Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher who writes about various subjects, including education and creative writing.
Championing conservative causes may be Ben Shapiro’s calling, but writing fiction isn’t. True Allegiance is Shapiro’s ham-fisted attempt at an action-packed political thriller. It may have heroes and villains duking it out for the sanctity of the country, but it meanders through five interconnected stories plagued by two-dimensional characters, bizarre conspiracy theories of current political groups, and tons of misguided or ambiguous allegories meant to represent his distorted worldviews.
A Little Background on Shapiro
If you have conservative friends on social media—or you, yourself, lean to the right—you probably know a lot about Shapiro. This thirty-something pundit has become the wunderkind among those who lean to the right. As a result, it’s not surprising to see his articles re-posted on Facebook or Twitter on a daily basis.
Shapiro comes with an impressive résumé. He graduated from UCLA and later from Harvard’s law school. Afterward, he found success as a writer and editor for several publications, such as Breitbart News (serving as editor-at-large at one point) and Newsweek. Additionally, he hosted a radio show and podcast in Los Angeles and served as contributing commentator on Fox and CNN.
Moreover, he founded the popular conservative site The Daily Wire and currently serves as its editor-and-chief.
Ben Shapiro is also a controversial figure who has authored several nonfiction books such as Brainwashed, Primetime Propaganda: The True Story of How the Left Took Over Your TV, and Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear and Intimidation Silence Americans. The latter suggests that liberals are victimizing conservatives; this is a theme that permeates throughout his writing, especially in the pages of True Allegiance.
Five Stories Connected by Ineptitude
As mentioned, True Allegiance is generally five stories with a few threads connecting them. These threads are loose and frayed, and throughout the story, the readers find themselves jumping from one plot to another (sometimes, not returning to the main story until several chapters have passed). A component writer can take these storylines and weave them seamlessly. Shapiro is incapable of that. Simply put, each story has its own plot and theme, and they don’t coalesce enough to create the larger story that True Allegiance was supposed to be.
True Allegiance starts with a prologue (which is possibly the best part of the story). It’s also the shortest of the “five.” Essentially, a mother and daughter find themselves trapped on the George Washington Bridge just as a terrorist sets off a bomb that brings the structure down. They’re innocent victims, and we get to feel the fear that the attack creates, as well as the realization and dread that these two will not survive it—and they, too, know it.
The prologue is a great hook to pull in the readers. Shapiro’s pacing creates suspense. In addition, he produces two characters we care about and ultimately grieve for in their final moments.
The hook may reel readers in; however, they soon discover that there’s not much there to keep their attention.
Then he grinned that [President] Prescott grin.
— Ben Shapiro, True Allegiance
The other plots (including the main one) pan out in the following manner:
- A young general serving in Afghanistan must escape from the clutches of terrorists in Iran and make it back to the United States to stop another terrorist attack.
- A California rancher deemed a domestic terrorist by the government joins an anti-government paramilitary biker gang (whose members insist, repeatedly, they’re not white supremacists!) and decides to set out on a journey to save a police officer in Detroit she believes was wrongfully accused of shooting a young black youth.
- A Texas governor and his assistant (the wife of the young general) go to war with drug cartels along the Mexican border.
- An African-American drug kingpin devises a complex (and convoluted) scheme to take over Detroit…and possibly other cities.
The one thread to tie all these plots together is the main antagonist of the story, a corrupt president with a “socialist” agenda that puts the security of the country at stake so he can get a work program through congress and have his “moment” in the media to enshrine his legacy. All this within a book containing a little over 230 pages!
“...a bear of a man, six three in his bare feet and two hundred fifteen pounds in his underwear, with a graying blond crew cut and a face carved of granite.”
— Ben Shapiro, True Alliegiance
Who’s the Hero?
The plot about the young general is the main one. It’s obvious because Shapiro supplies a lengthy back story to General Brett Hawthorne. In addition, he gloriously describes Hawthorne as being the epitome of masculinity by writing, “a bear of a man, six three in his bare feet and two hundred fifteen pounds in his underwear, with a graying blond crew cut and a face carved of granite.”
The description hasn’t escaped scrutiny by critics. A few of them mentioned that it suspiciously sounds homoerotic. This is ironic, considering Shapiro has a long history of making homophobic comments.
Supposedly, Hawthorne is a bright individual who can quickly pick up languages, especially Arabic and Pashto (that “he somehow” learned, as Shapiro states). Also, his Farsi is limited. This a bizarre statement considering that Afghanistan’s two official languages, Pashto and Dari, are closely related to Farsi.
In fact, Dari (the most widely spoken language in the country) is also called “Afghan Persian” and is often used in Kabul for business or government transactions. Pashto belongs to the same Indo-Iranian language family and shares some of the same Farsi words. Also, it's not uncommon for the two languages to be blended. Many in the country are bilingual or multilingual, considering that there are other Farsi dialects and minor languages spoken in the country.
Considering that Hawthorne is gifted in language and has served in Afghanistan, he'd be able to be fluent in Dari, as well as Pashto.
Shapiro’s Political Allegories Muddy the Story
It’s not easy to ignore Shapiro’s political views. So, it shouldn’t come as no surprise that True Allegiance is not immune to it. Shapiro’s politics pollute this hokey tale, adding unintended outrage and laughter. It’s one thing to be railing against liberals; however, it’s a whole new annoyance when he overdoses the readers with rambling rants mixed in with off-base descriptions, unrealistic caricatures and confusing imagery.
