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“America”: Donald Trump’s United States as Seen by Writers

“Will the FBI take down Donald Trump?” asks the third edition of French magazine America. As well as the answer to this question, the quarterly publication’s front cover also features an in-depth interview with scandalous author James Ellroy, a road trip along the Mississippi with Philippe Besson, and the last novel by the late Jim Harrison.

This 200-page “mook” — a portmanteau of “magazine” and “book” — represents a wild gamble taken by François Busnel, host of the French literary show La Grande Librairie and former editor in chief of Lire magazine. Along with Eric Fottorino, founder of French weekly newspaper Le 1, the pair offer “a new perspective” on Donald Trump’s America — a literary-based vision spread over 16 issues throughout his time in office.

Taking the Time to Report

“All the experts who claimed Hillary Clinton would be president were wrong,” says François Busnel. “And yet novelists predicted the shift. They have a hypersensitivity that journalists lack.” He goes on to quote Donald Ray Pollock, who discusses the Rust Belt inhabited by middle classes deprived of direction, and Wendell Pierce, whose latest book describes a devastated New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. “The writers come from states that experts have never set foot in. You can’t understand the United States by strolling down Fifth Avenue in New York.”

François Busnel knows what he’s talking about. In 2011 he traveled from Brooklyn to Memphis for the Carnets de route documentary series. “This time, I wanted to create an investigative newspaper in which we would send writers and leading reporters on the road to ‘live like hobos,’ and bring back stories of their travels without claiming to be objective. Take the train, go to the Bronx, visits the suburbs of Pittsburgh, drive along the old roads of Arizona. Why don’t editorial writers talk about that side of America, the land of the relegated classes and the disillusioned?”

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The journalist deplores the disappearance of serial articles and thorough investigations in newspapers today. “I commission stories for America that I would have liked to read in other publications before the elections, but which just weren’t available. The French press talks about the United States, but there’s no room left for feature-length articles.” François Busnel was won over by the French magazine XXI, and is quick to voice his admiration for the works of Hunter S. Thompson and John Steinbeck.

The America of Pop-Culture and Romanticism

Whether an extensive interview with Barack Obama about the importance of literature, the biography of John Jacob Astor by Eric Vuillard, or a closer inspection of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, the editions of America to-date have blended ten-page investigations, columns, lengthy interviews, and meticulous analyses. A light shone on the United States through the prism of its literary classics, exclusively-published short stories, iconic films and travel diaries. “This country is the heart of pop culture. It invented the horror novel, the Beat Generation, and New Journalism. The Americans are the only ones to have a Nobel Prize laureate who writes songs!” says François Busnel.

The Frenchman is quick to describe Donald Trump as a “fictional character,” and yet denies that this description may minimize the gravity of the president’s decisions. “A fictional character could not be more serious. It can offer a truer vision than a report, because you have to delve into its psychology. Literature is a detour that paradoxically leads to truth.” While we wait for the “great works” inspired by the Trump era, the novelists and reporters at America will continue to discover the country that elected him, painting a picture while leaving prejudice to one side.

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