It is not uncommon for people who work in presidential administrations to write books once they leave office. These books generally fall into two categories: those written by high-level officials trying to justify their actions while in office and those written by lower-level people and reporters using administration sources that purport to reveal secrets, sometimes embarrassing, about what was really going on.
What has been extraordinary about the defunct Trump administration is the large number of books written, especially books that fall into the second category. It seems like not a day passes without the announcement of yet another tell-all book. In one sense it is not surprising. Whatever else one might say about that administration, it was not boring. Pretty much every day brought some new outrage or chaotic development. The Trump administration from the top down was full of venal grifters, incompetents, and outright sociopaths and so there are many salacious stories to tell.
What I don’t understand is who buys all these books. The corruption and major policy flaws are well-known. What is left to tell is insider gossip. Typically one can read the juiciest details in reviews or pre-publication excerpts, making the rest of the book redundant except for possibly historians who want to chronicle the minutiae of the atrocities.
Here for example is an excerpt from one book that says there was a shouting match between Trump and Mark Milley, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff.
A previous excerpt of Bender’s work showed Milley resisting Trump’s urges to “crack skulls” and “just shoot” protesters marching for racial justice after the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis.
The exchange reported by Axios concerned command authority. Milley, Bender writes, told Trump he was an adviser but could not command the response.
“I said you’re in fucking charge!” Trump reportedly shouted.
“Well, I’m not in charge!” Milley is said to have “yelled” back.
“You can’t fucking talk to me like that!” Trump reportedly shouted.
Bender reports that Milley told advisers gathered in the situation room: “Goddamnit. There’s a room full of lawyers here. Will someone inform him of my legal responsibilities?”
William Barr, then attorney general, is said to have backed Milley up.
Trump denied the exchange, a spokesman calling it “fake news” and saying Bender, who like scores of other authors interviewed the former president for his book, “never asked me about it and it’s totally fake news”.
“If Gen Milley had yelled at me, I would have fired him,” Trump said.
What this shows is that Trump is like a petulant child, which of course we already knew.
Here is an excerpt from another book, dealing with the lackadaisical response to the pandemic.
Amid chaos at the White House as the coronavirus pandemic worsened, Donald Trump took to referring derisively to the Covid taskforce chaired by his vice-president as “that fucking council that Mike has”.
Previous revelations from the book have included that Trump wanted to send infected Americans to Guantánamo Bay and that he mused about John Bolton, his national security adviser, being “taken out” by Covid.
Trump’s derisive term for his taskforce, the authors write, was “a signal that he wished it would go away” and “didn’t want anyone to exert leadership”.
“Many on the taskforce didn’t want the responsibility either, fearful of the consequences.”
Abutaleb and Paletta also report that in March, as cases spiraled and the US death toll passed 1,000, unofficial adviser Stephen Moore, Trump’s “emissary [from] the conservative establishment … strode into the Oval Office to convince the president” to end shutdowns and get the economy moving.
Moore is also quoted attacking Fauci, a common target for conservative ire over subjects including mask-wearing and the origins of Covid in China.
“Fauci is the villain here,” Moore says. “He has the Napoleon complex, and he thinks he is the dictator who could decide how to run the country.”
Moore also says conservative activists he advised as they staged protests against lockdowns and masks – and who he famously claimed were successors of the great civil rights protester Rosa Parks – asked: “What’s wrong with this fucking Fauci? Sometimes they’d call him Fucky, not Fauci.”
Furthermore, the tales old simply confirm what we already suspected, that the Trump administration was really awful, and merely fill in the details. And yet, presumably there are enough people willing to buy these books that publishers are willing to pay large advances to the authors.
What this reveals is that Trump had no clue about how to deal with the worst crisis of his presidency and, what was worse, did not even realize it was a crisis that could not be ignored or casually dismissed. But we already knew that too.
This kind gossipy tell-all may be important in spicing up the historical record but couldn’t this material have simply appeared as magazine articles?