In 2000, George W. Bush gave a speech at the Al Smith Dinner in New York and paid honor to William F. Buckley.
“Bill wrote a book at Yale,” he said. “I read one.”
If you believe Karl Rove, Bush was being unfair to himself. Allegedly, Rove and Bush had ongoing reading battles, belying W’s reputation for anti-intellectualism, if not necessarily depth.
Which is not to say Trump hasn’t made a great character in other people’s stories, even if their portraits find him rather blusteringly empty. It makes me wish there were an author around today who could do justice to the 2016 Trump campaign, as opposed to the made-for-TV gossip-fest we’ll likely get from Mark Halperin and John Heilemann.
Here are five I’d like to welcome from the Great Beyond:
- Richard Ben Cramer. The man who wrote the greatest of all campaign books, “What It Takes,” would have a field day with Trump. My guess is he would uncover deals that even the mogul forgot and render him with an eye both sympathetic and hard, hard, hard. After all, “What It Takes,” about the 1988 campaign, ends with George H.W. Bush, once considered a preppy “wimp,” admitting he would do “whatever it took … to win again.” After 1,000 pages of Cramer’s dissection, you understand Bush wasn’t exaggerating. Cramer would try to understand Trump, but he wouldn’t forgive him.
- H.L. Mencken. What the author of “The Sahara of the Bozart” and relentless critic of William Jennings Bryan would have made of the Trump campaign! Mencken could be high-handed, but he was shrewd — and merciless when he disliked somebody. Here’s what he wrote of Bryan, the pious Populist and Democrat: “If the fellow was sincere, then so was P. T. Barnum. The word is disgraced and degraded by such uses. He was, in fact, a charlatan, a mountebank, a zany without sense or dignity.” Now, where does that leave Trump?
- Murray Kempton. The New York columnist’s dazzling prose won him a Pulitzer, but he didn’t stand on top of ivory towers and pass judgment; he went down into the gutter to observe, too. He knew of Republicans and he knew of Trump, and as much as he disapproved of the former his words about the latter sting more viciously: “Donald Trump dresses his hatred up as though it were a peacock’s feathers. In any polity entitled to think itself civilized, persons with due regard for their breeding would rise up and leave the room politely but definitely whenever the Donald Trumps entered it. … We are assured that God does not make trash, which thought disposes of the impression that Donald Trump is not altogether a self-made man.” Kempton wrote that in 1989.
- George Washington Plunkitt. “I seen my opportunities and I took ’em,” said this practitioner of “honest graft.” There are lessons here, kids.
- Hunter S. Thompson. If you believe his own writing — occasionally exaggerated for effect — the author of “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72” sometimes did his work stoned. He wouldn’t need to exaggerate with Trump. Hell, he’d probably need to put in for extra supplies of the cocaine, cannabis and Chivas that got him through the day.
Oh, well. At least we still have Matt Taibbi.