For years I taught a course called Modern Literature. The title was a little broad, of course, covering about 120 years worth of American and European writing. Many of the stories have remained with me—and some I often recommend: Conrad’s “The Secret Sharer,” O’Connor’s “First Confession,” Maugham’s “The Colonel’s Lady,” Updike’s “A&P.” But one which I haven’t thought about in years came roaring back this morning when I read Trump’s latest tweets about Hillary Clinton: Nicolai Gogol’s “Diary of a Madman.”
The Russian 😏 author’s tale is a first-person account of a man falling into the throes of insanity. Here’s a paragraph for flavor:
What an extraordinary dog! I was, to tell the truth, quite amazed to hear it talk human language. But when I considered the matter well, I ceased to be astonished. In fact, such things have already happened in the world. It is said that in England a fish put its head out of water and said a word or two in such an extraordinary language that learned men have been puzzling over them for three years, and have not succeeded in interpreting them yet. I also read in the paper of two cows who entered a shop and asked for a pound of tea. (from Gogol’s “Diary of a Madman.”)
It’s not unkindness but mere observation that prompts me to say the following: Donald Trump’s recent tweets seem redolent of the same kind of distance from reality, or to put it more succinctly, he’s as nutty as Gogol’s narrator. Of course it’s an ill wind that doesn’t blow someone some good: somewhere right now an industrious writer is gathering all those little mini-rants into a compendium that will ultimately serve two purposes. First, it will make the writer a very rich man; and second, it will serve as evidence at the hearing in which Donald Trump is finally institutionalized.
It’s true that other presidents have had issues, among them depression, anxiety, even substance abuse. But none to my knowledge has suffered from Narcissistic Personality Disorder with its resultant grandiose pronouncements, lack of empathy for other people, and constant and insatiable need for admiration. The question is, can he be locked away by next Friday? Probably not.
Since I’m a writer myself (sadly, in much the same way George Costanza is an architect) I know that it takes a good deal of time to get things just right, and we wouldn’t want the sanity hearing to be sabotaged by sloppy research or a weak presentation. By the same token the publication of Diary of a Madman II must be perfect. So next Friday is probably out—unless of course that Russian dossier is as much fire as smoke, in which case lunatic tweets will be the least of his problems.
The fact is Hillary Clinton presents no direct challenge to Trump at all other than, by being on the same stage next Friday, she will prove a constant reminder of who received more votes. Still, with the Obamas and the Clintons there, along with George Bush and Jimmy Carter, Trump will be the seventh most popular person on the stage—eighth if Laura accompanies her husband. And then there are the Obama girls? And Joe Biden? Trump may become the only president not welcome at his own inauguration. But he could be welcome if he just knew enough to stop trying to win the hearts and minds of people by denigrating vanquished foes. His tactics make no sense. Sad. And stupid.
And so, since Trump shows no signs of altering his course, I urge that industrious writer to work fast. For the rest of you, remember sequels sell. And so do textbooks. Another abnormal psychology text is bound to turn a profit for you, and all you’ll need is a Twitter account and some patient observation.
And hurry up.