By the end of this impassioned book, readers may question whether it has proven the thesis of its title, but there’s no question that the author meets fire with fire, leaving scorched earth on both sides of the critical divide.
In Reality Hunger (2010), Fakes (2012), and even the psycho-biographical Salinger (2013), Shields (Other People, 2017, etc.) has focused on what is really real and refused to settle for easy answers. He suggests that the left’s bad faith has paved the way for Trump: “the pitiful veneer of ‘genteel society’ that he has gleefully ripped away, how full of shit so many people on the left are, not because they’re wrong per se but because they’re so committed to an Oprah-ized, airbrushed, focus-grouped, ultimately empty language in which they can’t convince anyone of anything anymore.” But if liberals’ hypocrisies have left the country starving for something more authentic, then the joke’s on us—and maybe on Trump as well. “Trump is always playing Trump—fighting to win, but win what or why? He has no clue and knows he has no clue,” writes the author. “And he knows we know he has no clue. And his lostness, his irreducible sadness is what I find so compelling, almost moving, about him.” This may well be a singular perspective on the subject, and since Shields knows that Trump is such an easy target, he doesn’t spend much time taking potshots. Instead, he lets Trump write a large portion of the text, quoting him at length (sometimes out of context), while aiming his venom at those in the culture who might mediate and interpret. Thus, NPR: “Anything—anything—is better than onesy-twosy earnestness. I literally can’t stand to listen to it anymore.” And David Foster Wallace, “who killed himself—partly, I think, because he worshipped ‘fiction,’ which had completely deserted him.” If Trump is no more real than the reality TV that created the monster, then Shields clearly believes that the era of polite discourse is over and that the brutal truth is the only truth there is.
A compelling book offering something to offend nearly anyone.