Does anyone doubt that Donald Trump, if elected president of a country with no laws protecting freedom of the press, would have quickly muzzled any news organizations that didn’t suck up to him the same way Mike Pence does?
I asked my friend Swamp Rabbit, only because the answer is so obvious. Trump’s tweets remind us that the leader of the so-called free world has no sense of irony, no self-awareness, no tolerance for viewpoints that challenge his delusions of grandeur.
Trump’s favorite put-down is “fake news,” but he can’t get through a public statement without telling a lie, or a series of lies, depending on how long he talks. He accuses reporters of being negative but built his whole campaign on the (correct) assumption that he could win by exploiting the fears and resentments of working-class whites.
“Blah, blah,” Swamp Rabbit said. “Let it go, dude. Get on with your miserable life.”
He was right. Bitching about the malicious fraud in the White House won’t change anything. It might not even be therapeutic.
The problem is I write fiction and consider Trump an affront to good fiction, just as he is to good government. I take it personally. He’s an insult to countless fiction writers who labor to make their characters come alive on the page.
“That don’t make no sense,” Swamp Rabbit said. “Just ’cause you don’t like him don’t mean he ain’t alive.”
I tried to explain: Fictional characters don’t have to be likable, but they do have to seem genuine and show some glimmer of inner life. They needn’t evolve into full-fledged heroes or villains, but they must change, or at least learn something new about themselves, in order to fully engage smart readers.
Trump seems neither genuine nor capable of change. He’s a villain, but a predictable villain, greedy, vulgar and vain. Incapable of self-examination. The presidential Trump is as mean and contemptible as the pre-presidential Trump. He’s a cartoon villain — a character drawn from reality TV, not from reality.
“What you sayin’?” Swamp Rabbit said. “What’s wrong with Trump being a cartoon? Most people like cartoons.”
I like cartoons,” I replied. “I just don’t like cartoons that become President of the United States.”
Clarification: Trump would fail as a primary character in realistic fiction, but he’s a good fit for satiric fiction, or for the theater of the absurd. He’s a dead ringer for the cartoonish title character in Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi.