A week after the inauguration, Nineteen Eighty-Four and The Origins of Totalitarianism were number one and number 36 respectively on the US Amazon bestseller list, but the true-life Donald J. Trump story has more to do with what Scott Fitzgerald called ‘foul dust’ than with ideas or ideology. Reckoning with Trump means descending into the place that made him. What he represents, above all, is the triumph of an underworld of predators, hustlers, mobsters, clubhouse politicians and tabloid sleaze that festered in a corner of New York City, a vindication of his mentor, the Mafia lawyer Roy Cohn, a figure unknown to the vast majority of enthusiasts who jammed Trump’s rallies and hailed him as the authentic voice of the people.
The notion of a Trump literature begins, appropriately, with an imaginary novel, 1999: Casinos of the Third Reich, contrived by Kurt Andersen, an editor at Spy, a New York magazine of the 1980s and 1990s. Over several months in late 1989 and early 1990, Andersen kept referring to the non-existent Casinos of the Third Reich and its implausible protagonist, Donald Trump, whose narcissistic exhibitionism offered a never-ending source of unintentional self-satire. ‘Who’s my toughest competitor – if not in content, only in style?’ he asked. ‘Prince Charles,’ he answered. ‘I’m thinking of becoming an entertainer,’ he also said. ‘Liza Minnelli gets $75,000 a night to sing, and I’m really curious as to how I would do.’ ‘Yes,’ Andersen wrote, ‘in the blockbuster 1999: Casinos of the Third Reich, it’s nobleman-lounge singer Donald Trump!’ Andersen simply quoted Trump, referred to Casinos of the Third Reich and sat back. Trump did all the work. The fabulous novel had no plot and the protagonist’s character didn’t develop – just like in real life. Spy assumed its readers were in on the joke about the ‘short-fingered vulgarian’. (Marco Rubio flung Spy’s slight against Trump in a debate, without noting its provenance in the defunct magazine, if indeed he knew it. Trump heatedly replied: ‘If they’re small something else must be small. I guarantee you there’s no problem.’ The Trump spectacle often ends with insult imitating satire.)