When Donald Trump announced he'd be running for president in June 2015, he was a laughingstock. There was no chance he'd find himself in the White House. Everyone, VICE writers included, said so.
But while most of the media was ignoring Trump, Scott Dikkers, the founder and editor in chief of the Onion during the fake newspaper's halcyon days of 1988–2002, was hard at work on a book that seems scarily prescient thanks to Trump's rise to the top of the GOP ticket. The resulting product, Trump's America: The Complete Loser's Guide, features lists, flowcharts, and fake news articles offering insights into Trump's family tree, how he'll age in office, and even his penis.
Dikkers figured his book would still have relevance months after he started working on it because he believed that the erstwhile reality TV star would become president, and he still thinks so. I talked to him about it.
VICE: Is any part of the election funny to you, or are you like, "Oh shit, what are we doing?"
Scott Dikkers: I have to make a separation between who I am and my work. I'm a satirist and a comedy writer, so my job is to take whatever is going on in the world and make it funny for people. In conjunction with that, I also want that humorous response to come with a secret nugget of satire. I want there to be some kind of point to it.
In my personal life, I'm terrified by what's happening to us. The media is a total failure—news has to be entertaining and attention-getting and shocking. When someone like Trump comes along, and he appeals to people's lizard brains, the media is going to cover that, no matter what he does.
Nobody cares about the facts or the information, or the negative conclusion that you should come to if you hear the information. All people see is Trump's face and name, and it helps him. I actually didn't really think about that with this book. I'm helping Trump because I'm putting out this book that has his face on it and talks about him and people will review it and talk about it, and that gives Trump more attention.
What do you think of Trump's alter-ego from the 80s, John Barron?
I love that! Actually, I believe that Trump wrote to the Onion as one of those people, pretending to be an attorney a couple of years ago when he was very upset about a story we had written. I reviewed that email again, and the wording in it sounds like Trump. It says things like, "The article is absolutely disgusting. It lacks any place in journalism." It's just not articulate. "I demand you remove this disgraceful piece from your website." Those are Donald Trump's favorite words. "I demand that you apologize to Mr. Trump." Trump is the guy who demands apologies, and he's got this humorless bluster. Why would he pay an attorney?
That's one thing we can say about Trump: He is good at this aspect of business. He does not spend a penny more than he has to. He's financed this campaign extremely efficiently. He's not going to spend hundreds of dollars on a lawyer to write an angry letter to the Onion; he's going to write it himself, and he's going to send it and make up a fake name.
This letter was in response to an article that the Onion ran making fun of Donald Trump. We didn't respond to it or anything, so he called and bugged us! This guy called and spoke to our CEO.
What do you think is happening with the wall situation?
All of this recent Trump talk of, "Oh, maybe I would raise taxes on the rich," or, "Maybe I wouldn't ban Muslims," or, "Maybe it's not a real wall," is just standard pivoting before the general election. He's flanking Hilary on the left, and he's trying really hard to pick up all of these disaffected Bernie voters. I think it's a very predictable strategy.
His supporters aren't voting for him based on the truth because they're voting for him based on their guts. So it doesn't matter. He can change his opinion 180 degrees.
What do you think will change about Trump's abrasive behavior and loquaciousness once he's head-to-head with Hillary?
I don't know that that's going to change much during the general [election]. I think it's going to be a real slugfest. What I think about a lot is how is it going to change once he's president? I'm not really sure. He can continue to be this annoying, blustery strongman, and we can go down a really dangerous road toward tyranny. Or he could use his head and realize, OK, if I really want to help my brand, I will be a great president and ensue all of these populist things and achieve all of these line items on the populist agenda that ninety percent of Americans want, but that no politician would do because they're so in the pocket of their corporate donors or whatever. Maybe it will be a little of both. But I'm really hoping it's the latter because he really has a chance to be the most amazing billionaire-CEO-playboy-president ever. How could that not help the Trump brand to come out of this like Elvis?
What do you think Trump's relationship with world leaders who are basically strongmen or dictators?
