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The two genres of Trump book

A memoir by Kellyanne Conway is the latest in a now-established trend. What are we doing with all these revelations?

By Emily Tamkin

WASHINGTON DC – Donald Trump left office a year and a half ago. In that time there has been no shortage of books of varying quality about his term as president of the United States. These books normally fall into one of two camps. 

The first camp is what I call the Covering Trump book. These are reported books by journalists about Trump and his administration. There were many such books during the Trump years — so many that Carlos Lozada, Washington Post book critic, wrote a book about all the books about Trump — and the end of his term in the White House did not mean the end of the genre.

Last year we had, among others, I Alone Can Fix It by Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker and Frankly, We Did Win This Election by Michael C Bender, both New York Times best-sellers. This year we will have Susan Glasser and Peter Baker’s The Divider in September and Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America by Maggie Haberman, arguably the reporter with the best sources of the Trump era, in October.  

More recently we had This Will Not Pass by the New York Times reporters Jonathan Martin and Alex Burns. Upon publication, both journalists came under heavy criticism for withholding information — namely the disgust with which leading congressional Republicans reacted to Trump’s incitement of an insurrection on 6 January 2021 — that perhaps could have been useful to the health of the American republic had it been reported at the time, or at least not saved for a book more than a year later. (This Will Not Pass was also a — say it with me! — New York Times bestseller.) The criticism is not unique to Martin and Burns; Bob Woodward was similarly censured for saving the revelation that Trump knew Covid-19 was dangerous, even while he publicly played it down, for his 2020 book Rage.

The other camp is what I call the Covered for Trump book — books published by former Trump officials and allies about their time working with him. On 10 May, Mark Esper, Trump’s defence secretary, published A Sacred Oath, in which he described Trump musing about having protesters shot in the legs. Many, including Trump’s niece, also accused Esper of keeping information to himself to use it for his book. Esper wasn’t the first from Team Trump to write this kind of book: consider, for example, the press secretary Stephanie Grisham’s I’ll Take Your Questions Now, in which Trump comes off as — surprise! — chaotic and wholly unfit for the office of the president. Nor was Esper the last.

A memoir from Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s longtime senior adviser, is out today (24 May). In the book, titled Here’s the Deal, Conway sensationally writes that democracy will survive, but alas, her marriage to the vocal Trump critic George Conway may not. While perhaps some might find it comforting that Kellyanne Conway has faith in the democracy that she actively worked for years to corrode, I don’t see how a tell-all by a person who repeatedly told lies — excuse me, “alternative facts” — is a trustworthy document.

I don’t mean to suggest that these two types of books are the same. Covering Trump is not the same thing as going to work for him. Still, in both cases, as salacious details drip out, as we learn that as bad as we thought his presidency was, the reality was actually far worse, as Trump book after Trump book becomes a best-seller, I’m left wondering: what exactly are we doing with any of this information? If Trump runs for the White House again in 2024, will these books lead voters to view him more thoughtfully? Will it lead journalists to cover him more critically? Will Republican operatives think twice before going to work for him? Or will we all go on, the same as before, the better to gather material to publish in future books?

[See also: Are we prepared for Donald Trump to return to Twitter?]

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