New Books About Trump Presidency Unveil Details (Like How Gravely He Had COVID-19)
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The first wave of post-Trump-presidency books are out and the excerpts are filled with behind-closed-doors details like how gravely ill Trump was with COVID or former Attorney General William Barr's blunt assessment about Trump's claims of a rigged election, which he also gave this week to Jonathan Karl on ABC's "Good Morning America."
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "GOOD MORNING AMERICA")
WILLIAM BARR: But my suspicion all the way along was that there was nothing there. It was all [expletive].
SHAPIRO: The challenge of recounting this chapter of American history goes well beyond digging up juicy anecdotes, as NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben reports.
DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, BYLINE: When The Wall Street Journal's Michael Bender wrote his book about Trump's 2020 defeat, one section stuck out as the most difficult, telling the story of what Bender dubbed hell week and a half.
MICHAEL BENDER: It was the 10 days in 2020 that started with the superspreader event in the Rose Garden, included Trump's disastrous debate with Joe Biden in Cleveland and then Trump himself obviously testing positive for COVID a few days later.
KURTZLEBEN: It's not just that it was a lot to fold together, it's that simply figuring out what happened was maddening.
BENDER: How early he tested positive, how sick he was during that time - I mean, these are serious questions with national security implications that very few people knew or had firsthand knowledge of. And I had competing versions from senior officials, serious people who all were telling me different versions of that story.
KURTZLEBEN: That struggle, Bender explains, is itself emblematic of the Trump administration.
BENDER: The deception wasn't just with the public. It was literally from person to person inside the West Wing. And that's the story, not necessarily worrying about exactly what happened.
KURTZLEBEN: Bender's book, "Frankly, We Did Win This Election," is one of many trying to pull order from Trump's chaos. Another, "Nightmare Scenario," comes from the Washington Post's Yasmeen Abutaleb and Damien Paletta about Trump and COVID. Abutaleb agreed that it was hard to discern the truth from dozens of conflicting stories, which made it all the more striking when they did find consensus on the White House's coronavirus response.
YASMEEN ABUTALEB: Of the more than 180 people we spoke to, there wasn't a single one who defended the collective response.
KURTZLEBEN: According to Princeton presidential historian Julian Zelizer, telling the story of the Trump White House means not just recounting news-making moments - the racist statements, the allegations of sexual assault, the impeachments - plural - but making sense of it.
JULIAN ZELIZER: Why did America's political system have room for so much chaos over a four year period, which is like this big puzzle I don't think everyone's totally grappled with?
KURTZLEBEN: And it's not just journalists and historians. Trump administration insiders will try to explain their place in history. That's according to Keith Urbahn, a co-founder of Javelin, a literary agency that represented Bender, former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton and former FBI Director James Comey, with more to come.
KEITH URBAHN: I think it does require for people who worked in the Trump presidency to wrestle with some of the moral compromises that they had to make by serving in that administration.
KURTZLEBEN: Writing the history of a leaky, live-tweeted presidency has been unusual for a variety of additional reasons. There's book industry tumult. Simon & Schuster employees protested the publishing giant's printing Mike Pence's book. In addition, Trump could still run for president again, which may be why he has given at least 22 book interviews, as Axios recently reported. There was also a Trump-era boom in political book sales. Now, however, those sales are down 60% from the second half of 2020, according to market research firm NPD. But that doesn't mean interest will disappear, according to Javelin co-founder Matt Latimer.
MATT LATIMER: For example, next year there are a dozen or more books coming out about President Nixon. I mean, I think long after we're all gone, people are still trying to figure out what the hell this is all about.
KURTZLEBEN: It's been 47 years since Nixon resigned. By that same math, we'll be reading new Trump books into the late 2060s and probably beyond.
Danielle Kurtzleben, NPR News.
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