Magazine February 24, 2020, Issue

Stranger Than Fiction

President Donald Trump greets supporters during a campaign rally at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, January 30, 2020. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Congratulations: It’s February of 2020! The world is still spinning, Punxsutawney Phil has officially predicted an early spring, and it’s high time for a thought experiment: Four years ago, in February of 2016, could you have accurately predicted the state of American politics today? 

If your answer is yes, I applaud you. Donald Trump is president, and contrary to many of 2016’s more worried prognostications, he did not go rogue and appoint his sister to the Supreme Court. Instead, he delivered a thoroughly impressive slate of conservative judges to benches across the country. Meanwhile, in a series of developments that would have surprised many in 2016, Trump has engaged in criminal-justice reform, become the first president to speak at the March for Life, and continued to drive a large swath of people — many of whom work at CNN — completely bananas with his prolific tweeting. (Okay, okay. That last development is not a surprise. At all.) 

In response to the ostensibly positive fact that the world has thus far failed to explode like a microwaved potato during the Trump administration — at press time, largely thanks to the obfuscations of the Chinese Communist Party, no one seems quite sure whether the Wuhan coronavirus is a media-driven panic or the beginning of a real-life disaster movie starring a worried-looking Nicolas Cage, so let’s all knock on wood — the Democrats have allowed their heads to proverbially explode instead. 

“All they have to do is not be insane,” the conventional wisdom goes. Ha! Despite the fact that we live in a sprawling country with boatloads of smart and talented people to choose from, the Democrats — if you believe the early polls, anyway — appear to be lining up behind a frequently rambling and occasionally daffy former vice president, a crazed and aggressive 78-year-old socialist who honeymooned in the Soviet Union but also somehow feels okay about owning three houses, an overachieving former South Bend mayor, and a consistently truth-challenged senator whose attempts to rev up her campaign largely involve panicked, half-cocked ideas so far to the left they like parody. 

The Left, in short, has lost it. Over the noise of this fiasco, meanwhile, fellow rich people Donald Trump and Mike Bloomberg have passed the time by calling each other short and fat, respectively. If you don’t find this all at least somewhat hilarious, you might have a heart of stone. 

You truly can’t make this stuff up. (I mean, seriously: Bernie Sanders? Really?) With this in mind, and speaking of making stuff up, I’ve hatched an idea: Perhaps the universe is calling me to write the great American novel! It can’t be that hard, can it? Truth, after all, is stranger than fiction. 

Let’s cut to the chase: The best thing about deciding to write a novel is telling people that you’re writing a novel. It sounds so glamorous! It appears so impressive! It feels downright exhilarating, whether you’ve started writing down actual letters and forming them into actual words in an actual Word document or not!

The worst part about writing a novel, of course, is writing the novel. Procrastination rises. Paralysis reigns. Moreover, one of my greater fears — well, right after the fear that I will one day accidentally purchase a haunted ventriloquist dummy that will terrorize my household with kitchen shears when the bell tolls midnight under a full moon — is that my friends and family members will think the novel is all about them. 

Don’t laugh! It happens all the time, in everything from old Woody Allen movies to modern chick lit. Even Hemingway did it. Remember The Sun Also Rises? After spending months careening around Paris and Pamplona with the “lost generation” of the 1920s, ol’ Papa took a good, cynical look at his friends, frenemies, and acquaintances — including Lady Duff Twysden, the lithe, hard-drinking socialite who captured his fascination, spurred multiple lovelorn rivalries, and morphed into the book’s Lady Brett Ashley — and “blatantly used” “vast swaths of their personal backgrounds” as blueprints for his characters, notes author and Hemingway specialist Lesley M. M. Blume. 

The bullfights, the bars, the fisticuffs, and the general dissolution in The Sun Also Rises were never the stuff of a fevered imagination, in other words, but instead were based on terribly specific circumstances in the writer’s life. When in full roman à clef mode, Hemingway could be — to put it mildly — not very nice. “Hemingway generally declined,” Blume adds, “to warn his characters’ real-life prototypes that they were about to star in his big literary coup.” Well. That’s showbiz. 

