One of the more amusing artifacts of the Trump era of American society is “Bigly: Donald Trump in Verse,” a collection of comments and quotes from the commander in chief rearranged into verse by Rob Long and published by the conservative Regnery Publishing. With its faux earnestness and pretensions to pretension, “Bigly” perfectly lampoons not only our president but also our moment and our consideration of the arts.
“Trump is quite conventional in some respects, but his poetry belongs to the same free form, avant-garde tradition as Ginsberg,” British journalist and author Toby Young wryly notes in the foreword of “Bigly.” “He is the heir to the beat poets, a glorious throwback to that era of unconstrained vitality in American letters. Don’t hide the madness.”
Young writes of President Trump’s “refusal to have any truck with irony,” but Long — currently the show-runner on “Kevin Can Wait,” previously an executive producer and screenwriter for “Cheers” — suffers from no such compunction. You should have some idea what you’re in for when, in place of a dedication, you notice a haiku from renowned verse-slinger Milo Yiannopoulos:
Bold train conductor
Shredding fake news to pieces
Trump is my daddy
“Donald Trump the Poet leaves the curlicues and frills to Donald Trump the Builder,” Long writes in his introduction. “Mar-a-Lago may be a place of fountains, marble-ite statues, and paintings of tigers, but the poems in this volume are marvels of economy and focus.” A personal favorite of this reviewer is “My Hands Are Normal Hands,” a relatively long-winded entry at two-plus pages, and one that reveals a man at war with his own sense of greatness and self-doubt:
I mean people were writing, “How are Mr. Trump’s hands?”
My hands are fine. You know, my hands are normal.
Slightly large, actually. In fact,
I buy a slightly smaller than large glove, okay?
It’s the “okay” that jumps out at you as much as the admission that he buy what one assumes to be a medium-size glove: “Lay off, guys,” that okay seems to be saying. “I’ll come clean, just, you know, let it go.”
Of course, some just can’t find the humor in repurposing Trump’s words as verse. “What kind of writer finds it amusing to recast the President’s most narcissistic, inflammatory, bigoted statements in the form of jokes? And what kind of reader is entertained by such a project?” asks Rebecca Mead, with great indignation, at the New Yorker. She continues, “The target of Long’s satire is not the book’s subject, the President. Rather, Long’s purpose is to make fun of poetry itself, and by extension, the imagined reader of poetry—the kind of thoughtful, liberal intellectual who might be expected to take offense at this book’s very premise.”
Now, given that the New Yorker is the home to Andy Borowitz — whose comedy stylings serve as catnip for a certain sort of aging liberal boomer so amused by headlines such as “White House Claims Flynn’s Job Was To Make Coffee When Papadopoulos Was Busy” and “Trump Unsure Who This Manafort Person Is” that they can’t help but blast his pieces out to their friends and relatives over email — I’m not sure it’s the proper venue to judge what constitutes effective humor in the age of Trump.
But her concern reflects a strain of thought that the president is, simply, too dangerous and too powerful to treat as a figure of fun: that the anti-Trump right is too busy “triggering libs” to see the danger the Republic finds itself in and the media is too focused on Trump, his supporters and the weirdness of our moment to actively #resist America’s proto-Hitler. Put bluntly, this concern feels like fear-mongering nuttery; as Daniel W. Drezner noted in The Post on Wednesday, our democracy is holding up quite nicely thanks to the strength of our institutions (with an assist from the general inability of the GOP to get anything done despite controlling the House, Senate, presidency and Supreme Court).
Now more than ever, we need a good laugh: at ourselves as much as the world around us. Instead of freaking out, perhaps the first anniversary of Trump’s surprise win would be a good moment to take a deep breath, admit that some of that election-night panic was misplaced and share a chuckle. In our laughter, perhaps we can come together just a bit. As a great poet said,
Because the country is
And that’s one thing I did see,
And I’m going to work
To bring the country together.