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A Trump Satire That Reads Like Real Life

An interview with author Dave Eggers about "The Captain and the Glory."

Dave Eggers, founder of McSweeney’s and 826 Valencia, a public writing center for young people, delivers a stinging satire of the Trump administration with his latest, The Captain and the Glory. The slim novel follows a “known moron” as he takes control of a large ship called the Glory. The boorish new leader throws his enemies overboard, employs cronies named Paul the Manafort and Michael the Cohen, and lusts for his own daughter. This is satire, but just barely.

Eggers, whose comic writing largely shaped the prose of a generation, gets off some great one-liners here. But what puzzled me as I read the book is why we needed it at all. The Trump administration, in all its buffoonery, already lampoons itself. So, I asked the author why he wrote the book, why satire is necessary in these dark times, and what hope he has for the future.

Amy Brady

When did you start writing this book? Was there a particular moment that inspired you?

Dave Eggers

I started it about two years ago. Like everyone, I’d been thinking about just how to respond to this baffling moment in American history. I started reporting on the era, focusing on Trump’s supporters and what drives them, and also on the impact his policies have had on immigrants and asylum-seekers. Those reported pieces are relatively sober and straightforward pieces of journalism, but at the same time they might be treating the current political insanity with too much respect and too much sobriety. In a way, the only way to match the ludicrousness of the time is with the most extreme kind of satire.

Amy Brady

Trump’s administration will surely wreak more havoc on the American public—and abroadin the year to come. Why publish a satire of his administration in 2019?

Dave Eggers

It’s unclear if we’ll survive the next year, so it seemed better to get this out while we still had a country.

Amy Brady

Some might say we’re living in a “post-satirical age,” because the Trump administration is already too cartoonish to exaggerate for comic effect. How did you get around this?

Dave Eggers

It was important to create a parallel universe. Setting this in DC, in the White House, would have been a bit limiting and hard to top the reality. But setting it on a ship gave the story its own set of rules, limitations and possibilities. And I got to use the word gudgeon.

Amy Brady

What role do you see satire playing in this dire moment in history? 

Dave Eggers

Catharis, primarily. The degradation of our democracy is so profoundly depressing that every so often laughing at our demise, and our utter lack of self-respect, is helpful. And the advantage of a satire, or any story like this, is that it has an ending. 

Amy Brady

I loved Nathaniel Russell’s illustrations. How did that collaboration come about?  

Dave Eggers

He’s a San Francisco artist whose work I’d seen around for a while. A friend introduced us and he did such a brilliant job reflecting the surreality and horror in the story. He has a rare kind of handmade and deeply expressive style that brings to mind Saul Steinberg and Ralph Steadman, but then again is entirely his own.

Amy Brady

Your novel’s source of hope arrives in the form of a young child. As a journalist and advocate of young writers, have you seen young people standing up to Trump’s most heinous policies and views? Do you think that young people will, to use a metaphor inspired by your book, “right the ship?” 

Dave Eggers

I think young people have a moral clarity that we lack. We read the news, and reporters report the news, with a straight face and a certain relativism that just isn’t right. Pretending that the Ukraine issue is the main impeachable offense is insanity, too. Trump has debased the country countless times, with a hundred high crimes and ten thousand misdemeanors, and Ava, a 12-year-old girl in the story, is the only one who has the clarity to say so.

About Amy Brady

Amy Brady is the Editor-in-Chief of the Chicago Review of Books and Deputy Publisher of Guernica Magazine. Her writing has appeared in Oprah, The Village Voice, Pacific Standard, The New Republic, McSweeney's, and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter at @ingredient_x.

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