by John Kendall Hawkins
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 Russian 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 American 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, Giuliani'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 p*ssy-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 crisis.
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 already 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 sh*t." 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. It's all a Cash-22 world, Jr. thinking.
Trump didn't stop self-burnishing his legacy there. Robinson describes a scene where
"Kristin Anderson [a Republican pollster] says that while sitting next to Trump on a sofa in a New York nightclub, he suddenly moved his hand up her dress and touched her vagina, leaving her "very grossed out and weirded out."
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