‘I Never Forgive, Never Apologize!’

Comment by Shivaji Sengupta

 

Two new books on Donald J. Trump have recently been published. Along with a third, to come out very soon, these books tell us, not only about Trump, but about Trumpismnot just what happened after he became president in 2017, but what happened throughout a chaotic presidency, but most importantly about what happened after he lost.

 

Wall St Journal reporter Michael Bender’s Frankly, We Did Win This Election is actually more about Trumpism than Trump. It’s about those who voted for Trump, and are likely to vote for him again if he runs in 2024. Michael Wolff’s Landslide is about the Trump environment that has permeated not just Washington D.C. (proving emphatically that he is no longer an outsider), but also the entire Republican national politiscape. The title of his book refers to the way Trump describes both presidential elections. According to him, he won them by landslide. Wolff’s title is ironic.

 

Mary Trump’s upcoming The Reckoning is about what happened to America when Trump became president, and since. “What Happened” was the title of Hillary Clinton’s book about her traumas after she went down in a shocking defeat in 2016. Mary’s, according to the subtitle of her book, is about our national trauma because of the Trump presidency and its aftermath. She tries to extend the chaos and confusion of the Trump family to the way he governed from the White House.

I think of these three books in conceptual sequence. Mary Trump’s The Reckoning is atmospheric, establishing the opposite of what Plato preached in The Republic: to be a good leader of the country you have to be a good and upright leader of your family. The other two may be read as what can happen when a man of Trump’s character and ethos becomes the head of state, all the way from his election tactics, his victory and the way he refuses to accept defeat and breeds vicious lies to prove his point.

 

Mary Trump is a clinical psychologist, albeit an author not without a vested interest. Her descriptions and opinions about the former president are perhaps not entirely free of bias. Witness, her earlier book, Too Much is Not Enough, in which she tells about the heartless and vicious way Donald and Trump Senior treated Mary’s father, Donald’s elder brother, when he was suffering from alcoholism and a serious heart condition. Later, the Trump family cheated Mary and her family from their rightful inheritance. Yet, from all that has come before its publication – news reports, interviews and her preceding bestseller – Mary’s book promises to be an important read.

Regarding the other two books by the two Michaels, Wolff’s is racy and readable, with few references to sources. However, given that he has already written two unflattering books on the president and yet got two exclusive interviews from him, we have to take the book seriously. Wolff writes with a novelist’s flare, with a sense of plot and story, and insightful observations on the man’s behavioral and character traits – all these make for absorbing reading. However, I do find Wolff’s relentless, and often crude criticism of Trump and his staff a tad monotonous. His reasons may be to completely gut whatever popularity Trump might enjoy among his followers – forty million strong – so that the truth about Trump is out, and he never wins again. Wolff foreshadows his purpose of writing the book by showing up the dichotomy between Trump’s White House staff and his supporters:

“Across those 77 days [ie, the days between November 3 and January 6th when Congress was set to ratify Biden’s victory and declare him president], the forces of disorder were summoned and directed by the departing president, who wielded the power derived from his near-infallible status among the party faithful in one final norm-defying act of a reality-denying presidency.

“Except … In the days and weeks after Election Day on November 3, the president was deserted by his aides and staff. The legal establishment, at least anyone in it with a promising career, abandoned him. His hapless band of co-conspirators were too crazy or drunk or cynical to develop a credible strategy or execute one. It was all a shit show—ludicrous, inexplicable, cringeworthy, nuts, even for the people who felt most loyal to him. The election challenge never had a chance of success.”

 

Wolff’s book shows the absolute and utmost pandemonium the White House was subjected to throughout 2020 when the president’s reelection team was required to be clear-headed, clear eyed, focused and task oriented. They were anything but. Wolff also shows how gradually and deliberately Trump transformed from president to godfather (my term), even as he was losing grip upon himself and on those working for him.

