Tom Wolfe, Donald Trump, and the Pissing Monkey Presidency

Fiction sometimes defines the reality we find ourselves in. It’s truer now than at any time in memory. Right now it seems like a brew of Bizarro World, the DC Comics black-is-white, bad-is-good invented earth of the 1960s, and author Tom Wolfe’s fourth and final novel.

In Back to Blood, Wolfe’s inventive 2012 novel about contemporary Miami politics, Cubans, Russians, clashing cultures, and sexual and social mores, we are introduced to Dr. Norman Lewis, a media-hungry psychiatrist specializing in humiliating and manipulating billionaire porn addicts. Call him an amalgamation of Jeffrey Epstein and Trump, albeit Jewish and highly educated.

Lewis is arguably the most contemptible character in Back to Blood, a lewd, all-knowing social climber who is incapable of exercising any self-restraint or showing any shame or remorse. He may be one of the most loathsome creatures of 21st-century literature.

The author of Bonfire of the Vanities uncannily created a character in Back to Blood so Trump-like, call him Bizarro Trump, a full four years before the @RealDonaldTrump became president. Wolfe died in 2018, having survived two years of the Trump presidency. If he were alive, he would probably say with a wink, “It is what it is.”

As Wolfe describes Norman Lewis, he is really describing Donald J. Trump. In fact, Wolfe foreshadowed Trump’s “60 Minutes” interview with Leslie Stahl in a chapter called “The Pissing Monkey.”

Really, what metaphor better describes Donald Trump? Wolfe’s description of something called the Pissing Monkey Syndrome (PMS) would make Mary Trump stand up and applaud in agreement.

Think of Donald Trump as the Pissing Monkey President. Not Kong, the noble King of the Apes, mind you, but a belligerent shameless pissing carnival monkey hanging atop a crystal chandelier at a fancy dress ball in a Marx Brothers movie endlessly urinating on the crowd below. Not just pissing on everyone for one reel in an old slapstick movie, but for four very long years. Expressing a constant torrent of foul water, Diet Coke and effluent raining relentlessly down on us 24/7 365 days a year. Trump’s not just any pissing carnival monkey, but the most powerful pissing primate in human history. Nothing could stop him. Nothing has stopped him. Not the Generals or Impeachment or the Courts or the Adults. Or Melania or Ivanka.

Watching Trump embarrassingly try (and fail) to steamroll Stahl, the “60 Minutes” matriarch, in last Sunday’s interview is similar to Norman Lewis trying (and succeeding) in steamrolling the fictional patriarch of  “60 Minutes,” a Mike Wallace-like character.  In the first Presidential Debate, Trump used Norman Lewis’s “piss on ‘em” technique to steamroll Chris Wallace, the real son of Mike, who was a real fabled interviewer of Kings, Queens and Dictators. Chris never had a chance. At the end of the debate, he was drenched in Trump’s pee-green slime.

Wolfe’s description of someone afflicted with PMS not only fits Trump, who sits at the top of the pissing monkey pyramid, but many in our political-media firmament. As they might say, pick your pisser. As Dr. Lewis prepares to be interviewed by that Mike Wallace-like TV news star about sexual addiction, the psychiatrist describes his interlocutor as “a bully” with a specialty of “going after people until they became flustered and broke down emotionally.” His plan was “to treat the fiercest man on television as a tiny pissing monkey.” Why? Lewis explains that monkeys make terrible house pets and that a male monkey “as soon as he gets high enough he’ll start urinating on your head… He’ll grin and go EE EE EE EE. He’s laughing at you, mocking you…  Any way you try to please him is going to make it worse.”

How did it come to this? How did America fall under the spell of the Pissing Monkey President?

Is there a spiritual link between our Pissing Monkey President and the unsanitary actions of that mythical male monkey urinating from on high on all those below while laughing and mocking us that can never be satisfied?

Do we blame New Gingrich, the progenitor of the modern-day Political Pissing Monkey? In “Planet of the Apes” lore, he would be Caesar, although not as well spoken and inspirational. Would Donald Trump exist as the Pissing Monkey President without Speaker Newt plowing the field ahead of him manipulating and weaponizing the newly minted Fox News?

Cue to any cable-TV news outfit. FOX, MSNBC, CNN. It’s the Pissing Monkey President all-of-the-time. But maybe that show is about to end and that chandelier will come crashing down.

So how do you defeat a micturating monkey like Trump? It’s pretty messy. Dr. Lewis describes the only effective treatment as “you grab him and throw him in the toilet and while he’s flailing about in the water… you piss on him…” and make him feel like “the whole sky, the whole world, is pissing on him…. You show him he’s not the Alpha monkey.”

That’s easier said than done. In Back to Blood, Norman Lewis turns his “Mike Wallace” into a sniveling jelly monkey by extolling his own genius and continually and loudly talking over and through all questions without ever answering a single one. Sound like the first Presidential Debate? Fortunately, Savannah Guthrie and Kristen Welker utilized that effective treatment and showed Trump he was no longer the Alpha.

How much longer can Trump cling to the top tree limb? Is “The Trump Show” ripe for cancellation? How much does he have left in his tank? What will he do when his stream dries up? Will it ever dry up? With less than a week until Election Day, this is a good time to wonder – and hope that it does.

In 2016, before Trump was elected the 45th President, then-President Barak Obama said that Donald Trump “says stuff every day that used to be considered as disqualifying for being president. And yet because he says it over and over and over again, the press just gives up, and they just say, ‘Well, yeah. OK!’ The bottom line is that we cannot afford to suddenly treat this like a reality show.”

That was four years ago. He was right, of course. It’s as true, or even more so, today.

So was Tom Wolfe in his prescient warning about pissing monkeys.

David Eden is the author of “My Pashtun Rabbi: A Jew’s Search for Truth, Meaning, and Hope in the Muslim World.”

About the Author
David Eden is a veteran journalist who was an Emmy Award-winning Managing Editor and Executive Producer at Cleveland's CBS TV station and the former Editor-in-Chief of the Cleveland Free Times. He has worked as a top-level editor, columnist, and critic for the Dallas Times Herald, Detroit News, The Minneapolis Star, Cleveland Plain Dealer, and Albuquerque Journal. At the Plain Dealer, he was National & Foreign Editor and Sunday Magazine Editor. His work has appeared in many publications, including The New York Times, The Hill, Jerusalem Post, and The Times of Israel. He also has had a long career in strategic and crisis communications and has taught journalism at John Carroll University and United Arab Emirates University. David is a graduate of Miami University and earned his M.A. from the University of Missouri School of Journalism.
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