Paul Beatty: For me, Trumps America has always existed
Booker prize winner says presidents rise is not a shock and race relations have improved very little, even under Obama
When Donald Trump was being inaugurated, Paul Beatty was lying in bed with his wife, groggy with medication halfway around the world, in Jaipur, India. His book, The Sellout, a sarcastic, complex novel on race relations in the US, was the first American work to win the Man Booker prize, but Beatty, faced by a phalanx of cameras at a press conference at the Jaipur literature festivalon Saturday, refuses to play along and be the voice of black America that the journalists so desperately want him to be.
I dont claim to offer any special insight, he says. I read the same newspapers you all do. Reclining on a large sofa hidden from the crowds of literature enthusiasts attending the festival, Beatty slumps as though a dark cloud is hanging over his head. His pessimism about Americas future seems to reflect the gloom of many Americans who watched the former reality-TV star take the oath on Friday.
Its like a big test and its like, is the world going to fail? [Trumps victory] is so symptomatic of so much thats happening [in the world]. In the States everybody pays attention, because supposedly the States is different. But this xenophobia, this fear, this insecurity, with [Indian prime minister Narendra] Modi here, [Rodrigo] Duterte in the Philippines, theyve always been there, but the fact that theyre making progress, thats scary.
Trumps rise is difficult to comprehend, Beatty says. Its like a diorama on how we do things against our own self- interest, he says. Despite his misogyny, his rhetoric, 48% of women voted for Trump, 8% of African-Americans.
He muses that many who support Trump do so just to provoke reactions. I had a friend who was telling me about this friend of hers who she sees as a progressive, nice guy. And for the past month [before the election], hed been saying pro-Trump things as jokes. And in my head I was like, you know hes not joking. And she was like, youre probably right. Hes just testing these trial balloons. And I bet theres so many people like this.
To Beatty, Trump stood out as particularly undignified against the dignified ritual of the inauguration. Its funny because you have this decorum, and this guy is anything but gracious, anything but. At least Barack Obama has a level of civility that Trump doesnt.