To understand Donald Trump’s presidency, just look at his cultural products. Few films in the last decade have managed to explain the racism that exists in the prisons of the United States like the Netflix series Orange is the New Black. Five months before Trump won, in season four, one of the most adored characters – the African American prisoner Poussey Washington – dies asphyxiated by a racist white guard while she manages to say: “I can’t breathe.” They were the words that Eric Garner spoke in 2014, and the same that George Floyd spoke a few months ago, when the police took their last breath. A few years ago, Ava DuVernay’s documentary was also important to explain in detail the crisis in prisons and racism. 13th and Michelle Alexander’s book The color of justiceBut those three words are still enough to summarize four years of the racist agenda that governed the White House.
Bookstores and television are now flooded by other types of titles: those that tell the insides of the Donald Trump government, those who denounce with just anger the patriarchy that the president represents and those who try to understand the broken promise of social networks who came to power twitter-president. The editorial obsessions of the last four years reflect, to some extent, the new wounds left by Donald Trump.
More than 1,200 books have been written on Trump since 2016, more than double the number sold in the last four years of the Obama presidency. There are so many that even the literary critic of The Washington Post, Carlos Lozada, has just published a book that analyzes 150 of these, entitled What Were We Thinking. “For some people, my book will serve as a summary,” the critic recently said.
The bestseller about Trump were sold like hot cakes. In early 2018, citizens in Washington lined up until midnight to buy Fire and furyby journalist Michael Wolff, whose main revelation was quoting former adviser Steve Bannon criticizing the meeting the Trump campaign had with Russian delegates. The judicial investigation into possible Russian interference led to the famous Mueller Report, which three publishers (Skyhorse, Scribner and Melville House) decided to publish in record time as if it were the last Harry Potter book. Then they came Fear (sold 1.1 million copies in one week) and, most recently, Rage (He sold 600,000 in the same time), by journalist Bob Woodward, who revealed what was not difficult to guess: that many of Trump’s advisers see their boss as a dangerous idiot; that some hide information from him, and that the president himself hid information in February about the severity of the coronavirus.
Several former White House advisers, taking advantage of the boom, they jumped straight from their official positions to sign an editorial contract. Books were published by former national security adviser John Bolton; former communications director Anthony Scaramucci; or President Michael Cohen’s former attorney and ex-friend. But none has sold as much as the new Always too much and never enough from the niece of the head of state, Mary Trump, whose subtitle goes back to the bottom of the problem: “How my family created the most dangerous man in the world.” The book sold nearly a million copies on its first day, a historic record for Simon & Schuster publishers.
The telewar against patriarchy
“When you are a star, [las mujeres] they let you do anything to them, “said the president of the United States in 2005, a quote that revealed The Washington Post during the presidential campaign four years ago. The phrase was preceded by what is believed to have been the largest demonstration in the history of the country in one day – the women’s march on January 21, 2017 – but also the production of new documentaries that featured other celebrities of the United States who, apparently, think like the president.
There is the famous Netflix series Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich, about the millionaire businessman – friend of Trump, Bill Clinton, Prince Andrew of England – who abused dozens of minors with the silence (or complicity) of the most powerful men. “Epstein did not act alone,” explains one of his victims. Neither were other music stars, as HBO showed with its series Leaving Neverlandon the abuse of children by Michael Jackson; Surviving R. Kelly on the abuse committed against young women by the rap celebrity; or On the Record of HBO Max, on the abuses committed by a powerful producer of hip hop named Russell Simmons. Most awaited was the documentary Untouchable on Hulu, about the controversial film producer Harvey Weinstein, and the bestseller She Said of the two New York Times journalists who revealed the scandal that sparked the #MeToo movement.
In reaction, a defense of women’s fury came to the bookstores. Two good examples are We are all rage by activist Soraya Chemaly, who laid out all the possible statistics with which American women can justify their anger (lower wages, fewer jobs, worse health care, sexual harassment, domestic violence). Y Good and Angry: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger from journalist Rebecca Traister, who makes a similar argument to Chemaly’s for rage, but with an additional dilemma for the movement: In 2016, the majority of white women voted for Donald Trump. Women of all races and classes in America protested the worst of patriarchy for four years, but a group of them allowed her to come to power. “Some women have been offered the advantages of white supremacy,” Treister writes, in this book that questions the deep divisions in one of the most important social movements of the last four years.
The disappointing valley of silicone
If the Obama election and the Arab Spring brought the illusion a decade ago that social media had the ability to positively transform democracies, four years with Twitter’s most famous president destroyed it. Two weeks before Trump’s victory, the English series Black mirror published its third season with a first chapter that predicted the nightmare that an application like Facebook can become: the main actress ends up in jail after losing her digital popularity.
The creators of Facebook and Twitter – Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey – had to account to Congress in these years, but so did all of Silicon Valley in movies or books. The excellent book The battle for Uber from the journalist of The New York Times Mike Isaac profiles the company and its co-founder, Travis Kalanick, where he dominated a culture in which sexual harassment, labor exploitation, excessive spending, and even spying are recurring transgressions. Similar is the HBO documentary The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley which revealed how Wall Street millionaires were fooled by the Silicon Valley promise, Elizabeth Holmes, a woman who claimed to have the technology to do blood tests faster than labs (spoiler: did not have it).
Then there are the defectors. Documentaries like The social media dilemma, published recently on Netflix, interviews many of the former employees of Facebook, Google or Twitter who criticize how the world of Silicon Valley is enriched with the attention and personal data of users. But perhaps more interesting is the (almost manifest) book by artist Jenny Odell, who briefly worked at Facebook and has taught digital art at Stanford, and who wrote Doing Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy. Life, she writes, is “more than an instrument and therefore something that cannot be optimized.” A necessary reminder for those of us who spent, during the pandemic and the virtual presidential campaign, more than six hours swimming between the algorithms of Silicon Valley.
Guns and drugs
There are dramas that are as old as Trump and that no matter how many films or essays are published, the script does not change. The tragic history of the massacres committed as a result of lax gun control has not changed in these four years. The Washington Post began to frequently update a database that tracks the number of people killed in those massacres since 1966: more than 1,200 dead, thousands of injured. In the last four years, a man murdered 60 people during a concert in Las Vegas in October 2017; In February 2018, a student murdered 17 of his classmates at a Parkland, Florida school. The Florida massacre sparked a social movement for gun control and inspired the production of at least seven documentaries. But none stirred viewers quite like the viral video of the speech by Emma Gonzalez, one of the surviving teenagers. “We do not understand why it is more difficult to make plans with friends on weekends than to buy a gun,” He said. “To those who say that stricter laws do not reduce violence, we say: shit.”
The other endless tragedy is the failed ‘war on drugs’, which no series after The Wire, from 2002, has been able to portray better. In these four years there was not a Trainspotting or a Requiem for a Dream, but the documentary Heroin (e) it is perhaps the one that best explains the painful crisis of opiates and heroin that thousands of citizens are currently suffering. Nominated for an Oscar in 2018, the documentary follows rescuers trying to save the lives of addicts in Huntington, West Virginia, “The capital of overdoses in America.” “I see this as the problem that has the potential to bankrupt the country,” says one of the workers. Research published in 2018 by journalist Barry Meier, Pain killer, is the other side of that coin: the story of a family of millionaires in the pharmaceutical industry, the Sacklers, who promoted this crisis since the late nineties with their dangerous opioid, OxyContin. “By 2016, the number of prescription drug overdose deaths quadrupled since 1999,” the author writes. “OxyContin was not a wonder medicine, but the gateway to the most devastating public health disaster of the 21st century.”