“I THINK he’s going to go all the way.”
Scott Dikkers, best known as the founding editor of the Onion, usually traffics in satire. On this occasion, though, he isn’t kidding.
We are talking about Donald Trump’s chances of becoming our next American president — just hours before Ted Cruz will drop out of the race.
“He’s going to do it. He’s a winner.”
Dikkers, the Chicago-based writer and cartoonist has spent the past half-year studying Trump like a specimen — all in the interest of creating his new humor book, “Trump’s America: The Complete Loser’s Guide” (Micro Publishing Media/Blaffo Books).
“He’s like James Bond,” Dikkers continues about the presumptive GOP nominee. “He has this thing about him. His father noted this when [Donald] was young: Whenever you put him [in a competitive arena], he succeeds.”
Dikkers, a chief editor-author behind the Onion’s bestselling “Our Dumb Century” and “Our Dumb World,” offers no punchline. He is not being ironic. And he underscores that he is not a Trump supporter — he’s simply a long-trained Donald observer.
“Politically, I think he’s a demagogue and a potential tyrant, and he terrifies me, as a person and citizen,” Dikkers says. “But to get inside his skull, as a satirist, you have to fall in love with the person and get inside their skin. He has a lot of great qualities [for satire]. He’s inherently funny.”
But last year, several months after Trump announced his candidacy, Dikkers hadn’t yet seen a definitive comedic takedown of Trump. “I wasn’t being entertained by the Trump comedy I was seeing — I didn’t think it was rising to the level I thought was required,” the humorist says. “So I decided: This has to happen.”
While working with a regiment of writers to create his new book of Trump humor — which includes a mashup of satiric news clippings, letters, even a mock birth certificate — Dikkers says he marveled at what the real candidate was able to get away with. One aspect that Dikkers can especially appreciate is that Trump, not unlike the Onion, has spent decades mastering the art of the verbal takedown.
“Early on in the campaign, he would [rhetorically] strike opponents and they would get slapped down. He was so effective,” says Dikkers, who is also creator of the comic strip “Jim’s Journal.” “His messaging is the most disciplined I’ve ever seen in a presidential candidate. He’s got a slogan … and he knows how to deliver it.”
It’s one thing to win the nomination, of course. How might Trump fare against, say, Hillary Clinton in the main race?
“I think Hillary Clinton is totally out of her depth,” Dikkers replies. “The conventional wisdom is totally wrong. I think he cleans the floor with her.”
Predictions or no, Dikkers hopes his new work is “the definitive book about the Trump presidency” — a statement he offers with a wink at its cheekiness.
“That’s the formula that I’ve used at the Onion for decades, which is sometimes we would wait, let everybody else do their jokes and let the dust settle — and then put the full force of our ‘comedy creation system’ to bear,” says Dikkers, who is no longer employed by the Onion.
To write his previous big books of humor, Dikkers and his team would typically have a year or more. For a timely turnaround on “Trump’s America,” they had about five months. “We really churned out the material,” he says.
They also had to decide on an overarching comedic approach. “The voice of the book,” the editor says, “is the voice of an unrealistically articulate Trump supporter — this is a rah-rah Trump book.”
Many bits in “Trump’s America” are prescient, given that it was written months ago. “I have kind of a specialty at writing humor that ends up coming true,” Dikkers says. “It really is an easy trick if you understand human nature at all, because things always unfold the same way.”
One example is the introduction into the campaign of Trump’s genitalia — which gets its own “meet me” page. “We felt like we understand him and we understand where this is going … and because of his irrational fixation on the big and the huge, he has this decades-long fight that his fingers are not small,” Dikkers says. “He’s obsessed with that. And then there’s also his longstanding effort to portray himself as a sexual dynamo.”
Dikkers’s goal with “Trump’s America,” though, is not to be skewer for cruelty’s sake. Instead, he hopes it can provide “some kind of release for the intellectual — for the reader who watches this unfolding with absolute horror. You have to be able to have a good laugh about it.”
Plus, he says, it will help prepare you for “the Trump presidency.”