For pure, unadulterated comedy nothing has emerged from the carnival of broadcast entertainment, print-media and online badinage of the past two years to beat the quotidian exhilarations of the saga of Donald J. Trump. Each day accelerated demands for stimulation are amply satisfied by the President’s actions and reactions as they trigger his detractors (‘losers and haters’) into ever more preposterous and self-righteous rage. In the short time since the proofs of Conrad Black’s lively new chronicle landed on my doormat, Trump has attended a ‘very, very successful’ G7 summit in Quebec at which he declared a ‘10 out of 10’ relationship with other leaders including Justin Trudeau who ‘did a really good job’. The next day he was in Singapore for his historic rapprochement with ‘little Rocket Man’ Kim Jong-un, tweeting that Trudeau was ‘very dishonest and weak’ for falsely briefing the media in his absence. Then he let it be known that he was ‘fed up’ with the British Prime Minister’s ‘school-mistress tone’. On his return to the US his accusations of a ‘deep state’ conspiracy were spectacularly vindicated by the discovery of an email written during the presidential campaign from one senior FBI official to another that declared ‘we’ll stop him’ from ever reaching the White House. Trump’s approval ratings (according to Gallup) rose to their highest and immediately dipped over accusations that his ‘zero toleration’ immigration policy was cruelly separating children of illegal arrivals from their parents at the US border.
These dramatic events, and many others, have come too late for inclusion in Mr Black’s splendid account. How it must have pained him to lay down his pen just as the sails of his subject were puffed with so great a wind. But every Trump day is as exciting as the last and his mind was resolved: he would cover Trump’s career as property developer, TV star, best-selling author, boxing, golfing and beauty pageant promoter, hotel mogul and politician, only up to the end of his first year in office. Let us pray that Mr Black’s energy and comittment are as durable as the President’s and that he will continue with galloping sequels for every year that the Trumpster holds his position centre stage, for not only is Black a gifted and experienced chronicler of American presidential history, he is also a fine writer of English prose, with keen judgment for what is relevant, what it interesting and what is funny. He is also (like Trump) a New World corporate businessman who (like Trump) has been a successful television host and endured several dramatic scrapes with the law.
While frequently critical of the President’s unconventional manner and style, Black is broadly in support of his actions, clearly enjoying those attributes of temperament and morality (both good and bad) that have guided this ludicrous and outstanding personality through what must be described, even by his fiercest critics, as one of the most successful ‘all-rounder’ careers in history. Trump’s outlandish character and formidable business skills have, according to Black, equipped him to deal with the challenges of high office in ways quite unknown to those of his White House predecessors whose life-experiences offered little of use beyond the narrow confines of family and Washington politics.
Black’s book hardly touches on Trump’s childhood, his schooling, family relations or private life. Is it prudery or forgetfulness, I wonder, that permits the author to pass over the Stormy Daniels affair in silence and to avoid explaining why the FBI were prying into Anthony Weiner’s computer? I suspect the former. But despite the occasional lapses into priggish censure, Black’s book is overwhelmingly enjoyable, enlivened with informative and fast-paced storytelling and underpinned by a classic sitcom structure – a simple formula that has guaranteed laughter since the days of Plautus and Aristophanes – I am referring to the procession of emotional states that passes from contentment to surprise to rage. Imagine a happy man sunbathing in his trunks on a deckchair; note his alarm as shit splatters his face; now witness his fury, purple face and shrieking voice as he jumps to his feet to shake a fist at a passing bird. It is this precise scenario (timesed by a million) that Black so artfully exploits for the mirth of his readers.
According to Black, the media and the political ‘elites’ of both Republican and Democratic sentiment complacently expected a shoe-in for another Bush or Clinton, to add eight more to the epoch of 32 successive years in which a member of one or other of those families had served as President, Vice President, or Secretary of State. High above this serenely smug scene appears the soaring Donald. From his elevated position he enjoys unique and extended views across the land, but to those who cannot fly he looks absurdly small. He shits on their heads and now they are furious. This perfect Aesopian fable warns of the perils that await those who overestimate themselves while underestimating others and those who fail to look at the world or listen to its rumblings through the eyes or ears of any but their own kind. Black explains how Trump has consistently and hilariously outplayed his enemies, how he has provoked and then exploited the friction between him and them to raise himself to ever greater heights. It is, above all, the story of Trump and his detractors that provides the fibrillating heart of this short, comic and decisive masterpiece.