But unlike that slacker Hemingway, I plan on making everything in my novel up — with a lone exception. Upon hearing that I am writing a novel, one rather ingenious friend requested that she appear in the book as the aptly named “TexAnn,” a bold and spunky “native Texan who loves shooting guns on her ranch, downing pinot noir, and registering website domain names late at night while her husband is asleep.” Who could say no to that? 

My kids, meanwhile, are chock-full of literary ideas. Thus far, their suggested characters include a criminally wronged yet somewhat deranged National Park ranger — his name, unsurprisingly, is “Stranger Ranger” — and a fiendishly clever scientist named “Edward P. Sonchi” who suspiciously resembles Elon Musk. The possibilities are endless. And while I may still be in the talking-rather-than-writing stage of literary development, one thing is certain, readers: In my quest to write the great American novel, politics will take a backseat. Man, oh man. That realm is weird enough in real life. 

In This Issue

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Books, Arts & Manners

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Elections

‘Slipping and Sliding down the Polls’

This is an excerpt from episode 233 of The Editors. Rich: So Jim Geraghty, I have the RealClearPolitics Biden versus Trump polling page up right here. I’m just going to read you some numbers going back to . . . This is a CNBC poll from the 10th and 12th of June. And I’m just going to run through to the ... Read More
Elections

‘Slipping and Sliding down the Polls’

This is an excerpt from episode 233 of The Editors. Rich: So Jim Geraghty, I have the RealClearPolitics Biden versus Trump polling page up right here. I’m just going to read you some numbers going back to . . . This is a CNBC poll from the 10th and 12th of June. And I’m just going to run through to the ... Read More

Stalin, Famine, and the New York Times

‘The world is being invaded by monsters, but I suppose you don’t want to hear about that,” Both clauses of that sentence are devastatingly true: The reference is equally to the horrors of the Soviet Union’s mass murders -- and to the West’s determination to turn its back to the monstrosity. The speaker ... Read More

Stalin, Famine, and the New York Times

‘The world is being invaded by monsters, but I suppose you don’t want to hear about that,” Both clauses of that sentence are devastatingly true: The reference is equally to the horrors of the Soviet Union’s mass murders -- and to the West’s determination to turn its back to the monstrosity. The speaker ... Read More

Hamilton on the Wrong Side of Cinema

Disney’s presentation of the Broadway blockbuster Hamilton marks a curious cultural turning point: The most heralded production in recent Broadway history has not been adapted into a movie — it’s a digital video recording of a 2016 stage performance — because it has to live up to its hype as an exclusive ... Read More

Hamilton on the Wrong Side of Cinema

Disney’s presentation of the Broadway blockbuster Hamilton marks a curious cultural turning point: The most heralded production in recent Broadway history has not been adapted into a movie — it’s a digital video recording of a 2016 stage performance — because it has to live up to its hype as an exclusive ... Read More

The Year of Stupid

It turned out that the novel coronavirus was only the second-most-infectious disease to spread through the U.S. this year. Satan’s Cupcake has, after all, been diagnosed in less than 1 percent of Americans. The not-so-novel imbecility virus is, on the other hand, ravaging the minds of everyone from news ... Read More

The Year of Stupid

It turned out that the novel coronavirus was only the second-most-infectious disease to spread through the U.S. this year. Satan’s Cupcake has, after all, been diagnosed in less than 1 percent of Americans. The not-so-novel imbecility virus is, on the other hand, ravaging the minds of everyone from news ... Read More
Elections

No, Trump Isn’t Going to Drop Out

After he’s repeatedly survived the unsurvivable, we are supposed to believe that President Donald Trump might quit the presidential race before it truly begins because of a spate of negative polling. This is the latest chatter among (unnamed) Republicans, according to a widely circulated Fox News report and ... Read More
Elections

No, Trump Isn’t Going to Drop Out

After he’s repeatedly survived the unsurvivable, we are supposed to believe that President Donald Trump might quit the presidential race before it truly begins because of a spate of negative polling. This is the latest chatter among (unnamed) Republicans, according to a widely circulated Fox News report and ... Read More