Donald Trump isn’t even trying to cover up the lies anymore. In a phone call with veteran journalist Bob “Watergate” Woodward back in February, Trump admitted coronavirus was deadly and way more serious than the flu. Then he spent months saying the exact opposite, promising thousands of dying Americans that COVID-19 would be wished away.
That confession, surely enough to sink a normal president in a normal country, forms part of Woodward’s new Trump expose Rage. The book alone might not flip many votes — such is the nature of American hyper-partisanship — but it will no doubt rocket to the top of the bestseller lists when it drops next week.
A publisher’s dream president
Trump might be a historically unpopular president but that hasn’t stopped Americans compulsively buying books about the trainwreck reality TV show in the Oval Office. As one Simon & Schuster executive told The New York Times, despite his divisiveness “Trump is a very unifying figure for book buyers”.
The first wave of Trump books — journalistic exposés of White House dysfunction — began in earnest with Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury. It fleshed out some of the themes which have become the backbone of the canon: a hollow, nihilistic president whose staff approach him as one would a “recalcitrant two-year-old”.
Trump, Wolff writes, never wanted to win the election. He just wanted to get more famous. On that night in November 2016 he looked like he’d seen a ghost.
Later that year we got Fear, also by Woodward. In it Trump calls himself the “Ernest Hemingway of 140 characters”. He demands his popular tweets be printed out so he can “study” them.
One more bruised and burnt insider
But perhaps the Trump book we’ve become most accustomed to is the insider’s confession. In that genre, a former White House sycophant spills a series of wholly unsurprising details about Trump’s erratic, bullying and often straight-up racist behaviour.
The latest entrant to a very crowded field is Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney and consigliere, whose Disloyal: A Memoir accuses Trump of behaving like a mobster and having a “low opinion of all black people”. He wrote the book while in prison for tax evasion and breaching campaign finance laws, which tells you much about the company Trump keeps.
Cohen’s revelations are in no way unexpected. He says Trump called Nelson Mandela “no leader” and called countries run by black people shitholes. He said Hispanic voters were “like blacks … too stupid to vote for Trump”. And he’s got still got a totally unhealthy chip on his shoulder about Barack Obama.
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Before Cohen, there was John Bolton, Trump’s warmongering, mustachioed national security adviser, whose The Room Where it Happened portrayed a deeply ignorant, crude and geographically illiterate president. Trump sucks up to China’s Xi Jinping, begging him for help in the election, and praising his oppressive treatment of the Uyghurs. He says it would be “really cool” and “legal” to invade Venezuela, which he believes is part of the United States.
The list goes on — and on. There was A Higher Loyalty, where former FBI director James Comey details Trump’s efforts to win him over and compromise the bureau’s investigations. There was Unhinged, by Trump’s former reality TV co-star turned aide Omarosa Manigault Newman, which alleged he repeatedly said the N-word on tape. Former communications aide Cliff Sims wrote Team of Vipers, which depicts the Trump White House as dysfunctional and out of control.
And lost amid the endless churn of Trump was A Warning, published by an anonymous staffer. In it Trump “stumbles, slurs … has trouble synthesising information” and regularly demands the law be broken. Senior officials look at the floor, like bank robbery hostages, while the president rants and raves.
Most accounts follow this trope: a bullying narcissist, a dysfunctional White House. Nothing new to see.
Notable exceptions include Anthony Scaramucci’s Trump: The Blue Collar President, where the former press secretary who was fired after just 10 days waxes lyrical about the president’s “unique intellect”. The Mooch now calls Trump a huge idiot and is supporting his Democratic rival Joe Biden.
All in the family
Perhaps the saddest Trump book of all is Too Much and Never Enough, released by his niece Mary a month ago. Beyond more details around his narcissism, misogyny and cheating on the SATs, it gets a little Freudian — digging deep into the bitter psychic weeds of the Trump family.
Trump’s father, Fred, a “high-functioning sociopath”, tormented, abused and bullied his family. His eldest son, Mary’s father Fred Jr, was so shattered by the contempt his father held him in that he drank himself to death.
Donald took his place as the family patriarch without blinking.