1,200 books have been written about Trump and his presidency, but none with the depth and honesty of fiction.
Yes, there has certainly been a lot written about Donald Trump over the last four years. And some of it has been very revealing, offering up valuable glimpses of Trump’s presidency, as well as of his past. Yet somehow those offerings never really seem to get to the heart of the man and his impact on the country.And perhaps that’s because Trump is the ultimate shiny object. That is why, for the most part, those books tend to focus on the superficial aspects of him – what he says and does, his dysfunction or his brilliance, his incompetence or corruption, his skill, or lack of it, as a business man, or whatever aspect of him any one author has the time, experience and skill to explore. But that sort of approach always seems to fall short, in terms of understanding the man and the forces that propelled him to the highest elective office on the planet.
Perhaps one reason non-fiction fails to give us a deeper and broader understanding, comes from the fact that what is happening in the world today is so much bigger than Trump. Sure he’s at the center of much of it, or so it seems. And of course that is where he wants to be. And pro or con that is wherewe want him to be as well, certainly to some extent – if only because we can’t seem to avoid him and his influence on the world. But in order to really understand where we are today, we need to be able to see beyond him. We need to take a broader look at what is going on around the country and around the world. And we need to see that world from a variety of depths and perspectives.
That is difficult to do with non-fiction, because it’s a form of writing that generally forces the author to take a stand. As a result, it most often takes the form of, “This is the way I believe the world works today. But this is the way I think it shouldwork, and more importantly the only way it could work, if we are going to fix that world in the way I think it should be fixed.” What that often means is that the author is generally reluctant to express, or even objectively consider, alternate points of view.
Perhaps that is because in this social-mediated world of ours, that is the only way for anyone to keep their sanity, the only way to keep from taking shots from all sides. As a result non-fiction, in the vast majority of cases, is restricted to a single point of view. And that view is often presented in subjective, if not partisan terms. Even the quintessentially neutral Bob Woodward ended his second Trump-centered book Rage, by stating that Trump was unfit for office.
But coming at a subject from a single perspective doesn’t just invite partisanship, in a sense it requires it. And coming at it from a single angle often means limiting the depth with which the subject can be addressed. And by that I do not mean that the author can not go deeply enough into a subject – far from it. What I mean is that it tends to force the author to maintain a single depth and distance from the subject being considered.
Fiction allows the author to come at things from multiple angles
But fiction changes all that. It allows the author to come at things from multiple angles, and from a variety of depths and perspectives, and even a range of subject matter. And that may be the only way to come to any real understand of our massively complex, over mediated, hyper-partisan world. That seems especially true when trying to understand its dysfunction – certainly when it comes to politics.
Fictional writing allows the writer to look at that world through a vast array of characters coming from all sides of the divide, as well as from a variety of depths and perceptions.
And in the case of my novel The Contrarian Candidate, that starts with Charlie Wyatt the candidate at the center of the story. He is a Republican who voted for Trump, but quickly realized his mistake. That forced some serious introspection on his part, which led him to turn his life around. And that, in turn, led him to change the focus of his comedy, and finally challenge Trump for the Republican nomination – all of which makes him unique among the characters, and gives him a variety of perspectives all his own.
And to Charlie can be added the perspectives of his girlfriend, Laura, a former Clinton 2016 operative; Lenny, an economist and Charlie’s assistant campaign manager; a pair of college students who run CharlieTV out of the family basement; Arthur, a professor and guest analyst on their show; and Janet a high school student and fanatic Charlie supporter. And then of course there are the Trump supporters, Barry, a conspiracy theorist and janitor of the hall where that night’s debate is taking place, and Teddy Tuff, “car salesman extraordinaire” and conservative talk show host.
vastly varying points of view, levels of sophistication, knowledge, perspective and understanding
This diverse array of characters allowed for vastly varying points of view and levels of sophistication, which in turn allows for a wide variety of knowledge, perspective and understanding. For example, Janet’s high school-level fanaticism, is contrasted with the much more in-depth, nuanced and objective views of poly sci professor Arthur. This allows us to see Charlie’s support in context, and in relation to the world as a whole. It also allows for a discussion of the political climate through a broad range of subject matter – from assault weapons, to social media, to the impact of China’s ascendancy.
This allows us to see America and its politics in a much more unique and holistic way, which in turn allows for the possibility of a more accurate picture of what is truly going on. That is true, in part, because it also gives us a view of what is happening just below the surface, in the minds and hearts of those throughout the country who are struggling to understand our times, our world and their place within it.
And it seems to me that is what all forms of art, including fiction, are really about. They are about giving us a chance to see and understand ourselves and our world in the deepest and most prophetic of ways. Because they are about understanding the world we live in, along with our feelings about that world, in ways that come from the depths of who we are.
And in such chaotic, confusing and disruptive times, that may be the only way to come to any real understanding of who we are and where we stand, in the largely inexplicable world in which we now find ourselves.