Sadly for democracy, the summer of 2021 has seen yet another flurry of books about former US president Donald Trump. The three main ones are shown in the photo above (taken from the Toronto Sunday Star’s reprint of the New York Times Book Review that appeared on August 15th, referencing late July sales).
And two more may shortly join them on the list, both by authors who have tackled this terrain at least once before: one by Bob Woodward, Peril, coauthored with Robert Costa, and Mary Trump’s sequel, The Reckoning, which came out this week, more on which below.
While we did publish a version of this blog earlier this summer I have revised it to reflect the fact that the three books already published make up three of the top six bestsellers .
Notice that all three titles originated with words originally from Trump’s mouth. I have now read or listened to all three of I Alone Can Fix It (number 1 on the adjacent list), Landslide (number 3) and Frankly, We Did Win This Election (Number 6). Thank you for the sympathy.
In the case of the three books already out and flagged above, I borrowed ebooks or audio books from the Toronto Public Library’s excellent Libby service and/or a paid service called SCRIBD: a paid service that has a 30-day free trial. Not being a Trump fan, I really don’t relish the idea of actually paying for these books, although you could also argue the authors are performing a public service in reminding American voters of the folly they committed in 2016 and may yet repeat in 2024.
I certainly hope that these five books will be the last batch but fear that we’re not even close. 45 — as I prefer to call him — grabbed an outsized share of the world’s attention during his ill-fated first term and it’s well within the realm of possibility that he will continue to do so in what may prove to be a mere interregnum of the Joe Biden presidency.
If, God forbid, 45 also becomes 47 by winning in 2024 then all told the world would be subjected to more than 12 years of his commanding the media’s attention and that of the publishing world, like it or not. The implications for the global economy and by extension the stock market are not, I think, pretty, should the worst happen.
True, 2024 may seem like a long shot, given 45’s age (75), obesity and poor dietary and exercise habits, not to mention the multiple criminal and civil legal cases unfolding against him. One hopes that eventually all this will catch up with him and that the American electorate will finally wise up to the conman/would-be dictator. You can fool some of the people all of the time but are there really 74 million Americans who are blinded to 45’s obvious faults?
So far, he’s got away with everything
Apparently so. As Mary Trump wrote in the closing pages of her book on her uncle, Too Much and Never Enough, “So far he’s gotten away with everything.” He’s dodged every bullet fired at him during his checkered career as real estate mogul, reality TV star and twice-impeached US president.
In her followup book, Mary outlines her ideas on how America can cope with the aftermath of her uncle’s chaotic four years.
Again, I read a library e-book and found the 205 pages of The Reckoning to be a fairly quick read. Roughly half the content reprises the first book and its focus on Uncle Donny. The other half, including the opening chapter, covers perhaps more American history than most Canadians will be interested in: especially its native origins and early days of slavery of Black Americans and/or a lot of analysis and recommendations for how America can emerge from the “trauma” that psychologist Mary Trump hypothesizes afflicted her and many other Americans following her uncle’s 2016 electoral victory.
Certainly, she has not dialled down her rhetoric about her uncle. A few sample passages:
“…. despite, or because of, the four years of incompetence, cruelty, criminality, grifting, unconstitutional behaviour, treachery, treason, and most breathtaking of all, the fact that almost there hundred thousand Americans had died by Election Day as a direct result of Donald’s willfully malicious inaction.”
“Donald wasn’t just incompetent, laughable, and cruel — though he was all of those — he was actively laying the groundwork, through his rhetoric, his policies, and his perversion of democratic norms and institutions, for autocracy.”
What has this to do with Financial Independence?
What has all this got to do with Financial Independence? At first blush, not a lot. See for example this Hub blog I wrote from 2018: The glut of books about Trump and prospects for Boomers’ retirements. If he actually wins back office from 2025 to 2029, many of his generation will be retired if they’re not already.
The last time we looked at Trump books was last fall, as we steeled ourselves for the possibility of his reelection: apart from the Mary Trump book cited above I reviewed Michael Cohen’s Disloyal and Bob Woodward’s Rage. Again, note that Woodward is about to publish Peril, another book about Trump’s last year in office, coauthored with the Washington Post’s Robert Costa.
Which brings us to the three bestsellers flagged in yellow in the list at the top of this blog. Apart from them, hose interested in the Covid aspect of the Trump presidency might also want to read Nightmare Scenario. I enjoyed it, although anyone paying attention to the news throughout 2020 will be familiar with the story arc: 45’s initial and ongoing denial of Covid, his attempt to keep the stock market from being spooked by it, and on through Operation Warp Speed and Pfizer’s announcement of its successful vaccine scant days after the election, which of course infuriated 45. Mary Trump’s The Reckoning also spends a lot of time on Donald’s negligence with respect to the pandemic
The latter, written by two Washington Post journalists, is more or less a chronological summary of the news of the last year, from Covid to the 2020 election and aftermath of the Storming of the Capital. Wolff covers similar ground but in more entertaining fashion. Of course, he does close with a cringeworthy summary of an interview 45 granted Wolff at Mar-a-Lago, a departure from his past practice with the author. I don’t know why Wolff bothered, since it’s just another venue for 45 to regurgitate his stolen election routine.
