemics or cold wars was a recent scientific read suggesting that human consciousness might have begun as the result of a virus. I don’t want to read possibilities like this, but it just seems to come at me anyway, and, in this case, suggests a deeper pathology than the insult-driven rhetoric of Mr. Smith in the Matrix, who called humans viruses, citing their rapaciousness and parasitic activities on the planet. While I was gathering in those glowering clouds of thought, I picked up Trump: Anatomy of a Monstrosity by Nathan J. Robinson, wherein the author opens his 2017 Preface with: “This is not really a book about Donald Trump as a human being. It is about Donald Trump as a phenomenon.”
I saw a light: Donald Trump the virus! A persona, or shallow way of thinking — a style, like the one old-time psychologists used to describe as, say, the paranoid-style of thinking. Electing Trump, we coronated a virus, a paranoid, conspiratorial way of seeing that brings with it birtherism, Guiliani’s “pull it,” cries of Fake News — true, if not for the messenger — gossipy, selfish, avataristic, hunt-and-peck, all-day texting, tweeting, commenting, time and space re-oriented, a constant 1812 overture of immediate communicative gratification. Self-mocking digistimocracy. We may be twerked in the head as a whole and not even know it. How else to explain that Boob in the White House now taunting us with, “I may three-peat”? That’s what viruses do, in the absence of antifabody fightback.
So many books have been written about Trump, long ago and quite recently, that it’s an embarrassment of riches. And nobody’s ever been as rich as our broken bad, grown up Richie Rich president. We’ve had any number of biographies tracing the trajectory of his cruel career as a human and narcissist. In the last year alone, we’ve had a pussy-grabbed woman tell all and then some; a book of mean memories by his niece; revoltin’ John Bolton’s self-serving memoir; Deep Throat Woodward’s new bestseller; and his ex-lawyer Michael Cohen’s August memoir in which Trump is characterized by Cohen as “a cheat, a liar, a fraud, a bully, a racist, a predator, a con man.” Whew. What happened to lawyer-client confidentiality?
So where Robinson’s Monstrosity fits into this olio of privilege, vice, predation, and megalomania may not seem obvious to the literate Trump follower. But actually it’s a solid overview of the whole Trump Project, from childhood to his current alleged adulthood. Monstrosity is a short book, at about 294 pages, including two dozen pages of acknowledgements and source URLs. Robinson is a Guardian columnist and the editor of Current Affairs, and his tight sentences reflect the economy and color of writing for restricted spaces. The book has four sections: Who He Is, How It Happened, What It Means, What To Do About It. There is also a newly added Epilogue that comments on Trump’s handling of the Covid-19.
Robinson would like us to see Trump’s ascendancy as a Teaching Moment: here’s what happened and why, and this is what we can do about it. In his Preface to the updated edition, Robinson tells us he was a Sandernista, who believed that Bernie was the best candidate in 2016 and 2020, offering the best shot at defeating Trump. Robinson argued that
Sanders was the only candidate capable of offering people an inspiring new kind of politics that would starve Trump of the attention that serves as his oxygen.
He’s not a fanboy of Biden, believing that “defeating Trump requires thinking about the underlying causes of his rise, and the left needs to develop a compelling alternative political vision.” No Vision yet; election weeks away.
In the first section of American Monstrosity, Robinson spends more pagination on Who He Is than on any other theme in the book, which is appropriate, given the title. The depiction he provides contains few facts not only familiar to the reader from the MSM shoving it down our throats year-in and year-out, firing up our partisan divisions as cash cows for networks, as Matt Taibbi described so well in Hate, Inc., but at least Robinson is concise, colorful and analytical.
For instance, Robinson sees no need to go on and on with details of Trump’s childhood. It’s enough to quote what his dying second-grade teacher, Charles Walker, said of him: “When that kid was 10, even then he was a little shit.” We believe Walker. And can imagine little Donny Trump conning someone out of their Twinkies in the schoolyard at lunch. But it gets worse.
Robinson tells us that Trump is at least morally implicated in his brother Fred, Jr.’s death. The heir apparent had the moxie to make his own choices — eschewing ‘the family business’ to slum it as an airline pilot. “‘What is the difference between what you do and driving a bus?’ Donald would ask him,” writes Robinson, citing a 1990 Vanity Fair piece. Fred, Jr., reportedly became so distraught over his father and younger brother’s verbal abuse that he went ahead and drank himself to death. You can imagine the lad in his final days fantasizing to his headshrink about flying an empty TWA jumbo jet into Trump Tower.
