Nobody Hates Trump More Than Trump by David Shields, Thought Catalog Books, Brooklyn, New York, 2018, pb, 235 pp.$12.95 (USD)
With Nobody Hates Trump More Than Trump, David Shields has written the best book, so far, on the political and cultural implications of Trump’s presidency. The competition isn’t close, either. Shields nail what’s off-kilter and crazy about Donald Trump and the political psychosis he represents at least a hundred times, and in dozens of insightful ways. Think I’m exaggerating? Try this one: Shields writes that Trump “seems not to have an inner life,” which is an insight that explains things about Trump no one else I know of has gotten at. And there are dozens more, many of them cobbed from others, but placed into new contexts by the web Shields weaves with his own structurings. I’d love to draw out why this book is unique by extruding quotes from it. But it’s a web, and so loose and elastic that you have to read the whole to get it.
My private executive summary of Trump—written on the inside cover of the book at 3 A.M. and very much predicated on reading Shields since well before midnight, is this: Shields reveals both the ways and the reasons why Donald Trump has become the culture hero for all those angry Americans wearing wigs and toupees and dignity diapers and prosthetic arms and legs that don’t quite fit; all those people who have loose false teeth and hearing aids that don’t work; all those women who have breast implants and don’t know why; and all those older men with those rods that make their penises seem hard when they really aren’t, men who are perpetually pissed off at the things they can’t do, and all the beautiful women to whom they are wallpaper despite their wealth. And there are more of those people in America than most of us can imagine.
For readers who don’t know about David Shields, this book is a good point of entry. He’s been around for a while, and unlike most writers, who tend to get lucky with a book and then spend their careers trying to repeat what made them successful, Shields is one of those are writers who has evolved beyond the pastiche techniques of post-modernism. He’s done it by being at once fearless experimentive, and fearlessly himself. As a person, Shields is a talkative, slightly neurotic hyper-processing male of the not-particularly macho strain, willing to laugh at himself yet without using humour as armor: he has courage and an ability to concentrate when the ideological and ideational shit is in the fan. He’s exactly the same as a writer: the kind you learn to admire more as you read him more and recognize the technical breadth he deploys. He has, meanwhile, the widest range of curiosity of any American writer I’m aware of, and he almost never wastes your time.
That last one is an important trait. Commercial fiction, in America as elsewhere, has become far too slow-moving and it is getting slower as it puckers its lips to the nether parts of the marketplace more ardently. Most discursive and documentary writing isn’t much faster, clogged as it is by the Chicago Manual of Style and the need to sound authoritative. Shields, who began as one of the first unashamed post-modern American writers, has now authored more than twenty books, and you’ll be hard-pressed to fit any of them into a genre. The crazy thing is, he’s getting better and more interesting each time out. The loads are heavier, and velocity of meaning is greater. His uniquely ego-free deployment of self-reflexivity, gassed up by his native curiosity and acquired erudition, has moved the whole project of getting literary writing to the accelerated speed of daily life well beyond post-modernism. His self-reflexivity isn’t, as it has become with nearly everyone, a calcifying style or academic posture designed to free him of commitment. It’s fully integrated, and thus his prose moves at the same speed as perception; able to become an accelerant to meaning.
Shields is good enough, in this book, to earn the designation of being the writer most likely to be picked up and murdered should either the right or leftist fundamentalists take power in the United States. This is designation hasn’t been conferred on an American writer since Philip K. Dick. What I’m saying is that Shields is that good. He is one of a very small group of true 21st century writers worthy of the tag, and I salute him as a master.
So, Bravo. I’m sending copies of Nobody Hates Trump more than Trump to every adult reader I can think of.