I must be the only publisher in North America who hasn’t published a Trump book. Even my friends down the road at ECW Press, another Canadian independent, not known for their political list, managed to get this one out:
I’ve got nothing. And if at any point since mid-2017, you had pitched me a Trump book, I would have been a hard sell because there was by that time an absolute torrent of Trump books in the pipeline. I expected the market to be saturated. I expected almost all of the books to fail. Remember, we’re supposedly living in a post-book age. Television and the news media are obsessed with this administration. Much of the fight is playing out on social media. The president, famously, lives on twitter with his 86 million followers. What possible role could there be for books?
By now we know I would have been wrong to be standoffish. The torrent of Trump books has come, and it keeps coming. According to a New York Times story this week, there have been 1,200 Trump books so far, compared to about 500 Obama books in Obama’s first term. And they’re flying off the shelves, topping the non-fiction bestseller lists. Trump lovers, Trump haters, Trump explainers, Trump mockers, Trump family members and ex-pseudo-friends of secondary Trump family members(top right, below)—they’re all in on it.
Sure, some the books are circling the remainder bin but there is no denying the enormity of the market for Trump books. They’re generally credited with having saved non-fiction publishing in these difficult times.
And I still can’t make any sense of this phenomenon, and the New York Times doesn’t venture an explanation. So I asked David Frum, who is one of at least three authors (the others being Donald Trump Jr. and the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward) to contribute two books to the Trump heap, both of them well-received, both of them selling briskly. I asked why, in these times, are people turning to books to figure this out and fight it out?
I wish I knew the answer. I can only guess, but I think that part of it is that the Trump phenomenon is a really puzzling one.
Look, even if you were against George W. Bush, and you had many grievances against him, you wouldn’t be surprised that he was president. He’d been the governor of Texas. Son of a president. In the round of elections immediately before the presidential election of 2000, he was his party’s best vote winner. So it made sense. You understood how and why he’d become president.
Trump just doesn’t make sense. You can’t process him.
And as president, he’s been president unlike anyone else who’s ever held the job. He doesn’t even seem to do the job. Everything that’s a rule that’s supposed to guide and constrain presidential behavior, he ignores all of that. So it’s hard to understand.
It’s also terribly frightening, especially if you’re in the critical camp, because he seems so obviously mentally unstable, an un-well person. So it’s not just puzzling in an abstract way, it’s puzzling in a very threatening way.
I suppose on the other side, among supporters of Donald Trump, they put their faith in someone who even most of them have to realize is inadequate to lead the nation, and yet they did, and now they feel persecuted and poorly understood, and besieged. And so a big part of the Trump literature is trying to give voice to people’s feelings of persecution and maltreatment.
Two of the most successful pro-Trump books have come from his own son and both of them are saturated with his own feelings of being put upon, and that obviously speaks powerfully to many people in their coalition.
So all of these things need to be discussed, and if you’re going to discuss them sometimes you need length. You need 60,000 or 80,000 words. There aren’t many places other than books that you can write long. I don’t have to tell you that the magazine industry has shrunk. So books have a lot to offer.
I’ve known David Frum since we were both starting out in Toronto journalism in the early 1990s. I’ve enjoyed his company and his work, and I’ve followed his career closely since he moved stateside. He’s always been a star but it’s been especially gratifying to watch him since 2016 bring all his talents and passion to the anti-Trump cause. He’s emerged as one of the most followed and authoritative commentators in Washington, ably filling the void left by another great Canadian writer on American politics, the late Charles Krauthammer.
Frum’s most recent books are Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic, and Trumpocalypse: Restoring American Democracy.
As for whether we’ve seen the end of the Trump publishing book, he doesn’t think so. “If Trump doesn’t win in November, a lot of information that’s been bottled up is going to start coming up. We will learn more about his business dealings. We’ll learn more about the Russian background. Things will come to light.”
In other words, we’re going to be talking about this presidency forever.