Steinberg: Trump critic ‘in pig heaven’

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Pity the poor satirist.

You select a subject worthy of your scorn, of everyone’s scorn. You train your well-honed powers of ridicule upon your victim.

You open up with both barrels, hot cartridges of contempt flip hissing over your shoulder as you rake your victim.

Everyone has a good laugh.

The smoke clears.

He’s still there. Untouched.

A pang of confusion and disappointment. What? You mean you guys elected Bruce Rauner anyway?Haven’t you been listening to a word I said?

Or lately, Donald Trump.


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A hundred Talmud’s worth of criticism has been flung at Trump, continuously, for the past 30 years, meticulously explaining his crassness, his P.T. Barnum-like hucksterism, his falsity. All for naught. The man strides toward the presidency, unhindered, and while we media elite assume he just has to blow up at some point, it ain’t happened yet. It may never happen.

This summer, as Trump swelled from balloon to blimp to zeppelin, I kept thinking about Spy Magazine, the sharp New York satirical monthly of the late 1980s, which I was honored to write for. Trump was first among Spy’s A-list of New York socialites and business people whose venality made writing satire more an act of stenography than journalism.

What would Spy’s editors have thought, I wondered, had they known what was coming for Trump?

Heck, what do they think now? I put in a call to Kurt Andersen, one of Spy’s founders.

“It’s the best,” Andersen said. “I am in pig heaven.”

Come again?

“In the late ’80s and early ’90s, I was a student of Trump,” he continued. “We brought his egregiousness to the world’s attention. Then, frankly, I lost interest in him. Once the world became more Trumplike and gave him his own reality show, he ceased to be interesting to me. I never watched ‘The Apprentice.’ I didn’t care.”

So in a sense, by running for president, Trump was born anew.

“Now that he has upped the ante, and brought this craaaazy, postmodern character that he’s always been into this new realm of presidential politics, well, I’m excited,” said Andersen. “Amazingly, he was flirting with running for president back in the ’80s. He was talking about it. Back then, our attitude was, ‘Please, please, please.’ Nothing would be better than Donald Trump running for president.”

And here I thought I was cynical. But this is a new level. My Midwestern yokel’s stab at sophistication wilted after a single draft of the 151 proof East Coast version. Next to Andersen, I felt like Dorothy Gale.

“But what if he wins?” I whispered.

“I don’t want him to be president,” Andersen said. “He is awful and interesting. When he became a birther, it was the first time, really, that I felt, ‘Nah, this is no longer amusing. This is hideous. I can’t laugh.’ The fact that he’s running for president, and a quarter of the Republicans are supporting him. It’s too astounding for me to resist, as an observer.”

Andersen said it wasn’t so much that Trump spouts the “ugly, xenophobic, racist, sexist” beliefs that are the secret shame of Republicanism, but he represents the opposite of the polished politician, who “people have come to hate.”

Not Trump, said Andersen. “He speaks like the guy who has three drinks at the end of the bar. He just talks.”

Andersen believes the risk of Trump becoming president has gone “from absolutely zero to just above zero.” I repeated my own mantra: If America elects Donald Trump, then we deserve him.

“Ross Douthat had a very interesting line,” Andersen said of the conservative pundit. “Essentially, he said Trump may be the guy that a decadent American imperium deserves.”

Indeed. Donald Trump is America’s punishment for being America.Andersen, who became a best-selling novelist after selling Spy, views the Donald in narrative terms.

“You can’t make this up,” he said. “It’s beyond fiction. At the moment we’re all supposed to be worried about inequality — about a rigged system and the the middle class not getting a fair shake — this rich guy is your avatar. It’s incredible. If you wrote this in a novel, people would say, ‘It’s funny, but come on!’”

At a time when reality beggars satire, Andersen, has shifted to writing nonfiction. His next book is titled “Fantasyland.”

What is it about?

“America,” he said.

Of course.

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