Every Time I Read Him, I Feel Smarter

By Judith Sara Gelt

May 4, 2019

Every Time I Read Him, I Feel Smarter

Nobody Hates Trump More Than Trump: An Intervention by David Shields

Since the 2016 election, most of us have made up our minds about President Donald J. Trump. He’s either shrewd or incompetent. And, as a human being, either noble or immoral. Thus, according to polls (and my family’s political rifts), these dichotomies have left us with our nation’s “great divide.”

However, in spite of my belief that Trump is incompetent and immoral, I wonder whether I would have picked up David Shields’s Nobody Hates Trump More Than Trump on my own; I fear there is nothing more to say about the president other than, in my opinion, he’s incompetent and immoral. I only needed to hear him brag, “You can grab their pussy,” and then watch as he continued his campaign to make my decision.

Shields’s book begins with commentary from multiple directions. I struggled to find connections. First, he writes about what a professional mediator of injury cases explained about plaintiffs being convinced their lives were perfect before an accident—and the job of convincing them of the errors in their thinking. Next, he jumps to a direct quote from Trump: “When somebody says something personal about me, I hate them for the rest of my life. It’s probably wrong, but I hate people. Do you understand that? I hate ’em. I never recover from it.”

Then, we come to a Noam Chomsky quote about how impossible it is to explain human behavior. And next, another seemingly random quote from Trump: “I like to pride myself on rolling with the punches.” He declares this during a conversation about Citizen Kane—Trump’s favorite movie—with the documentary filmmaker Errol Morris, which ends up with Morris asking Trump, “If you could give Charles Foster Kane advice, what would you say to him?” Trump answers: “Get yourself a different woman,” more superficial understanding.

Shields sums up this dialogue by commenting, with noticeable irritation: “(He’s kind of getting it, he’s getting it, he’s really getting it; forget it, he doesn’t get it.)”

However, Shields’s comment about what Trump has said and how Shields is interpreting Trump’s responses are rare. For the most part, Shields just presents the material and leaves conclusions for readers to make. Any commentary by Shields appears to be whatever he has found that will feed the discussion at hand. And it is an intellectual discussion, although readable. Shields’s intellect is vast. I find it challenging, and I find it fun.

Shields takes an accumulate-the-evidence approach to substantiate Trump’s absurdities and faults and uncovers a few explanations for these things from Trump’s past. Rather than clone what has already been documented—tweets and news reports, from right-leaning and left-leaning sources—Shields racks up an alternative collection of sources to support his thesis. This wide range of quotable material is, in part, what has me turning the pages: I’m on alert to see who the next messenger is as well as what they will reveal about Trump.

A few examples of the array of Shields’s sources: Sean Hannity and Donald Rumsfeld (off-air conversation from an anonymous Fox News source); Peter Sagal, Paula Poundstone, and Helen Hong of NPR’s Wait Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me!; a childhood friend talking about Mary Anne Trump, Donald’s mother; a tweet about Lena Dunham; Trump on The Howard Stern Show; and appearances by Rachel Maddow, Michael Moore, and RuPaul. There are many literary, science, and other sources as well.

While reading this book, I also felt driven to return to Shields’s Reality Hunger (2010). That bestseller is similar to Nobody Hates Trump More Than Trump: It’s a list-like argument. Shields lays out his case, that fiction is a trivial form and citing sources as they arise is unnecessary. In Reality Hunger, there are no sources cited until the back of the book. This created more tension for me as I guessed who said what and plowed ahead doubting my literary intellect. However, in Nobody Hates Trump More Than Trump, Shields isn’t making a point about citing sources, and most quotations’ origins are revealed in the text as well as listed in the back.

One characteristic of Shields’s writing that stops me and pulls me away from his ideas are the assumptions behind his bold claims that he drops in as simple opinions. For example, “In the last episode of (the actually not very good series) Gypsy, Naomi Watts, playing a crazy shrink (is there any other kind), says something that I nevertheless find useful. . . .” I disagreed with both parenthetical assumptions and was left questioning how and what I was missing. Surely Shields doesn’t believe he’s so entitled that his opinions are indisputable. I reread these numerous times and the rereading settled nothing for me.

Shields often loads his approach with sudden, blatant honesty, which leads to self-revealing moments that lend a fuller understanding of him and Trump. This is demonstrated when Shields addresses bullying. “In my academic life, I’ve encountered at least three psychopathic bullies; I capitulated to their demands because they had something I wanted/needed. . . . What, precisely, does Trump have that anybody wants or needs? Why have bullies targeted me throughout my life? My reluctance, due to my stutter, to be directly confrontational? What’s everyone else’s excuse?”

Happily, there are moments that made me smile, relief offered by Shields’s purposeful structure, sprinkling these gems throughout.

TRUMP: When people say something false, I attack those people. I think more people should have that attitude. I think you’d find a lot more accurate reporting, including yours.

CHARLES FELDMAN (CNN): What was inaccurate so far?

TRUMP: I thought your demeanor was inaccurate.

Did I come to new conclusions? Not really. Did I gain insights? I believe I did. But these are hard to describe. They will take a few more readings to clarify. It’s part of the fun of Shields’s work. He shares a lot of what he knows and has figured out, and for me, at least, it’s more than I can absorb without diving back in. I believe it’s worth getting soaked a few times to make sense of as many of his ideas as I can. I love the stimulation, and I feel I come out a bit smarter every time I read him.

Nobody Hates Trump More Than Trump by David Shields
Thought Catalog Books 
$12.95 paperbook | $4.95 pdf | Buy Now!

 

Judith Sara Gelt

Judith Sara Gelt completed a gratifying, 30-year, middle-school teaching career before pursuing her passion for writing at age 55. Her personal essays can be found in Iron Horse Literary Review, Portland Review, Broad Street Magazine, Best of Referential Magazine, Superstition Review and Nashville Review. She was born and still resides in Denver where she is a member of Lighthouse Writers Workshop.

Her memoir, Reckless Steps Toward Sanity, was released in April 2019 by The University of New Mexico Press.

 

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