The Art of the Bestseller

It hasn’t been a great few weeks for President Trump and I doubt that his ill-conceived pandemic rally in Tulsa is going to make things better. This week, Trump and his best bud Bill Barr filed a lawsuit to stop the release of a book by former National Security Advisor John Bolton. Now Trump is threatening to sue his own niece because she’s written a tell-all book that reportedly makes Trump look evil.

It’s all bluster and will amount to nothing. Both books will be released. In fact, many of the more incendiary details have already been reported. That’s the way book publishing works. When you have a big buzzy book, you send out a ton of review copies and feed juicy details to the press in order to drive interest and pre-orders. Both books will debut on the bestseller lists.

I don’t know anyone who is particularly enamored with John Bolton these days. Trumpers are calling him a traitor for writing the book. Many Democrats believe he’s an opportunistic egomaniac who chose to cash in on a big book deal rather than testify when his information might have been truly useful in unseating the dangerous president he now deems “unfit for office.” I’ve no doubt Bolton’s book will reveal even more illegal, unethical, and incompetent actions by the current president. I’ve no doubt these revelations are true. I still think Bolton is a weasel.

Trump’s niece, however, is another story. Plenty of presidents have weathered family drama while in the White House. And presidents are people—they have sibling quarrels and family estrangements just like the rest of us. But most of us would never ask a family member to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Most of us would never withhold payments for medical treatment for a sick infant as a bargaining chip for the family inheritance. But this is not a revelation; it’s been widely reported. The people who support Trump don’t care that he’s cruel and faithless and ruthless. Apparently, they like these qualities.

So why is Donald Trump so worried about Mary Trump’s book? Whatever it is, he’s a fool for threatening to sue. Nothing sells books better than a high-profile attempt at censorship. Other presidents knew this. When gossip columnist Kitty Kelley published a scathing unauthorized bio of Nancy Reagan, the Reagans ignored it. They didn’t dispute or deny or discuss. The book was published just over a year after the Reagans left the White House. Nancy Reagan seemed highly invested in shaping the Reagan legacy. She must have cared, but she didn’t show it. The book prompted a lot of speculation and salacious talk show segments, but when the subject of such a book refuses to engage in the conversation the interest tends to die down pretty quickly.

Why doesn’t Trump know this?

If he ignored these books and the scandalous behavior they detail, they would disappear from the American conversation relatively quickly. Bill Clinton understood this. When he was embroiled in his own impeachment, he refused to mention it in speeches or interviews. Instead, he worked to make sure the American public knew he was busy working on more serious matters like the economy. It worked. By the time he left office, Clinton’s approval ratings were at an all-time high.

I don’t know why Trump can’t seem to keep his mouth shut when doing so would only help him. I don’t know why Bill Barr is so willing to go along with these petty battles, even though doing so makes him look incompetent and crooked. I don’t know why so-called decent people like Jim Mattis and John Kelly wait until they have nothing to lose to speak truth about Trump’s dangerous lies. But I know one thing for damn sure: any author hoping to write a sure-fire bestseller ought to write about Trump. The man is bad for America and a terror to his own family, but he is very good for book sales.

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