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Op-Ed: Trump books of 2020: An unexpected ‘best of’ list

Eleven recently published books about President Trump stand on a shelf.
Eleven recently published books about President Trump stand on a shelf. Trump may be bad for America, but he’s good for American book publishing.
(Associated Press)

Donald Trump has been bad for America but good for American book publishers. Dozens of books about Trump were published in 2020, some selling millions of copies. Here is a highly personal assessment.

Best book that doesn’t mention Trump until the end: “A Promised Land” by Barack Obama. During the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill crisis, Obama reports, Trump called to suggest that he be put in charge of plugging the well to stop the leak. Told that the well was almost sealed, he offered instead to build “a beautiful ballroom” on the White House grounds. Obama declined. A few months later, Trump started tweeting that Obama had been born in Kenya. Maybe Obama should have said yes to that ballroom offer.

“A Promised Land,” out Tuesday in a worldwide release, eloquently and ruefully documents the first two and a half years of Obama’s presidency.

Book with a title that was disproved shortly after publication: “Triggered: How the Left Thrives on Hate and Wants to Silence Us” by Donald Trump Jr. When Don Jr.’s book tour came to UCLA his speech was disrupted — but not by leftists, as promised in the subtitle. Instead, it was a right-wing group that took credit for the sustained yelling and booing that led Don Jr. to end his time on stage after only 35 minutes of what had been promoted as a two-hour event. According to the Guardian, the group that silenced Don Jr. were followers of a podcast, “America First,” who “believe the Trump administration has been taken captive by a cabal of internationalists, free-traders, and apologists for mass immigration.” (Note: Although “Triggered” was published at the end of 2019, it remained on the bestseller list in 2020, and thus qualifies for a 2020 list — in the view of this list-maker, at least.)

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Least likely Trump book to be read — by anybody: “My Fellow Americans ... Donald J. Trump: The Essential Speeches, Remarks, and Addresses of the Forty-fifth President of the United States of America.” It does include “I alone can fix it” (from his acceptance speech at the 2016 Republican National Convention). But if you want to read the full text of his “Remarks at the White House Conference on American History” (and who doesn’t?), you don’t have to spend $7.99 for this book; you can get it for free on the White House website. (This was where his speechwriters had him say that “a radical movement is attempting to demolish” the Constitution, “aided and abetted” by “large corporations”!)

Books by authors who were sued by Trump (or his allies):

The Room Where It Happened” by John Bolton. The Trump administration sued the president’s former national security advisor a week before the book’s release date, long after it had already been shipped by the publisher. The Justice Department claimed the book contained classified national security information and asked a judge to seize Bolton’s $2-million advance and order him to get Simon & Schuster to retrieve and destroy copies of the book that could be in the possession of third parties. The “national security” secrets included information already published in the New York Times, where Bolton confirmed the impeachment proceedings’ allegation about Trump and Ukraine. Notably missing from the lawsuit: a request for a temporary restraining order blocking Simon & Schuster from continuing to distribute the book. From that, you might conclude that the administration wasn’t really trying.

“Melania and Me” by Stephanie Winston Wolkoff. Melania’s longtime friend was sued by the Justice Department, which claimed the author violated a nondisclosure agreement Wolkoff signed when she came aboard as a volunteer assisting the first lady. The lawsuit sought to force her to surrender any profits from the book. The secrets the Justice Department sought to protect were that Melania was “selfish and image-obsessed” and didn’t get along with Ivanka Trump.

“Unhinged” by Omarosa Manigault Newman. This 2018 memoir by a contestant on “The Apprentice” who later became a 2016 campaign aide caused the Trump campaign to sue her for violating a nondisclosure agreement. The settlement requested in 2020: She should pay close to $1 million for an ad campaign that would “correct” her statements describing Trump as a racist and a misogynist. (She declined.)

“Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man” by Mary Trump. The president’s brother Robert sued to block publication of the book by their niece, claiming she had violated a confidentiality agreement signed almost 20 years earlier when Robert and her aunt Maryanne Trump had negotiated a settlement of their father’s will. A lower court granted a temporary restraining order, but an appeals court ruled that her publisher, Simon & Schuster, was not bound by the confidentiality agreement and had a 1st Amendment right to publish.

Best title based on a Trump tweet: “A Very Stable Genius” by Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig. The authors quote Trump describing himself as “a very stable genius” not just once, but five times, and not just in tweets, but also in a press conference — at the NATO summit in July 2018, in response to a question about whether he would reverse his support for NATO.

Best book read by Trump in 2020 (or ever): No award. Tony Schwartz, the ghost-writer on Trump’s monster 1987 bestseller, “Art of the Deal,” told Jane Mayer of the New Yorker that Trump never read his own book, much less anybody else’s.

Jon Wiener is professor emeritus of history at UC Irvine and co-author, with Mike Davis, of “Set the Night on Fire: L.A. in the Sixties.”


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