He's definitely playing buddies with Putin and Kim Jong-un and people like that now because it helps him. If he associates with other strongmen, then he appears as a strongman, and being a strongman is exactly what people want deep down in their souls. Once he's president, he'll have different goals than just how people perceive him to get votes. The issue is, we don't know what those goals are. Is he really going to make it great, or does he really just want to amass more power? If he just wants to amass more power, then I think he'll have a close but cordial relationship with such people. I don't think he's going to be chums with those guys.
What do you think will happen to the media with someone like Trump as president?
Anyone who tries to go against Trump is going to be immediately branded an outsider, who's not playing ball or whatever. Trump knows all of those tricks. So what Trump said about, "He wouldn't kill a reporter," but then he was like, "Well..." implying maybe he would—that was fucking scary!
What do you think about all of the people who are threatening to move to Canada?
Well, I remember all of that talk in 2000 of course... and nobody moved to Canada. They're [suggesting moving] to a country where there's free health insurance, no guns—their worst nightmare. They're not going to move there!
What do you think happens to women?
I think women are going to be in the same second-class status that they are in now. There's still that seventy percent of pay, and there's still the poor access to reproductive rights, very low representation in leadership roles in the public and private sectors. Trump is not a feminist. He's not going to champion a change in any of those things.
What do you think is going to happen to people of color?
I think I would give the same answer. They are still going to be marginalized, and nothing is going to be done about how black people, in particular, are far disproportionately in prison and shot by police, and poor. We need someone to champion that, to change that situation. Trump is not that person. But, again, I don't think he'll make it worse. I don't think he's going to "ban Muslims." That's crazy and stupid. I think he realizes that. That was red meat to the troglodyte Republican base that just want to kill everyone else.
I wouldn't want to be a Muslim if Trump got elected, though, because I think what's going to happen is what we're already seen is happening. Individual instances of Muslims and, due to the ignorance of these people, Sikhs, and other people are going to be the victims of more random violence.
Watch: The Patriotic Preteen Girls Singing Donald Trump's Praises:
How do you think Trump will handle ISIS?
I think he's going to do the same idiotic, stupid thing both Republicans and Democrats have tried to do repeatedly, which is just to keep bombing the Middle East, which only makes shit worse.
Do you think he'll do anything to change health care?
In the book, we joke and say he's going to create "Trump Care" and "There're no details. It's just going to be great!" In real life, he probably won't do much. Trump's already said some things that support a single-payer system like in Canada, which would be a vast improvement over what we have now, and it would be a very populist thing to implement.
What's with all the talk of revolution? I don't think Bernie Sanders is going to get up on a tank during an uprising and suddenly become president of the United States à la Yeltsin.
Revolutions in America now can only happen on the right, and they already are happening in many ways. The Republican Congress is obstructing Obama just on principle, not for any policy reason. They are practically secessionists. We've seen a lot of Southern states act very rebellious.
There might be a rise, there might be a coup, and someone tries to shoot the president or whatever. That doesn't happen on the left anymore. In this country, the left is the side that is going to go the political route. If they're going to try to change the system, they're going to protest.
Who do you envision as the vice president?
If he goes with a Newt Gingrich, I feel like that's a clue that he's maybe just going to play ball and be a good little Republican president for a few years and not make any waves. But that's not Trump's way. If he goes with a kook, like a Ben Carson or a Sarah Palin, that's going to be a big clue that he's going to go the tyrant route.
What do you think hanging out with Donald Trump would actually be like?
Trump seems like a pretty charming and engaging guy. He's someone who has a lot of friends and is probably really funny on a personal level, which bodes well for his chances because that's the guy people vote for. They want to vote for the person they want to have the beer with.
Do you think that America deserves this?
I think we deserve it because of how far the pendulum had flung—not to the right—but the way we've made out media and the way we've created this attention economy.
So what happens to Trump during his presidency?
My serious answer... I really haven't thought about that. He's obviously an old man. He's what, seventy or sixty-nine or something like that? He's already sort of a stitched-together Frankenstein, who's made to look young and vibrant, even though he's really getting to be up there. There's no reason to assume that that won't continue. But it will just be a more pathetic effort. You'll clearly start to see this crabby old man character starting to seep through the artifice that's been constructed around him.
Trump's America: The Complete Loser's Guide is available in bookstores and online.
Follow Helen Donahue on Twitter.