IWhile in recent years American policy books have been mostly known for fleeting, by 2021 the winds of history have started to blow through the doors – sometimes with devastating effect. The advent of a new administration untied tongues and made documents more easily accessible as some sought redemption, justification, or simply glory.
Such books illustrate the truth that one cannot keep something hidden and generally share some characteristics that carry the sound of truth. They report outbursts of bitter anger from Donald Trump, staff reeling from the dysfunction, chaos and pressures of a campaign during a pandemic. They frequently recount interviews with Trump himself. They contain enough profanity to make sailors blush.
And, thankfully, this newspaper celebrated its bicentennial in part by picking up many of them, with real consequences in the case of Mark Meadows, who published The chef’s chef this month. Some – the former White House chief of staff in particular – might wish they hadn’t written any books. But some books are essential to understand the danger in which the country finds itself.
Former FBI Director James Comey opened the year with Save justice, a second book defending the rule of law. Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes followed with Fortunate, a quick but comprehensive postmortem of the 2020 campaign, noting: “Luck, it has been said, is the residue of design. It was for Joe Biden and for the republic.
The heart of the year was a series of blockbusters by prominent journalists, each containing important new information on aspects of the chaos of 2020. Michael Bender started with Frankly we won this election, in which Trump’s words, officially, are not surprising but shocking nonetheless.
In Landslide, Michael Wolff ended his Trump trilogy with a focus on campaigning – including Chris Christie, in preparation for the debate (after which he tested positive for Covid), earning Trump’s ire for asking questions difficult but predictable on Covid’s response and family scandals – and on a post-election dominated by Trump’s anger as levers of power, including the Supreme Court of which he chose three members, failed to overturn his defeat.
Wolff is deeply analytical: as he writes, Trump “knew nothing about the government, [his supporters] knew nothing about government, so the context of government itself became irrelevant ”. Instead, Trump was “the star – never forget it – and the base was his audience.” This self-referential and adored mode of government has failed in a divided country in the face of a pandemic and growing international challenges. Landslide is a good book, even as new evidence from the Jan.6 committee emerges, Wolff’s conclusion limiting Trump’s own knowledge and responsibility for the events of that day may seem premature.
Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker followed with Only I can fix it, in which General Mark Milley said the United States was in a “Reichstag moment” on January 2, four days before the uprising, and referred to the “Führer’s gospel” plaguing American democracy. Trump’s anger at his pollster, Tony Fabrizio, for bringing bad news about Covid and the electorate is also revealing: “they are tiredness? they are tiredness ? Politics as empathy was not the theme of the campaign.
Bob Woodward, writing with Robert Costa, also ended his Trump series with Peril, whose title sums up its conclusion. The book, notable for revealing General Milley’s attempts to reassure the Chinese military in the final days of the presidency, cites Trump’s apparent view that “the real power [is] fear ”and asks,“ Were there limits to what he and his supporters could do to bring him back to power?
that of Adam Schiff Midnight in Washington brings the eye of a former prosecutor and the perspective of a Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee on issues surrounding Trump and Russia. His book is both a story and a warning.
Among Trump’s loyalists, freed former trade czar Peter Navarro In Trump’s time, in which he criticized Meadows and anyone else he deemed insufficiently loyal. The book’s most memorable line calls Vice President Mike Pence “Brutus” to Trump’s “American Caesar” – all without irony or, hopefully, without knowledge of Roman history.
Not all notable books were revealing. Some contained genuine political ideas. Josh Rogin’s Chaos under the sky examines U.S.-China relations from a strategic and pandemic perspective, noting U.S. conflicts of interest and policy as well as Trump’s inability to develop a viable strategy. Rival books on antitrust policy by two very different senators, Amy Klobuchar and Josh Hawley, illustrate Congress’ increased interest in big tech companies. Evan osnos Wilderness chronicles the lives and fortunes of billionaires and the growth of the Washington machine – and the effects, including political changes on the right, on those below. On a related topic, in failures Tim Mak delivers a shocking story of the National Rifle Association and its former leaders.
Several books will serve as first sketches of history. Madame President, Susan Page’s biography of President Nancy Pelosi, describes how she “tackled the boys’ club and won” through mastery of the law and her caucus. Justice, justice you will pursue compiles the opinions, speeches and other material of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, with Amanda Tyler as co-author.
Unsurprisingly, in the second year of a pandemic, healthcare took center stage. In The ten years war, Jonathan Cohn tells the 10-year history of Obamacare. Patrick radden keefe Empire of Pain tells the sad and painful story of the promotion of opioids in America. On the pandemic, Yasmeen Abutaleb and Damian Paletta in Nightmare scenario focus on the Trump administration’s response. Leaving the blame primarily on states has had deleterious consequences, as has chaos, turf wars and prioritizing “the demands of Trump and his base” as he seeks re-election rather than an effective response.
Scott Gottlieb, a noted former FDA commissioner, takes a broader and more philosophical point of view in Uncontrolled spread. Lack of leadership and a “major undertaking devoted to fabricating skepticism” about the virus and public health solutions has meant the United States has failed at the helm of “delay.[ing] its appearance and reduce[ing] its scope and seriousness ”. But Operation Warp Speed’s vaccination effort “proved what the government can accomplish when it works well” and deeply regrets the lack of leadership elsewhere as confirmed deaths in the United States, both among the unvaccinated, exceed 800,000.
Equally profound is the wider impact of the pandemic. In Gottlieb’s words, “Covid normalized breakdowns in a world order that was assumed, perhaps naively, to protect us, just as Covid pierced our own perceptions of resilience, cooperation and courage. national. The vaccine hesitation in the face of clear science is only a pandemic effect.
With honorable mentions for Wolff, Leonnig and Rucker, Woodward and Costa and Gottlieb, ABC’s Jonathan Karl produced arguably the most important book of the year in Treason, in which members of the Trump cabinet “paint a portrait of a president filled with anger, detached from reality, hungry for revenge.” Attorney General Bill Barr Expresses Election Plots; Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller seeks to deter Trump from attacking Iran by taking (and faking) an extreme stance in favor:
Often times with provocative people, if you become more provocative than them, then they have to reduce it.
That was the government in Trump’s day.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote in his Nobel lecture that “one word of truth will prevail over the whole world”. The amount of newly discovered truth already exceeds many of the more than 4,000 exoplanets that NASA has recorded.
Yet the vital question remains: what do Americans, especially Republican officials and independent voters, To do with this information? As Karl wrote: “The continued survival of our republic may depend, in part, on the will of those who promoted Trump’s lies and those who remained silent to admit they were wrong.
Is it Solzhenitsyn’s hope – or his fear that “when we are told the old truth again, we won’t even remember that we once possessed it”?