Trump didn’t stop self-burnishing his legacy there. Robinson doesn’t pussyfoot around with the infamous pussygate tape we can now recite like the Pledge of Allegiance, but digs right in: Trump, he claims, raped his wife, Ivana, in 1989, the year the Wall came down. Upset his bald patch surgery had gone terribly wrong, DJ threatened the doctor’s life and livelihood, and blaming Ivana, who’d recommended the surgeon, went at her with scissors, forcibly “ripping out her hair.” Reporter Harry Hurt III describes the action:
The entire bed is being covered with strands of her golden locks. But The Donald is not finished. He rips off her clothes and unzips his pants.… “He raped me.”
You can see why The Daily Beast loves attacking Donald Trump.
Seemingly, totally unhinged by Trump’s presidency and everything he filthifies, Pulitzer prize-winning journalist James Risen not-so-long ago came right out and called him “a murderer,” after he unilaterally droned-to-death Iranian General Qassim Suleimani.” (The Intercept went along with the tag in its headline.) That’s a first for a sitting president from a MSM-style reporter. Nobody in the MSM called Obama a murderer after he took out two Americans in Yemen, including a teenager minding his own business at a coffee shop.
We just can’t say or write enough bad things about him. But Robinson tries to round up all the cattle curses, before simply writing, and just throwing his hands up with news article references to his character:
The common descriptors of Trump are repeated ad nauseum: boorish, obnoxious, egotistical, crude, bullying, greedy, megalomaniacal, arrogant, etc.
Yep. Trump comes across as a guy that his good ol’ bud Billy Barr would have wanted to lock up and throw away the key, had Trump been born Black and done the same deeds described above.
Robinson spends the rest of the section pointing out the many other facets of the monstrosity, including the scams, scandals and general bigotry underlying his wicked real estate empire. His racial profiling was legendary: Blacks didn’t rent Trump properties. Robinson tells us that the trashy ‘reality’ TV show, The Apprentice, only muscled up his megalomania, and provided him with fresh flesh to squeeze. He laughs at the notion that Trump knows anything at all about deal-making, pointing out that
Tony Schwartz, who ghostwrote The Art of the Deal, says Trump had no hand whatsoever in the writing process, and limited himself to spending “a couple of hours” reading a draft of the book once Schwartz had completed it.
Blatherscheissen around the clock, two little hands.
Like most of us, Robinson is gobsmacked by Trump’s comic book resilience. He doesn’t seem to be fazed by criticism. Even when he took abuse as the target of a Comedy Central Roast a few years back, the insults that might have hospitalized a more sensitive soul had no effect on DJ. He was there for publicity. He is, says Robinson, the lead choir boy in an echo chamber, a phenomenon. A kind of virus that starts with the ‘deplorables’ and then spreads until the rest of us, as crazed reactionaries to his shtick, are as deplorable as those who elected him. There seems to be no vaccine in the near future, just the hope of antifabody resistance in the electoral process, and a lot of praying to a God who hasn’t seemed to listen for millennia.
But we elected him, not God. We may yet, in our incipient, growing masochism, elect him again. It could prove the end of America. Whaddaya gonna do? We wouldn’t have been able to live up to our own exceptionalism forever anyway. If Obama was Tiberius….then.
Okay, then, Robinson asks, How Did It Happen? How did we come to that point where we elected this American Monstrosity as president? How fucking desperate must we be? Robinson attempts to answer that in Part II by examining facets of Trump’s candidacy, his tete-a-tete with Hillary, and a brief consideration of whether it was all inevitable. His rise can be explained, says Robinson, by his surrounding himself with Yes men (when they said No, they fell by the wayside), and by how he championed the strangulation of political correctness, becoming the Saint Grobian of the Ugly American, ready to call a spade a spade, cheered on, even when he meant it racially.
Robinson’s section on How It Happened is, unfortunately, a woefully inadequate explication and analysis of the 2016 campaign. Robinson claims to have been a Sandernista, and he captures none of the drama associated with the DNC’s summary dismissal of Bernie’s candidacy; they colluded with the Clinton campaign to bury Bernie’s nomination bid. Wikileaks is not mentioned at all, nor the DNC hack. Leaked documents showed how DNC officials suppressed Bernie’s movement, and even worked to get Hillary access to debate questions beforehand. There’s no mention of emails published that showed Hillary was receiving $200,000 speaking fees for appearing before Wall Street groups.