In terms of narrative quality, the numerous plots do not serve the story in any way except to push it toward a climactic conclusion. On a personal level for Shapiro, the plots—as well as the characters—appear as allegories of people and causes he likes or dislikes.
An example comes from the storyline involving the rancher turned rebel. The Soledad story (the name of the rancher) seems to echo the actual Bundy Ranch standoff in Nevada as well as the one in Oregon in the latter years of President Obama’s presidency.
Soledad lashes out at the government over regulations conducted during a devastating drought that left her bankrupt and on the verge of losing her property. In a rare case of character arc, he transforms her into a heroic leader of an anti-government, paramilitary biker gang. In a sense, he glorifies her – and indirectly glorifies the Bundy clans.
Levon’s Twisted Plan
Not all allegories paint a pretty picture. The story involving Levon Williams takes a negative and incredulous turn. Levon is described as a well-educated drug kingpin with a bold and devious plan to take over Detroit. He stages a shooting involving a white cop and a black youth meant to galvanize the African-American community to protest. In the process, he manipulates the outrage (even staging the assassination of a civil rights leader for further effect), becomes the de facto leader of a grassroots organization with the grieving mother (who doesn’t know Levon’s intent), and uses secret channels with politicians to eventually form a committee to reform the police department.
There is no doubt that the organization formed in the story is an allegory for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, at least in the way that Shapiro sees them. In Shapiro’s interpretation of the group, they’re revolutionaries easily manipulated to seek vigilante justice against officers while unwittingly helping a con artist rise to political power.
Failure of Suspension of Disbelief
The convoluted plan found in the Levon Williams storyline defies logic and is worth mentioning for several reasons. While much of the story is plagued by flubs and inaccuracies, this particular plot takes the failure of suspension of disbelief to a whole new level.
Nearly every story written can get away with suspension of disbelief. Simply put, they contain scenes, devices or events that one may accept as part of the story, despite not being based in reality. In space movies, we accept the sound of explosion in space, even if that is impossible. In addition, we accept a few flubs as poetic licenses. In many respects, if it really doesn’t get in the way of the story, the audience will accept this.
However, when a writer has too many inaccuracies or misinterpretations of actual events, the problems become incredibly glaring. The Levon William story is the most egregious on two levels.
First off, African Americans in the story are basically caricatures. Levon is a drug dealer despite being college educated (I guess in Shapiro’s world, that makes him a drug kingpin rather than a street hustler). Many (not just in the Levon storyline) are depicted as being brutes targeting Caucasians to harass.
Detroit was a sh**hole. But it was [Levon’s] sh**hole.
— Ben Shapiro, True Allegiance
The only arc is for a minor character that’s found in the Brett Hawthorne story. He’s mentioned in a flashback as being wise-cracking and street-savvy and helping Brett to talk himself out of messy situations. He later appears in the book as a converted Muslim named Hassan, who helps Brett briefly before being killed off.
Secondly, Shapiro’s dialogues for African-Americans are more befitting of a 1970s black exploitation film than a story set in the 21st century. One wonders if Shapiro did any research on this matter.
Finally, there is Levon’s devious plan. In the story, a police officer (who’d be rescued by Soledad later) is confronted by a black youth in an abandoned building. The boy challenges the officer (with that 70s “jive talk” Shapiro thinks is still in vogue) before whipping out a gun and pointing it at the officer. After several warnings, the officer fires and kills the boy. Later, he discovers the boy had a plastic gun.
In addition, it turns out Levon “hired” the boy and told him to point the plastic gun at a police officer while lambasting him. He even lies to the boy by stating the officer will never pull the trigger. Of course, the officer pulling the trigger was part of Levon’s plan, and, like everything else in this story, the unintentional action of the officer fell into place.
The amazing part of this plan is that everything has to fall into place in order for it to work. The boy’s mother gets involved, the community gets involved, and Levon is there to take advantage of it. Shapiro may have thought this was clever when he devised this, but it became increasingly unbelievable (and laughable)—even for a work of fiction.
An Unintended Allegory
It’s been mentioned in several publications that President Prescott, the bumbler-in-chief and antagonist of the story, was loosely based on President Obama. However, Shapiro may have unintentionally made an allegory of another president.
President Prescott is supposed to be a media hog who wants all the attention and glory he can get. He’d do almost anything, including backroom deals with foreign governments, suspected terrorist organizations, and known criminal organizations.
Oddly enough, this sounds more like President Trump. Shapiro has claimed that he doesn’t support Trump. It’s hard to say how true that statement is. And one can only speculate if he intentionally represented Trump (the book was published in 2016 when Trump was a candidate).
The other passengers looked around uncomfortably, paralyzed by a peculiar inability to overcome their political correctness.
— Ben Shapiro, True Allegiance
So Who Would Read This?
There’s one thing that works in Shapiro’s favor. He has a fan base that’s willing to put up with the fault found in this book. The book has glowing reviews on Amazon and the latest cover sports the New York Times Bestseller emblem. Thus, it’s almost unlikely his fans will find fault in the story . . . well, not everybody. One Shapiro fan wrote that she usually likes his philosophy, but she didn’t like the story. Too bad there are not enough fans like her to be this honest.
© 2019 Dean Traylor