The Trump presidency fried our brains. New outrages and oddities arise every day. It’s impossible to keep up. And paying attention to the daily goings on of the Trump administration is frankly inadvisable. Listening to Trump’s addled, scurrying brain careen through stream of consciousness self congratulation can feel like opening a portal into a realm of Lovecraftian madness.
You’d hope books would offer a big picture of this uncertain era. But alas, that’s often not the case. In 2019, only a handful of political writers were up to the task of comprehending Trump, Brexit, #Metoo or whatever contemporary topic they tried to tackle. Others offered unfunny jokes, tepid insider accounts or just some irrelevant and puzzling observations. The books below failed to make sense of our era and won’t be remembered fondly if they’re remembered at all.
How to Beat Trump by Mark Halperin
In 2010, Journalist Mark Halperin’s book on the 2008 presidential campaign Game Change became a best-seller that spawned an HBO movie and influenced political horse race discourse for years. Halperin’s 2019 book How to Beat Trump, meanwhile, sold only 502 copies in its first week. In the intervening years, over a dozen women accused Halperin of sexual harassment, but that’s not the only reason no one cares about his dumb book. Without cable TV hype, it’s become painfully obvious that unless Halperin’s slinging political gossip from anonymous sources, he’s an appallingly mediocre political commentator. Each section of How to Beat Trump kicks off with facile “lessons” like “understand Trump and his voters” and “beating an incumbent requires confidence and a plan.” Whoa. No shit. OK guys, scrap the plan for running a candidate plagued by self-doubt who planned to wing it to the White House. Halperin’s spoken.
Mayor Kane: My Life in Wrestling and Politics by Glenn Jacobs, AKA Kane
Glenn Jacobs, better known as the WWE wrestler Kane, was elected Mayor of Tennessee’s Knox County. It’s interesting that a grappler left a fake sports to grapple with real world stuff, especially a lumbering masked behemoth like Kane. But Mayor Kane is an ugly mix of boring show-biz biography and unhinged libertarian rants. Jacobs is still active in wrestling, so he’s too loyal to spill any WWE dirt. From the book’s oddly perfunctory introduction from Rand Paul onward, the political content is boilerplate angry conservative uncle rants about Washington elites and the dangers of socialism. Local Knoxville media predict that Jacobs is steering the county into a financial disaster and governing crisis, so maybe the problem isn’t really socialism after all.
A Warning by Anonymous
For a book written by an anonymous disgruntled member of the Trump administration, A Warning is surprisingly tedious. It lacks not just dirt about a corrupt administration but new information. Rehashing events and impressions previously reported by Bob Woodward in Fear and Michael Wolff in Fire and Fury, it strongly makes a case for its irrelevance. We would have forgotten the author’s name by now if we’d ever had a chance to learn it.
The United States of Trump: How the President Really Sees America
by Bill O’Reilly
Like Halperin, Bill O’Reilly’s profile plummeted in the #MeToo era. O’Reilly lost his show following reports that FOX News paid out millions to settle a string of lawsuits accusing O’Reilly of sexual harassment. In 2019, he boarded the Trump train with The United States of Trump. O’Reilly aims to flatter Trump while appearing objective but he’s too inept a writer to pull it off. The Hollywood Reporter’s highlights include “when O’Reilly asked Trump how his childhood helped shape his view of this country, the president responded, ‘who cares?’” Based on O’Reilly’s use of that quote, we can reasonably assume that he spoke to Trump for no more than nine minutes and had to use everything he had.
The Mueller Report by Robert Mueller and The Washington Post Writers Group
It was never going to matter, never mattered and no one will remember it by February.
The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West
Liberal feminist author and humorist Lindy West has written more than one article outlining her reasons for quitting Twitter, which seems ironic in light of how much her 2019 book The Witches Are Coming reads like a circa-2016 twitter rant. Exclamation! Points! Abound! As do ALL CAPS. Once the reader wades through incoherent generalizations and pop culture references, West’s argument seems to be that men are foolish to complain about the increased scrutiny they’re perceiving under #MeToo. It’s a good point but it’s poorly served by West’s jittery and discursive social media memoir writing style. Maybe if she stuck to goofing on Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop products it would be a worthwhile book.
Dumpty: The Age of Trump in Verse by John Lithgow
No offense to the often delightful actor John Lithgow, but Dumpty, his 117-page collection of comedic satirical poetry inspired by the Trump administration is like a Simpsons joke about misguided liberal Hollywood elites come to life.
William Shakespeare’s Brexit: A Political Sh*tstorm in Five Acts by Boris Starling
Writing the doggerel of William Shakespeare’s Brexit took time and effort. It isn’t just a few throwaway lines of Iambic pentameter about David Cameron and Theresa May. It’s five acts long. That’s a lot of pointless literary cleverness. And frankly, much of it falls short of clever, like having Boris Johnson say, “to leave or not to leave, that is the question.” It’s as poisonously pleased with itself as a Jimmy Fallon Tonight Show sketch, but more pretentious.
For the Record by David Cameron
Remember this guy? He was the British Prime Minister who bet the Brexit referendum would never pass. That he had the arrogance to publish a book in 2019 is impressive. Shows some stones. No will or should care about anything you have to say but hat’s off to you, buddy. Way to show up.