James Comey’s surprise October letter reopening the Clinton email investigation is mentioned, but the Weiner emails, the private server fiasco, and the fact that the DNC ignored FBI warning of intrusions on their network a year before the alleged hack, all potentially involving confidential information (indeed, rich donor data, including social security numbers were exposed as a result of poor DNC security) suggest that the FBI had a valid and prosecutable case that Clinton’s handling of information at the very least bordered on criminal negligence. Frankly, it’s conceivable that Repugs would have done to her presidency what Dems have done to Trumps.
So what can we make of What It Means? Robinson’s is an incomplete take on the debacle of 2016. Three plus years later, it sounds a bit stale to take seriously the lingering despair of the Democrats’ loss. Many pundits agree with Robinson that orthodox liberalism is now repudiated. But despite their humiliation, look at who they’ve nominated: Joe Biden, a coife neoliberal who insults women and Blacks — their hair and votes belong to him. Even Obama has whispered how he expects Biden to “fuck it up.” Robinson makes the obvious point that the Press is discredited — indeed, were it not for Trump as messenger, there would be a lot of truth to his claim that so much of it is Fake News.
Okay, Robinson asks, in the end, what do we do about this American Monstrosity?
When Trump considered calling in the 101st and 82nd Airborne divisions to end protests in cities throughout America, it recalls the National Guard units that were deployed in early 70s at college campuses to quell student demonstrations against the war — resulting, eventually, in the Kent State shootings that Woke the nation. The military is against such deployments. As James Mattis, Trump’s former Defense Secretary, told the Atlantic Monthly in June,
When I joined the military, some 50 years ago, I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution. Never did I dream that troops taking that same oath would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens….
This is chilling stuff at this stage of the Republic.
But it is also reminiscent of the last days of Richard Nixon, when he actively floated the idea to staffers of bringing in the 82 Airborne to surround the White House, perhaps to defend a coup. Kissinger gave orders at the time to the Joint Chief of Staff to “ignore military orders from the president.” At least one Watergate prosecutor was convinced that the country was on the verge of a coup. This all came to light in a Sy Hersh piece in the Atlantic. He wrote,
The notion that Nixon could at any time resort to extraordinary steps to preserve his presidency was far more widespread in the government than the public perceived in the early days of Watergate or perceives to today.
Another letdown by the Press, as Hersh’s piece came almost 10 years later.
Today, the MSM has openly expressed fear that Trump may not leave office if he loses the election in a few weeks. The New Yorker’s Masha Gessen openly inquires of the comfy middle class, “What Could Happen If Donald Trump Rejects Electoral Defeat?” Trump is calling a mail-in vote election ripe for fraud; ironical, according to Greg Palast, who convincingly shows (through data) that such mail-in fraud actually favors the Republicans. Citing an MIT study, Palast writes in How Trump Stole the 2020 Election, that 22 percent of mail-in ballots don’t get counted. Just yesterday, Palast considered the possibility that Trump could organize a coup d’etat employing, for the first time, the 12th Amendment. There’s a lot of paranoia and What Iffery out there.
So, it could get ugly if he loses, and even uglier if he’s re-elected. There is a very high chance of it all ending in violence of unknown proportions. And even if Trump steps aside and lets Biden keep his victory, there’s the smell of trouble ahead as Trump gets to play around in his lame duck period leading up to the Biden Inauguration in January; perhaps a little payback to Democrats (and Obama) for the Russiagate crisis thrust upon him, including a major foreign policy initiative by Obama before he left–sanctions on Russia. Look for Biden’s presidency to be absorbed by Repug’s looking for revenge (as they have promised).
As mentioned earlier, Robinson does a good job putting together an overview of Trump the phenomenon. It’s surface level stuff, for the most part, but would serve as a decent reference to anyone with a short memory of who Trump is behind the politics. American Monstrosity synthesizes a considerable number of threads of information — there are some 600 sources listed at the back of the book. It’s a strength (you can enrich your reading by going to sources) and a weakness (suggests a derivative approach).
Be sure that you vote, and put on your revolutionary gear, and then it’s back to lockdown.