Trump is a doofus, an outlier in American politics making comments that seem outlandish to both the liberal and conservative ends of political propriety. He also has a weird and wildly excitable group of supporters. This group of supporters combines some of the wacko fringes of society, but they’re not exclusively limited to the far ends of the spectrum. At times, Trump sounds like an isolationist right-winger, an offensive jingoistic fear-mongerer, and at others, a mysoginstic ass. But his popularity remains.
And as so many of us look around in confusion, wondering how this dunder-head continues to get attention. How is this happening?
Well, there is another successful presidential candidate who can give us some insight: President Gentle.
Johnny Gentle is the President of the Organization of North American Nations (or ONAN), in the David Foster Wallace novel Infinite Jest. Gentle was a former successful crooner, who also lives with a serious fear of germs, who makes a surprise run for President. His platform was basically: make America cleaner. Like Trump, he is also a boob, who found the right moment and the right mixture of supporters to shock everyone and sweep into power.
Here’s Wallace’s description of Gentle. It’s not Trump, of course, but it’s not that far off:
The facial stills that Mario lap-dissolves between are of new ‘Clean U.S. Party,’ the strange-seeming but politically prescient annular agnation of ultra-right jingoist hunt-deer-with-automatic-weapons types and far-left macrobiotic Save-the-Ozone, -Rain-Forests, -Whales, -Spooted-Owl-and-High-pH-Waterways ponytailed granola-crunchers, a surreal union of of both Rush L.-and Hillary R.C.-disillusioned fringes that drew mainstream-media guffaws at their first Convention (held in a sterile venue), the seemingly LaRoucheisly marginal party whose first platform’s plan had been Let’s Shoot Our Waste Into Space, C.U.S.P., a kind of post-Perot national joke for three years, until — white-gloved finger on the pulse of an increasingly asthmatic and sunscreen-slathered and pissed-off American electorate–the C.U.S.P suddenly swept to quadrennial victory in an angry voter-spasm that made the U.W.S.A. and LaRoucers and Libertarians chew their hands in envy as the Dems and G.O.P.s stood on either side watching dumbly, like doubles partners who each think the other’s surely got it, the two established mainstream parties split open along tired philosophical lines in a dark time when all landfills got full and all grapes were raisins and sometimes in some places the falling rain clunked instead of splatted, and also, recall, a post-Soviet and -Jihad era when — somehow even worse — there was no real Foreign Menace of any real uniified potency to hate and fear, and the U.S. sort of turned on itself and its own philosophical fatigue and hideous redolent wastes with a spasm of panicked rage that in retrospect seems possible only in a time of gelopolitical supremacy and consequent silence, the loss of any external Menace to hate and fear. This motionless face on the E.T.A. screen is Johnny Gentle, Third Party Stunner…Who promised to clean up government and trim fat and sweep out waste and hose down our chemically troubled streets and to sleep darn little unt he’d fashioned a way to rid the American psychosphere of the unpleasant debris of a throw-away past, to restore the majestic ambers and purple fruits of a culture he now promises to rid the toxic effluvia choking our highways and littering our byways …A Johnny Gentle who was as of this new minute sending forth the call that ‘he wasn’t in this for a popularity contest’…who said he wasn’t going to stand here and ask us to make some tough choices because he was standing here promising he was going to make them for us. Who asked us simply to sit back and enjoy the show.
This goes on and on for a few pages, and it’s brilliant, hypnotic, and totally plausible to imagine that Wallace was channeling a future where Donald Trump runs for president.
In Infinite Jest, President Gentle creates ‘The Concavity,” a portion of New England that is cordoned off to become a giant landfill for America’s garbage. Trump has no plans (as of yet) to hide all of our planet’s garbage, but he’s every bit the showman.
Trump’s world is one of conspiracy,
The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 6, 2012
a lack of compassion,
The U.S. cannot allow EBOLA infected people back. People that go to far away places to help out are great-but must suffer the consequences!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 2, 2014
Sit back and enjoy the show.