“After Reading 150 Books About Donald Trump…”

From a Washington Post story by book critic Carlos Lozada headlined “The most essential books of the Trump era are barely about Trump at all”:

As the Washington Post’s nonfiction book critic, I’ve read well over 150 works covering Donald Trump and the major debates of his presidency, and that’s just a small fraction of the canon. Dissections of heartland voters. Manifestos of political resistance. Polemics on the fate of conservatism. Works on gender and identity. Memoirs of race and protest. Reports of White House chaos. Studies on the institution of the presidency. Predictions about the fate of American democracy.

Just as Trump’s election shocked the country’s political establishment, it jolted America’s intellectual class. Writers, thinkers, activists, academics and journalists have responded as they know best: with lots and lots of books. One of the ironies of our time is that a man who rarely reads has inspired an onslaught of book-length writing about his presidency.

These works have succeeded as a publishing phenomenon, dominating bestseller lists. As an intellectual project, they’ve been decidedly less impressive. Too many of the books of the Trump era are more knee-jerk than incisive, more posing than probing, more righteous than right, more fixated on detailing or calling out the daily transgressions of the man in the Oval Office — This is not normal! He is unfit! — than on understanding their origins or assessing their impact. The works are illuminating in part because they reflect some of the same blind spots and failures of imagination that gave us the Trump presidency — and that will almost certainly outlast it. . . .

Academics emerged in the Trump era to warn of the end of the American experiment, with the cause of death in each case neatly coinciding with each writer’s particular expertise. Political scientists warned of the demise of democracy. Philosophers lamented the erosion of truth. Economists feared the decline of trade and growth. National security professionals imagined the dissolution of international alliances and American hegemony. Historians, of course, shook their heads and noted that we’ve all been here before.

Yet perhaps the biggest shortcoming of the Trump-era books is that they almost always place Trump at the center of the story, which is precisely where he wants to be. Ever since Michael Wolff published his as-told-to-by-Steve-Bannon account of Year One of this administration, the books chronicling the chaos inside the White House all have seemed to compete for the most jaw-dropping anecdote, the most expletive-ridden quote or the most over-the-top metaphor about the man glowering from behind the Resolute Desk. Think of how many books of this era — “Fire and Fury,” “American Carnage,” “A Very Stable Genius,” “The Best People,” even “Fear” and “Rage” — feature his tweets and quotes in their very titles. . . .

I realize it is early to judge the books of the Trump era; almost certainly, the most illuminating works about this time have yet to be written. Future insider memoirs will offer more details (Don McGahn, Anthony Fauci, Kirstjen Nielsen and Robert Mueller rank highest on my wish list); further investigations will deepen the record; and works of sociology, political science, economics, public health and history will shed light on what happened and why. Regardless of the result in November’s election, the Trump library will continue expanding for decades.

But the books that matter most right now are not necessarily those revealing White House intrigue, scandal or policy battles, no matter how crucial those subjects. They are, instead, the books that enable and ennoble a national reexamination, the books that show how our current conflicts fit into the nation’s story, the books that hold fast to the American tradition of making ourselves anew. . . .

Carlos Lozada is the Washington Post’s nonfiction book critic and the author of “What Were We Thinking: A Brief Intellectual History of the Trump Era,” which will be published Oct. 6.

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