 

If Wolff hopes that his message will carry through, he may be disappointed. Most of the 40 million Trump supporters do not read. They will have no idea of the contents of “Landslide,” although they will likely hear about the book on television. If they do, they will simply dismiss it.

3 New books on Trump reinforce his character

For me, Michael Bender’s Frankly…made the most interesting reading because I have been puzzling myself about how it is that Trump still commands over 40 million voters who would give anything to see him back as president, even at the expense of gutting the Constitution and, consequently, democracy. Bender’s book gives an excellent anthropological account of Trump’s “Front-row Joe” voters. These are the people who came from all over America, far and wide, to listen to his speeches in the hundreds of rallies he has held, risking Covid. This is how Bender describes them:

“Trump’s relentless rally goers were almost exclusively white. Many were recently retired and had time on their hands and little to tie them to home. Several lived paycheck-to-paycheck yet always offered strangers a cold beverage, a pre packed sandwich, or their last cigarette. Cynthia Barten, who lived in Missouri, relied on disability payments. Her husband, Ken Barten, cut lawns. Jon French sold second hand items in Kentucky. Kevin Steele quit his job and financed his travels to Trump rallies with a $120,000 family inheritance. To help pay for her trips, Saundra logged into Wonolo or other mobile phone apps to find odd jobs washing dishes or clearing warehouses in whatever town to which she’d followed Trump’s traveling circus.”

 

Who are these voters? Do they really care about issues or politics? Bender answers:

3 New books on Trump reinforce his character

“They all voted for Trump, but a surprising number of them had also voted for Barack Obama at least once, attracted to the Democrat’s charisma and fed up with Republicans over foreign adventurism and the growing national debt.”

 

Reading the two books I continue to ask what socioeconomic milieu has thrown up such a man as president of the United States. Will he come back again? Am I ever to get the measure of him or his dyed-in-the-wool supporters?

 

I remember seeing an interview Trump gave a long time ago, in which he declared unabashedly that the two words not in his dictionary are: apology and forgive. At that time, the tycoon being of little consequence to an academic like myself, I merely noted the man’s arrogance, and his business-like crass attitude to human relationships. I never thought he would be president.

 

Neither did he, his ambition notwithstanding. It is said he wrote a much longer concession speech on the eve of the presidential election in 2016, than his victory speech. It stands in direct contrast to Michael Wolff’s ironic title, Landslide, a hyperbole Trump often used to describe his relatively narrow victory over Hillary. Ironically, too, he had lost by exactly the same electoral college votes to Joe Biden  as he had won against Hillary in 2016.

 

In November 2020, Trump didn’t come to the conclusion right away that he had won regardless of the returns. In Bender’s book he recounts how crestfallen he was when late night votes for Biden started to pour in. Apparently, it was his son, Don Jr., who convinced him that he couldn’t lose this election. If it did turn out that he received less votes than his rival, it would be because of election fraud. That caused a sudden tectonic shift in Trump’s head. To Trump,  defeat is catastrophic; losing a position is disastrous, much more than losing money which, as a businessman, Trump had experienced many times. He had never really been ousted from anything. To be kicked out of the nation’s most important job? No, no way.

 

Therefore, according to Wolff, Trump will run for president again. Bender and Mary Trump think so too. In an Op Ed in the New York Times this week, Wolff  gives three reasons: One, Donald Trump has almost won the undisputed leadership of his party. The only thorn on his side is Mitch McConnell who is leaving no stone unturned to become the Senate Majority leader. If he does succeed, he will rival Trump to be the party leader. As president-in-waiting, Trump can’t have that. As he confided to Wolff, he has “a silver bullet’ to outfox McConnell. He will be the party boss, he will run for president, he will win. Two, he is less than generous toward any other Republican who is rumored to be running, like Mike Pence or Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. And finally, Trump is not even willing to listen to any question about his presidential library which symbolizes the end of presidency for presidents.

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