Donald Trump announced his presidential candidacy in the middle of June; the publisher of his new book, Threshold Editions, a conservative imprint of Simon & Schuster, announced the release date in late September. And the resulting volume, Crippled America, very much reads like a book that was written in three months while its author spent most of his time doing other things.
Crippled America is a child's book report on Donald Trump: conversational in tone and remarkably low on detail. It is the novelization of a five-month campaign spent filling stadiums and offering bold pronouncements with very little supporting information. It is exactly the book on Trump's candidacy we might have expected, and undoubtedly the book we deserve.
The lack of specifics—or even a basic grasp of our reality—offered by Trump's broadly defined platform has been a major criticism of his campaign, and this book will do nothing to quiet that criticism. In 169 pages, you will not find any details, or vagaries, that he hasn't already articulated on The View or Morning Joe.
Like how Trump believes the U.S. should "get back the jobs we've lost to other countries":
Answer: Start by negotiating better trade agreements with our 'friendly' partners." We have to bring jobs back from places like China, Japan, and Mexico. We have to stand up and be tough. In too many ways we're giving away the greatest market in the world—the American consumer.
Or on how to replace the Affordable Care Act:
We should hire the most knowledgable people in the world on this subject and lock them in a room—and not unlock the door until they've agreed on the steps we need to take.
The book also mirrors Trump's spoken mannerisms. It makes ample use of exclamation points when he finds someone or something absurd, like this exchange with the president of The Club for Growth, David McIntosh, whom the book clearly identifies by his title but for some reason refuses to name:
A week later we received a letter from him reading, "As we both know, it is business owners who create jobs—not the government. Then he asked for a million dollar donation.
A million dollars!
Or when he wants you to know he is outraged:
Americans want to work. We have a great work ethic in this country. The problem is that when young people look for their first good jobs, or people who have lost their jobs look for new ones, they can't find any.
The jobs aren't there. They've vanished!
Or when he feels he has been underestimated:
I have proven everybody wrong.
The book is incredibly good at making you feel like Trump is speaking directly to you. In fact, Crippled America is one of the only books I've ever read, if not the only book I've ever read, that I experienced as an audio book. The short, staccato sentences. The over-reliance on banal adjectives ("terrible," "nice," "beautiful") to describe the world. Waiting "on line," not "in line." You don't read it so much as it is read to you, a collection of audio clips that you have heard somewhere already, a sound board whose buttons stick.
Which is really the thing about Crippled America: you have already read this novelization of the Donald Trump show.
In every chapter, I found myself struck by the extent to which I had internalized his views and general concerns: Trump wants to build a big, beautiful wall along the Mexican border, but that wall will also have a big, beautiful door to let people in; he will assemble the most muscular, best military in the world so that we will never have to use it; he believes Common Core is bad; he plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act with "something terrific;" Syrian refugees have no place in the United States because they could cause "problems;" LaGuardia airport is bad; he cherishes women.
I didn't even have to page back through the book or refer to my notes to confirm these points. I just know them. They are in my bones. Which is exactly how Trump—probably the shrewdest master of stagecraft in this election—wants it.
In a book full of vague policy pronouncements and sometimes comically bizarre anecdotes (Trump thwarting a wind farm in Scotland in order to preserve the view from one of his golf courses is somehow tied into a chapter on energy and the environment), his awareness of his own power to massage and hold the public's attention offers one of Crippled America's most lucid moments:
I use the media the way the media uses me—to attract attention. Once I have that attention, it's up to me to use it to my advantage. I learned a long time ago that if you're not afraid to be outspoken, the media will write about you or beg you to come on their shows. If you do things a little differently, if you say outrageous things and fight back, they love you. So sometimes I make outrageous comments and give them what they want—viewers and readers—in order to make a point. […]
I have a mutually profitable two-way relationship with the media—we give each other what we need. And now I am using that relationship to talk about the future of America.
But after three months of leading the Republican field, recent polls, coinciding with the release of his new book, show Trump dropping to second place. Voters can be fickle like that. The reality television personality turned presidential candidate may not know much about foreign or domestic policy, but he knows enough about the entertainment economy to recognize that his stock is down. And if people aren't buying, to borrow one of the many business metaphors laced throughout Crippled America, you're eventually going to go out of business.