45 granted the authors of the other two books similar access, no doubt reflecting his hope he can spin history.
Landslide‘s early focus is on the fateful 77 “democracy-bending days between election and inauguration” — that is between the 2020 election and Joe Biden’s inauguration:
“Across those 77 days, the forces of disorder were summoned and directed by the departing president, who wielded the power derived from his near-infallible status among the party faithful in one final norm-defying act of a reality-denying presidency.”
Wolff riffs on the “fundamental modern assumption … that a crazy person cannot be elected president.” By any logic, the Trump story should have ended on January 6th, Wolff suggests, but concedes that even in defeat, the drama “continues to be inspirational to many — and why all Republican roads now lead to Mar-a-Lago.” Indeed, Wolff’s epilogue is entitled just that: The Road to Mar-a-Lago.
Rather than being scarred by defeat, Wolff writes, Trump “has weaponized it.”
“His ham-handed, doomed, blundering, and embarrassing efforts to undo that election, together with his heedless call to arms on January 6, showed him once more to be the naked emperor, evident not only to his enemies but, with ever-deeper sighs of incredulity, also to his allies.”
I Alone Can Fix it
Even in the prologue, co-authors Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker identify the nub of Trump’s presidency; far from being “America First” his was a “Me First” presidency. As they put it, “Most of Trump’s failings can be explained by a simple truth: He cared more about himself than the country …. Trump prioritized what he thought to be his political and personal interests over the common good.”
“Decisions were driven by a reflective logic of self-preservation and self-aggrandizement. Delusions born of narcissism and insecurity overtook reality.”
A few pages later: “America’s democracy withstood the unrelenting assault of its president.”
The character flaws revealed in the first three years had:
“deadly ramifications in his final year. He displayed his ignorance, his rash temper, his pettiness and pique, his narcissism, his transgessive personality, his disloyalty, his sense of victimhood, his addiction to television, his suspicion and silencing of experts, and his deception and lies.”
Just who you’d want in the presidency of the most powerful nation on earth? Hardly!
While he got away with just about everything during his first three years, Covid proved to be a harsher challenge:
“Trump’s standard tool kit for getting out of trouble — bullying, bluster, and manipulation — was useless in managing the pandemic … Not only did he fail to keep Americans safe; he couldn’t even keep himself safe.”
Frankly We Did Win This Election
As in the other two books, the title of this book is taken from 45’s own words. Michael Bender is a first time book author but veteran reporter on the Trump beat at the Wall Street Journal, where he has filed several hundred Trump stories. As my audio copy was the last of the three to arrive, it did strike me that it covered most of the same territory as the other two books but with one main difference.
Over his years on the Trump beat, Bender attended some 50 Trump rallies, so he provides a lot more insight into the rallies than the other two. Chiefly, he describes a phenomenon known as the “Front Row Joes,” which are diehard 45 fans who get to his events days in advance in order to get a front-row seat.
This appears to be quite a community and — if you didn’t already realize it — the rallies are one of Trump’s big advantages, even though my view is that he mostly spent his time and energy preaching to the converted, while alienating the unconverted.
For the most part, Bender follows the familiar chronological path of 45’s last year in power, starting with the slowly dawning realization (and denial of) the early months of the pandemic, on to the George Floyd murder and the clearing of the grounds to make way for the Bible photo-op, then the disastrous attempt to restart the rallies with Omaha, then on to the pre-election weeks, the two debates with Joe Biden, Trump and many on his team contracting Covid themselves in October, the frenzied last-ditch rally push, Biden’s election win and then the familiar aftermath culminating in January 6th.
Like the other two books, Bender closes with a short section summarizing his interview with Trump in Mar-a-Lago. As in the other cases the King in Exile focused almost exclusively on the alleged election fraud and his bitterness about Mike Pence’s not helping him overturn the results on Jan. 6.
Here’s one of Bender’s insights into the nature of virtually every Trump rally and what he terms his “beloved rally stage:”
“Just him, his pulpit, and the gooseneck-think microphone he’d reflexively grab at the start off every speech and yank back and forth a few times, as if testing its ability to withstand the flurry of grievances, gossip, putdowns, pranks, understatements, oversimplifications, misrepresentations, deceptions, attacks, counterattacks, self-affirmations, reassurance, promises, hopes, and dreams that he was about to pour into it.”
To answer the question posed in this blog title, evidently this will not be the final glut of Trump books. We may barely have begun if he succeeds in hanging on as Republican frontrunner and/or wins in 2024. Love him or loathe him, authors will continue to be drawn to this mix of P.T. Barnum and would-be dictator.
Add in a four-year Biden interregnum and the possibility of an historic second Trump term extending to 2028, and — wait for it! — a second generation of Trump politicians starting with his children and we may barely have begun the Trump literary infestation.
We hope not but, whether we’re investors or not, we need to prepare for the possibility. My only real personal finance recommendation here is not to feed the beast by buying any of these books: borrow them by all means if you feel it necessary but save your money and don’t encourage them.
Jonathan Chevreau is the CFO of the Financial Independence Hub, former financial columnist for the Financial Post, Retired Money columnist for MoneySense.ca and the author of several financial books, including the new US edition  of Findependence Day.