The Problem of Prettifying Trump for Children’s Books.

Michael Ian Black and Marc Rosenthal, A Child’s First Book of Trump.

Unfortunately, when it comes to history, there’s a long, ugly history in the U.S. of lying to children. Books are filled with euphemisms and omissions, desperate to find any way to praise past politicians and their acts. This is quite the problem with presidential bios, going all the way back. People were considered courageous to mention that the oh so holy Saint Jefferson was a slaveholder. They omitted the rapes, subsequent pregnancies, and those inconvenient little slaves Jefferson fathered. You don’t find sections or books on just how genocidal presidents were when it came to Indians, or how they spent time and money on being devious bastards, making promises they fully intended to break. Nothing about the rapes, murders, and stealing of children, no. There’s very little action across uStates to undo all the whitewash. That much has not changed, but even in an industry well practiced in the art of whitewash, Trump is presenting special problems.

…Rosman catches the Scholastic folks red-handed as they rewrite history to try to prettify Trump for their audience. In a prepublication draft of the book, under the heading “Troubling Statements,” its authors initially explained: “Some of Trump’s biggest supporters were white nationalists. Their comments and actions during and after the campaign were racist and often dangerous. Trump did little to speak against them.” But in the final version, we get, instead, a page called “Campaign Statements,” which explains that, “Some of Trump’s critics felt he did not speak out against prejudicial people and groups strongly enough.”


The problem with Trump is not that he did not denounce the racism, much less the fact that some people might have felt this way. It’s that he actively encouraged not merely racism but a particularly violent strain of it; one that helped create an atmosphere of menace toward almost all people of color among his most virulent supporters. What’s more, this racism, according to the best data we can find, was central to his appeal both in the Republican primaries and in the general election. The fact that he is now president of the United States presents an additional ideological problem for children’s book publishers. Not only must they find a way around the fact that their subject is a racist, sexist, ethnocentric, McCarthyite, lying con man, but also that nearly half the country’s voters knew all this and picked him anyway.

To be honest about Trump is to be honest about America, and right now, that is just not the kind of thing children’s publishers are set up to do. It’s not even the kind of thing The New York Times or The Washington Post is set up to do — at least not without blaming “both sides” for whatever crime against democracy, decency or common sense Trump has most recently committed. Joana Costa Knufinke, group editor for nonfiction books in Scholastic’s library publishing division, uses this time-honored excuse when she explains to Rosman, “We make an effort to show both points of view.”


The challenge regarding Trump, however, is not that he has flaws, as men and all presidents do. The problem is that he is all flaws and that it was these flaws that got him elected president. Without those flaws — the racism, sexism, jingoism, dishonesty, incompetence, ignorance and belligerence — there is nothing left to say about Trump… except perhaps to make fun of his hair. This puts the nice people in the children’s book business in the uncomfortable position of either ignoring the new president or running interference of his destructive qualities and teaching our children to, at best, ignore them, or at worst, emulate them.

An incisive look at how the children’s publishing industry is going to be very busy orange-washing and filtering all information about the current unpresident of uStates. Highly recommended reading.

Full article here.


  1. Ice Swimmer says

    I think the best policy would not to publish (young) children’s books about presidents. If I were asked in which countries they do so, I’d have guessed maybe Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, North Korea, Zaire during Mobutu’s regime and Uganda when Idi Amin was in power.

  2. says

    Well the whitewash of history here doesn’t end with young children. There are a lot of people who don’t even find out the truth in college.

  3. says

    Another aspect is that the whole president thing, it’s a big part of American, well, for a lack of a better word, culture. It’s a massive prop in the propaganda of the ‘merican dream: “Anyone (boy) can grow up to be president!”

  4. Ice Swimmer says

    My thought was just that presidents don’t make for very good role models, if you write about them honestly, also I had some semi-concious vibes about the kind of hero worship that a president book would contain being authoritarian indoctrination.

    The whitewash thing is pernicious. But of course, certain powerful interests are very well served by it, as we know.

    I think that beginning from about 11-12 years of age, people can be taught to be critical of the authority figures and policies of the past without confusing them too much. I’m not a psychologist or pedagogue, though.

  5. says

    Ice Swimmer:

    My thought was just that presidents don’t make for very good role models, if you write about them honestly, also I had some semi-concious vibes about the kind of hero worship that a president book would contain being authoritarian indoctrination.

    They don’t make good role models. But, here, it’s such a massive part of the American propaganda myth, that’s it’s woven into the fabric of everything.

  6. kestrel says

    This kind of thing makes me really angry. I was lied to in school and I’m still mad about it… History should be reported as accurately as possible because one can learn important things from it. I know that bias is unavoidable; deliberately ladling it in is not in the least helpful.

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