New York Times reporter Dan Bilefsky devoted a long review-interview in Saturday Arts to left-wing British journalist Jonathan Freedland’s "trenchant satire" novel about the assassinating of a president, “Trump Is Stranger Than Fiction.” He dutifully passed along the suggestion that such assassination porn was inevitable “when the top guy in the White House appears to be recklessly lurching toward global destruction....”
Bilefsky, a foreign reporter for the paper, has previously blamed Brexit for hate crimes, but betrays no concern that this novel may provoke in similar fashion, and registers nothing objectionable about the epidemic of imagined presidential assassinations among liberal "artists."
A mercurial American president is about to launch a nuclear war against North Korea after exchanging childish taunts with its dictator, prompting two senior aides to hatch a plot to assassinate the president.
Meanwhile, a powerful presidential adviser with a fondness for Mussolini woos the supremacist far right; a rampaging group of white men round up undocumented Latino immigrants in the American Southwest; and, in a final prophetic flourish, aides refer to the first daughter as “The Princess.”
Bilefsky marveled at the supposed uncanny accuracy of that tilted view.
Jonathan Freedland, a columnist for the left-leaning Guardian newspaper, handed in the manuscript of his latest thriller, “To Kill the President,” in late January -- just 72 hours after Donald J. Trump took his presidential oath of office and eight months before Dotard vs. Rocket Man awakened fears of the apocalypse. And between then and its publication in June, he didn’t change a word. But trenchant satire aside, parallels with the current president are so familiar that some readers have dubbed Mr. Freedland “Nostradamus” while others are begging him to choose their lottery numbers.
Yet for all of its spooky prescience at anticipating the headlines, critics -- not least among them some of Mr. Trump’s supporters -- have accused Mr. Freedland of writing a morally repugnant literary recipe book for murder.
But Bilefsky seemingly could only find “alt right” criticism, though surely mainstream conservatives (and responsible people of any stripe) could find the topic objectionable.
“Anti-white journalist Jonathan Freedland has written a thinly veiled assassination fantasy targeting Donald Trump,” proclaimed an article on Altright.com, attacking Mr. Freedland for embracing, among other things, ethnic nationalism, multiculturalism and liberalism. “Its publication and promotion are symptoms of a sick and co-opted culture.”
Bilefsky forwarded the ugly fact of artists obsessed with presidential assassination without comment, even letting author Freedland excuse it:
The book appears to be part of a growing cultural current of imagined assassinations of the president by liberal artists, directors and writers, which Mr. Freedland argues is predicated on a need for “catharsis” and revolt against a world turned upside-down rather than any murderous intent.
The actor Johnny Depp recently drew condemnation from the White House after suggesting, however obliquely and in jest, the killing of President Trump, asking a crowd at the Glastonbury arts festival in southwest England, “When was the last time an actor assassinated a president?”
The comedian Kathy Griffin is still recovering from the outcry that followed her posing with the fake decapitated head of the president.
And this summer a Shakespeare in the Park production of “Julius Caesar” in New York drew the opprobrium of Republicans for depicting a Caesar with overcoiffed strawberry blond hair who gets stabbed to death by a knife.
Perhaps wary of a backlash, 10 American publishers rejected Mr. Freedland’s book. Mr. Freedland’s literary agent, Jonny Geller, said that even efforts to sanitize the title by calling it “The Plot Against the President” failed to convince doubters.
“The commercial view among publishers seems to be that people are living it and haven’t got the head space for reading it,” Mr. Geller said. “It is a lack of courage and imagination.”
Mr. Freedland was at pains to emphasize that “To Kill the President” was a work of fiction. His intention, he stressed, was to raise the thorny moral questions facing senior administration officials when the top guy in the White House appears to be recklessly lurching toward global destruction....
The closest criticism the Times reporter could come up with was that the ending was implausible. But even there, Trump is to blame, as shown in the bolded sentence below, which is found in the online version but not the National print edition:
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When the ending arrives, however, it does so with jarring implausibility while the story sometimes falls flat, underlining the challenge of satirizing a president whose daily outrages have made him immune to parody. A tweet from the fictional president suggesting a 16-year-old television contest winner should “perform a private show for me @WhiteHouse” doesn’t provide much of a jolt when the real one has boasted about grabbing women’s genitals.
Of course, the troubling sex and scandal history of President Bill Clinton (who remains a heroic figure at Democratic conventions and gatherings) isn’t even worth a mention.
Some may also ask whether fact is not only stranger than fiction but also more entertaining at a time of dizzying drama in the real White House when the Justice Department is investigating Russia’s attempts to disrupt last year’s election, senior aides are fired with a frequency worthy of “The Apprentice” and the threat of nuclear war is no longer the stuff of docudramas.