It came to me last night in a dream that I haven’t understood Donald Trump. It must be that, really, he’s a novelist. All this bother about his run for the presidency, and the many personal trials he has faced—his several bankruptcies, the failed marriages and businesses, so many pesky lawsuits—have all been side-bars to his real passion, which clearly is fiction.
Novels are usually made out of whole cloth. The story comes completely from the author’s imagination. It may have a thread of actual occurrence from somewhere in the writer’s life. A day spent wandering around Dublin, for example. A few months of the author’s youth spent in a blacking factory. A voyage across dangerous seas in search of the sperm whale. But for the most part—and the more of this, the better the book—a novelist will quickly abandon those few threads, so that whatever the reality of the inspiration, his or her story will wander very far afield, and end up being almost entirely made up.
In my own case, complete novels have sprung from a minor thought I had while taking a shower or a phrase overheard in conversation over coffee or a brief passage from a long-ago rock ‘n roll song. From almost nothing, really. Stories have surged from those few ephemeral beginnings.
Many novelists believe that fiction is indeed a series of lies. A novel is a string of conjured up falsehoods intended to plumb the mind of the reader and, if the book’s any good, reveal the depths of that reader’s soul to whomever he or she may be. It has little basis in the author’s actual day-to-day experience. It is fantasy, a story spun from airy nothing, so unlike the balanced truthfulness that is the essence of good fact-based journalism.
Yet fiction’s wandering fantasies are often much deeper than those to be found in mere fact. You can’t write a book of accurate journalism about something that actually happened, if it didn’t actually happen. That sort of thing is the territory of the novel, and the world has benefited profoundly from centuries of truly great fanciful untruths. The novel bestrides the world.
This has been so in Mr. Trump’s case. He has had a few shallow thoughts about this and that which have unearthed the deep-seated fear, anxiety and harried darkness of his true beliefs. He’s been very successful at making those worries plain to the people who so idolize him. He spins falsehoods that, to them, ring with truth… the very stuff of the novel. He’s made up stories the plots of which feature apocalyptic violence, protective nativist walls, the horrors represented by women, the abandonment of millions of refugees, the rewriting of the philosophical and legal structures that have been the basis for this nation since the writing of the Constitution…and many others. Fantastical plots all, filled with conspiracies and rank dangers, every one of them riddled with fictions.
Here’s a modest proposal. Donald Trump’s career as a novelist may have been jump-started by his attempt to win the presidency. He will fail in that yearn for political glory. But I hope he’s aware of where his true talents lie, and that his agent is working on a five-book deal for him. He’s a natural. Made up stories are his great strength, and therefore the Nobel Prize for Literature cannot be far behind.
Terence Clarke’s latest novel The Notorious Dream of Jesús Lázaro was published last year. This piece appeared originally in Huffington Post.