BOOKS ABOUT DONALD J. TRUMP AND OTHER LITERARY LEGACIES
“A biography, is a detailed description of a person’s life. It involves more than just the basic facts like education, work, relationships, and death; it portrays a person’s experience of these life events,” Wikipedia
By T.K. McNeil
Write It All Down
We live in an age of documentation. The word “biography” did not enter the English lexicon until relatively recently. We now have the ability to create personalized literature 240 characters at a time. I’m sure a book about Donald Trump will someday be written based on his Twitter feed. Before this age of technology however, a person had to be somewhat well-known before anyone would think to write, or read, a book about them. One group that has almost always been in this category are U.S. presidents.
Once In The Ground
For much of American history, a president could count on being at least out of office before the ink began to fly. Some of the former leaders with the most pages dedicated to them being those who are long dead. Once in the ground, presidents become easy targets for writers and historians to delve into every aspect of their life and career from multiple angles. It’s always easier once someone is dead to dig about in their personal correspondence and investigate rumor and innuendo, and talk to people who shared time with the president.
Give It A Little Time
The explanation of course is due to the importance of each presidency to the history of the Republic and the politics of the time. Furthermore, once a president passes he is no longer available to explain himself and the effects of his actions are much more clear through the lens of time.
In the early 1990’s, there was a bit of a shift in presidential biographies. The main outlets for written presidential accounts shifted from after-the-fact books and biographies to the minute-by-minute style of newspaper articles written as books at the time of their presidency. There have been many such books written about Donald J. Trump. Some writers are just trying to figure out what is going on, while others are tell-all’s by former insiders. One of the books written about Donald Trump, specifically his rise to power in 2016, actually being called, “How the Hell Did This Happen?” A bit more surprising is the fact that it was written by self-described “Republican” P. J. O’Rourke.
Actually Number One
For all Trump’s bluster about his achievements and profound faculties, many of them delusional, there is one area in which the current president holds the crown. There are more books about Donald Trump in the third year of his first term than any other living, let alone sitting president, in history.
Sounds crazy. Donald J. Trump can barely be bothered to read; and writes mostly in 240 word tweets, often with childish spelling errors. Amazingly there have been more books written about Donald Trump than any other living president. Which is now down to Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. None of whom are, or should be, immune from criticism.
First let’s set some limits and define some terms. The focus is on books about Donald J.Trump specifically. More than only his presidency, but his life, his business career or even his campaign were scrutinized and written about extensively and published between when he got into office and now. There have been at least 51 books published about the Trump presidency since May 2016. At least 60% of these books about Trump books come out in 2018. Astonishingly, that’s 2.5 books about Trump per month for a total of 30 new publications in 2018.
The Title Tells Us A Lot
Numerous publications were explicitly supportive, while others were either clearly negative or mocking. A few of these books have managed to stay at least ostensibly neutral. It is mostly in the titles. One should not judge a book by its cover, but titles are a different case. Titles such as, “Trump’s America” and “The Trump White House” being descriptive and not evocative. Especially when compared to titles such as “Fear”, “Trumpocracy”, “The Case For Impeaching Trump”, “Russian Roulette” and “Unhinged”.
Another sign, particularly with a book written about Donald Trump, can be the reputation of the author. While far from foolproof there are some obvious cases. Such as the neutral sounding, “Understanding Trump”, written by Newt Gingrich and Eric Trump. Both authors have questionable histories with the truth; and glaringly obvious vested interested in making the president look good. The only people who would be able to read such a book uncritically are people who are Republicans and/or Trump supporters. These being the two markets to whom the authors appeal. On the other hand, given his reputation for bending the truth particularly on his notorious biography of actor John Belushi, it may be prudent to take what Bob Woodward has to say with a grain of salt as well.
One Step Back
The living president who comes closest to Trump’s record in book generating ability in terms of 21st century presidents so far is Barack Obama. While there are currently 51 books about Donald Trump published during the first three years of his presidency, there were forty-six books published that were specifically about Obama as a president, not written by him, over the eight years he was in office. Roughly six per year. Fully half of which are either negative or mocking.
Some on the right considered Barack Obama divisive. Before Trump that is. Obama generated the next largest number of books written about his presidency, while in office. Obama has drawn regular and noteworthy criticism. Many of Obama’s strongest opponents have resorted to conspiracy theories and as such are often dismissed as paranoid cranks. A perception, which the “Birther Movement” and the “Tea Party” tended to foster. Obama remained fairly unscathed when it comes to at-the-time criticism of his White House. Particularly when compared to the books about Donald Trump.
What About George W. Bush?
According to my research, there were about 30 such books written about George W. Bush while he was in office. About half of the books about George W. Bush were explicitly negative or mocking, including, “House of Bush House of Saud”, “How Would A Patriot Act?” and “Bushwhacked”. These titles were churned out over the course of his eight years in office. The number of negative portrayals of the Bush administration seems low considering his record as a war criminal. With that said, Bush’s reputation has undergone a remarkable make-over since Trump took office and his chaotic style have provided endless fodder for books about Trump and his administration.
Of all the living presidents, the one who comes out looking the best for many, is also the only one of the living presidents that was impeached. Bill Clinton’s name has come up a lot in recent years in relation to Donald J. Trump. Mostly in terms of the tantalizing if unlikely prospect of getting Trump out of office via impeachment. There are several books that can be pointed to, written about Clinton, and even one by him. Of the books about Clinton that fall within the set limits there are three. All of which are strongly critical in some way. These are, “In Search of Bill Clinton: A Psychological Biography” by John Gartner, “No One Left To Lie To” by Christopher Hitchens and, “Better Than Sex” by Hunter S. Thompson. Not even the reputation of the author bringing the books into question, at least in terms of neutrality.
What To Expect
As the days, months and years march on, expect to see even more books about Donald J. Trump. The unprecedented chaos and corruption of the Trump administration is fresh meat for the fourth estate. Trump’s pugnacious nature and his criminal behavior keep the headlines blazing. Reporter Mark Singer describes Trump in his book, “Trump and Me”, as “a pseudo-populist self-proclaimed multi-billionaire whose contempt for the customary protocols of the reviled Washington establishment bound him to his adherents in a mutual intoxication. A cocktail of bogus facts, stirred by fear, naiveté, and an indifference to pragmatic exigencies. A zeal only loosely tethered to reality. ‘I love the poorly educated!’ he (Trump) crowed. They love him back.”
If Trump is re-elected by his “poorly educated” fans I expect that many libraries across the country will need to add a Trump wing just to house the books about Donald J. Trump.