You recall cartoonist Ted Rall’s “graphic biography” of Bernie Sanders? Well, here’s the sequel of sorts—in that it is also a paginated, boldly drawn look at a white dude with eye-catching hair who will never be president.
In TRUMP: A Graphic Biography, The Donald gets an ominous flat black backdrop instead of the electric, joyful green of Bernie’s cover. This time, the cover image isn’t as good a likeness. Sure, there’s the orange skin with white raccoon-mask eyes, but where’s the circus-peanut-meets-cotton-candy hair? Why are the eyes utterly blank, without Trump’s characteristic fiery intensity? Why is the mouth so wide, when the real Trump’s lips are usually pursed in a bitter little moue? Why is the chin so broad and Flintstonian? The book’s depictions of Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Ted Cruz, and Barack Obama also don’t look much like the real thing. Perhaps Rall drew Bernie with love, as opposed to the rest of these guys?
Here’s the honest truth: TRUMP came out at the end of July. I’ve been carrying it to the office and back every week since then, wanting to write about it and also not wanting to write about it. Some part of me, I think, was hoping that Trump would simply disappear and make this book completely irrelevant. I still hope for that.
Still, TRUMP is a fascinating read. As with the Bernie biography, the most compelling parts deal with the titular character’s childhood. We read about little Donny’s bad behavior at the private Kew-Forest School in Queens; in second grade, the book notes, Trump punched a teacher because he thought she didn’t know enough about music. (A little research shows that Rall gets the details wrong—the teacher was male. The source of the uncorroborated story is Trump himself, in The Art of the Deal, and Trump proudly adds that he gave the teacher a black eye…but when The Washington Post looked into the story, none of Trump’s childhood friends could recall the incident. And as is Trump’s way, he backpedaled when he was asked about it, telling the Post, “When I say ‘punch’—when you’re that age, nobody punches very hard.” The teacher in question told another former student in 2009 that Trump never hit him. But according to the teacher’s son, on his deathbed he remembered Trump as “a little shit.” You know, these would have been good details to include, Ted.)
When reading TRUMP, as with the Sanders biography, a bit of skepticism and readerly fact-checking are helpful. But the anecdotes are still compelling, particularly the quotes (Rall provides attributions in the back of the book) from other people. One of Trump’s classmates notes that everyone at Kew-Forest called detentions “DTs,” for Donny Trumps, because he got so many of them. Another fun anecdote: In college, Trump went on a blind date with liberal actress Candice Bergen. “I just remember that he was wearing a three-piece burgundy suit, and [had a chaffeur-driven] burgundy limousine” she said. “He was very coordinated.”
And as with the Sanders book, TRUMP has some feminist blind spots. In BERNIE, Rall couldn’t seem to distinguish between Bill Clinton—whom he loathes—and Hillary, whose record is more liberal than her husband’s. In TRUMP, Rall is oddly upset about Donald’s relationships with women. Granted, the 13 (is that where we are now?) sexual harassment claims hadn’t come out yet, but Rall talks approvingly about Donald’s relationships with his beautiful, smart, accomplished ex-wives and both his daughters. The book feels dated already.
And there’s a strange willingness to excuse the racism of many of Trump’s supporters. Writing of Trump’s appeal to the working class, and the reason his message that the government was run by “idiots and losers” resonated with them, Rall observes, “If your job had been shipped overseas because of NAFTA—if you’d lost your home in an illegal bank foreclosure or which no one was ever prosecuted—if your son had lost his leg in Iraq—what could you do but cheer?” But not every military family who’s experienced loss cheers for Trump (look at the Khans!), and essentially zero people of color do despite the fact that they lost homes in the housing crisis just as poor whites did. Rall’s Bernie-jibing economic passions sometimes blinds him to other social and political issues.
Rall’s newest book in the series is SNOWDEN. This one I’m looking forward to.
Marjorie Ingall is a former columnist for Tablet, the author of Mamaleh Knows Best, and a frequent contributor to the New York Times Book Review.