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Ideas & Debate

Comparing books by Obama and Trump

 Trump and Obama
The front covers of Trump and Obama books. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Now that we all locked down at home, with much less to watch on television, many of us have been reading books that have for long been lying unopened on our shelves. I am certainly among them, and the first one that winked at me was The Art of the Deal by Donald Trump.

I expected it would provide me with much needed insights into the man we have come to know as POTUS. Did it? Yes and no. “Yes” because any issue that comes across his desk in the Oval Office he sees through that same transactional lens, always trying to outdo the “opponent”, always needing him to be the winner and them the loser; grabbing more than his fair share, indifferent to the “losers” not wanting to do business with him again.

“No” in the sense that the Trump who hustled in the rough and tumble of the New York and other real estate markets seemed to be a rather more civilised and decent human being than the abusive egomaniac we see in the White House.

Worse yet, Tony Schwartz, identified on the cover as the man who wrote the book “with” Trump later revealed that writing it was his “greatest regret in life, without question,” and both he and the book’s publisher said that Trump had played no role in the actual writing of the book, with Schwartz later tweeting that the work be “recategorized as fiction”.

A year after Trump became president, Schwartz reflected in an interview with the Guardian that there are “two Trumps”. The one he presents to the world is “all bluster, bullying and certainty”, observed Schwartz. The other, which he has long felt haunts his inner world, is “the frightened child of a relentlessly critical and bullying father and a distant and disengaged mother who couldn’t or wouldn’t protect him”.

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Schwartz concludes that “Trump’s temperament and his habits have hardened with age. He was always cartoonish, but compared with the man for whom I wrote The Art of the Deal 30 years ago, he is significantly angrier today: more reactive, deceitful, distracted, vindictive, impulsive and, above all, self-absorbed – assuming the last is possible. We fear Trump because he is impulsive, irrational and self-serving, but above all because he seems unconstrained by even the faintest hint of conscience.”

Pretty much my view having read the book and seeing Trump now.

Quite by chance the next book I picked off the shelf was Barack Obama’s Dreams from My Father. What a dramatic contrast. Originally published in 1995, when he had just become a Senator, it is obviously honest and authentic, a joy to read for not only the richness of the story he tells but for his philosophical analyses and the lyrical prose in which it is written. Obama comes across as dramatically different from the ghost-written Trump, an incomparably more evolved and empathetic person.

How perplexing therefore that having voted for the decent, learned Obama, the US voters so regressed in electing as his successor this self-serving and uncouth deal-maker. It will be interesting to see how these two presidents write about their time in office in memoirs they will no doubt be publishing sooner or later.

The third book to catch my eye, another whose author subsequently rose to the political summit, was Seventy Two Virgins, a political thriller written by Boris Johnson when he was Mayor of London. Johnson, like Obama, is an accomplished writer (he was a long-serving and highly paid columnist for Britain’s Daily Telegraph), and in this book a George W Bush type US president is captured by Islamist terrorists while addressing a distinguished gathering in the British parliament’s Westminster Hall.

The book too offers insights into the author, showing Johnson as the humorous and flamboyant wordsmith we know, showing off his excessively erudite vocabulary while entertaining his readers.

Among our presidents it was only Jomo Kenyatta who published books prior to ascending to the highest office. Best known is his Facing Mount Kenya, but we also have The Challenge of Uhuru, and his 1968 Suffering without Bitterness, which documents his life until then.

President Moi did not write his memoirs, and it seems unlikely that President Kibaki will. Over to you, Uhuru, post 2022.

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