Theater of Cruelty

Sewing together a fragmented reality

Nobody hates Trump more than Trump: An Intervention
COLLAGE / "Nobody hates Trump more than Trump" claims he hates himself, but the allegation is unfounded.


The new book by David Shields (b. 1956) takes the form of a detective story, in which the author is looking for Donald Trump's "original wound." Shields has chosen the same collage form as in his most famous book, Reality Hunger (2010). He throws out different perspectives – without uniting them in any synthesis. And he does not distinguish between fiction and non-fiction.

Shields opens fresh with a quote from the reality series The Apprentice (led by Trump from 2004 to 2015) – a source he cites 20 times, regardless of the source genre. Trump says: "Nobody takes things more personally than me. If someone says something personal about me, I hate them for the rest of their lives. ”It's typical of the collage method that Shields tells nothing about the context of the quote, namely episode 12 in season 5: Three women are considered for poor performance and one is fired . Trump's daughter Ivanka thinks one of them takes things too personally, but then Trump interrupts – since he takes things personally, he can't "knock them for that": Taking things personally is not a reason to be fired. Isn't this context relevant? That's what Shields apparently blows in, because he's decided that Trump's hatred is a projection of a huge self-hatred.

Associative relationships have taken over for the facts.

Trump has also appeared many times on the radio show The Howard Stern Show. Shields constantly cites away from these programs, again without critical attitude to the genre. Before Trump enters the studio in 1992, he says, "I must be crazy to be here, but I like Howard." Stern is monotonous about Trump's sexual life; he often tries to provoke statements from Trump and put words in his mouth. This context does not relate to Shields.

Steeles folder

The English ex-agent Christopher Steeles' Trump folder was published by BuzzFeed in January 2017, claiming, among other things, that Trump had hired two prostitutes to piss on the mattress in the presidential suite at the Moscow Ritz-Carlton Hotel in November 2013 because Barack and Michelle Obama had slept there. The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) will reportedly have a footage of this scene that could be used to pressure Trump. What then does Shields say about "the pee tape"?

Given that at one event, Trump called Democratic senator and law professor Elizabeth Warren "Pocahontas," Shields claims that Trump is "incapable of leaving a gorgeous moment alone." And then it comes: "He always needs to empty it out, flatten it, piss on it (paying Moscow prostitutes to piss on a bed on which Obama slept; visiting a Vegas club called The Act, which simulated golden showers were the trick [...]). " Here it goes too fast in the turns. Associative connections have completely taken over the facts, and through postmodern hallucinations Trump becomes "associatively guilty".

What was the source basis for Steele's dossier dated 20.06.16, about Trump's alleged excesses in Moscow in November 2013? Steele claimed that the Russians would use Trump's "sexual perversions" to obtain compromising material. The FSB monitored the Ritz-Carlton with cameras and microphones. Steele based the report on four anonymous sources, including employees of the hotel and a former senior Russian intelligence officer. Republicans have tried to cast doubt on Steele's credibility, but the former MI6 agent is nobody: Before joining in 2009, he was head of Russia's British intelligence service. In addition, Robert Mueller's investigation has shown that several of Steele's claims about the Trump administration's collusion with the Russians have come true. The best assessment of Steele's character and competence I have read so far is Jane Mayer's long article in The New Yorker 12.03.18.

Modernism and postmodernism's form experiments are no longer liberating.

Former FBI Chief James Comey says in his book A Higher Loyalty (2018) that Trump was "obsessed" with allegations of the Moscow hotel episode. He was anxious for his wife to believe the episode had taken place, and asked Comey to prove the case was up and running. Trump should also have told Comey that the episode could not be true, since he did not stay at the hotel. This is disproved by David Corn and Michael Isikoff in the book Russian Roulette (2018), which documents that Trump actually spent the night there. In April 2018, Comey answered "I honestly don't know" whether or not the hotel episode had taken place.

Corn and Isikoff also comment on the visit to the Las Vegas nightclub. The club should have had a show where "one female stands over the other female and simulates urinating while the other female catches the urine in two wine glasses". But the content of the show that night Trump was there is not documented. And how many nightclubs hasn't Trump been up to over the years? This evidence is extremely weak.

Then we have the press conference from the meeting in Finland on 16.07.18 where Putin and Trump were asked direct questions: "Does the Russian government have any compromising material on President Trump or his family?" Putin said he had not been aware that Trump was in Moscow in 2013 because he was there as a private person. Several have remarked that it is striking that neither Trump nor Putin explicitly answered no to the question.

Staging hate?

In the article "I'm a Peeliever and You Should Be, Too»(New York Magazine, Apr. 13.04.18, 30) journalist Jonathan Chait does what Shields should have done: He provides a critical assessment of the material. Another piece of evidence is that Trump has hated Obama since his speech during the White House correspondent dinner on April 2011, XNUMX, in which Obama ridiculed Trump's doubt that he was born in the United States and ironically compared it to issues like "we actually landed on the moon", "What really happened in Roswell" and "what about Bigfoot". But that is far from the hatred of the specific episode at the Moscow hotel two years later.

If Trump has made an effort to piss off Obama in this way, one would expect the episode to be interpreted. The action has strong mythological power, it resembles what Freud would call one primal scene: Trump pisses off the prostitutes on his rival in a kind of magical ritual. Why should Trump express his hatred in this way? Here it is for psychological interpretation. But Shields merely insists on relationships rather than discussing interpretive possibilities and weighing them against each other. Somewhere he talks derisively about psychobabble, but his own analyzes of Trump's childhood never reach beyond banal stencils. The author fails both in the source critical and in the symbolic or literary field. This is because he does not keep these two areas separate, but programmatically mixes fiction and facts.

In conclusion, Shields gives a portrait of himself as much as of Trump: “One of the unique ways Trump speaks is that he always listens to himself when he talks and is in an active, perpetual, tragicomic dialogue / debate with what he just said – in other words, he lacks the ability to believe anything. (Montaigne: 'We have, I don't know how, a duality in us, with the result that we don't believe what we believe and can't get rid of what we condemn.') In a way, Trump has the tendencies of one (very poorly) ) personal essayist. " Shields' new collage book demonstrates that manifesto from Reality Hunger have played bankrupt.

Reality is deconstructed by people like Trump and Shields all the time.

It's been a long time since Picasso and Eisenstein introduced the collage technique in painting and film respectively. Now technology has made every cut and glue every single day, so we don't need undigested collage books of the Shields brand. We need people who sew together a fragmented reality. The form experiments of modernism and postmodernism are no longer liberating. Reality is deconstructed by people like Trump and Shields all the time. That is why we need reconstructions.

Shields quotes James Parker, who in a 2016 article in The Atlantic claimed that Trump's rhetoric was from the future: "A time in which human consciousness is broken down into small fluid atavistic splinters of subjectivity and superstition and jokes that aren't really jokes." This is also a good feature of Shields' collage book. The postmodern author from Reality Hunger has, in the face of Trump, met himself in the door.

Eivind Tjønneland
Eivind Tjønneland
Historian of ideas and author. Regular critic in MODERN TIMES. (Former professor of literature at the University of Bergen.)

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