February 26, 2024

The epistolary novel, a literary genre that has included, among its entries, works like Samuel Richardson’s “Pamela” and Goethe’s “The Sorrows of Young Werther,” has recently welcomed a new classic to the category. The author of this chef-d’œuvre is none other than the former President Donald J. Trump, who has, in the past several months, been sending his supporters fund-raising missives over e-mail, multiple times a week, and, often, as if amid some kind of frenzy, multiple times a day. Indeed, the e-mails arrive so frequently, that it’s easy to grow numb to how bonkers they are. They often include alarming warnings, craven flattery, folksy insults, erratic typography and punctuation, and impassioned pleas for donations all presented in a graphic-design language seemingly generated by MS Paint. While campaigning for the Republican nomination, Trump is concurrently in deep legal shit, fighting accusations of fraud, hush money, sexual assault, and election subversion. The desire to speak to perceived supporters through their in-box is par for the course in this type of communication. And yet, Trump’s e-mails are still unique in this landscape, for their ability to offer a kind of D.J.T. greatest-hits package, wildly mixing and remixing favorite phrases and styles into a fevered Surrealist cut-up. The typographical chaos mimics the legal, political, and psychic chaos in which Trump operates. He is relentless, paranoically and insistently narrating his woes in a kind of stream of consciousness. These e-mails, considered in toto, are a hectic, interwoven document that can take us, much like the best novels do, from tears to laughter and back in a single sitting. And they can leave us feeling contemplative, wondering if there was ever such a thing as the American Dream. And yet his relentless energy seems to emerge from this very chaos, as he paranoically and insistently narrates his woes in a kind of stream of consciousness, by turns slinging mud at the so-called haters, proclaiming his perseverance, and flattering and wheedling his supporters. These pieces are more revealing of Trump’s inner, most unhinged self, because, with them, he’s speaking directly to his adherents.