Our Reading Lives

Trump’s Name in Pre-2016 Books

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Rachel Wagner

Staff Writer

Rachel Wagner is a writer from New Jersey, currently living in Newark with her son. Her blog and more of her published writing can be found at rachel-wagner.com

The first book that I saw his name in after the 2016 presidential election was Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad Poor Dad. It was written 20 years ago this year. When the writer says that he looks up to trump financially, I almost stopped reading. That’s not an uncommon reference to make pre-2016 election (even though he always sucked) so I finished it, thinking I was near the end anyway. Then I got to the last page, and there it was: trump standing next to Kiyosaki, advertising their co-written book. I wanted to be sick. I had just read a book by someone who really messes with trump.

That happened about six months after the 2016 vote. Unless you’re not consuming any media that came out before the election, you’re bound to casually encounter his name. It meant something different before, but seeing it written uncritically is eerie. It’s hard to ignore the way that his name’s connection to pop-culture made his current position possible. One of the most frustrating things during his run for president was seeing so many articles written about him. It felt counter-productive to keep legitimizing him, even by critiquing him. I stopped visiting the New York Times site after a while because his name was everywhere.

The first time I saw it in fiction after the election was in Joy’s short story “Beyatch!!!” from Nikki Turner’s 2007 story collection Street Chronicles: Girls in the Game. It uses trump’s name the same way a lot of pre-2016 rap songs do—as a symbol for having legit money. In explaining a guy’s financial situation, the narrator explains, “Lee had no desire to fuck with the little paper that knowing muthafuckas on the streets brought. He was interested only in the Donald Trumps and Bill Gateses of the game.” This line doesn’t directly align Lee as trump, but rather states that, like Kiyosaki, he wants to associate with people like him. The plural on his name doesn’t make him sound unique, and yet the separation from Gates sounds like two of them are also in different categories of money.

It’s fitting, though, to attach trump’s name to a man like Lee who is involved in some shady shit. Not only is his actual job never really mentioned, but Lee is a middle aged man who first comes into the story as a guy hanging out with Tahj’s mother late at night. Her mother kicks Tahj out that night for trying to tell her to take the little get together somewhere else. Somehow Tahj ends up staying with Lee because, “in Lee’s eyes, Tahj was the sweet girl he had watched plead with her mother that night for the comfort and security of her and her little sister and niece. She was helpless and dependent on him.” He likes her because she’s vulnerable. Her desperation gave Lee an opportunity to leave the mother for her eighteen-year-old daughter, which ends up making him look desperate to be a worshipped caretaker.

Although he has power over her, Tahj’s truly only there for the money (and maybe also to get back at her mother). She’s constantly scamming in order to build up her savings. Throughout the story, she stashes money from him and anyone else willing to put money in her hands. She brags to Lee about buying him a gift, but “Tahj knew damn well she had taken the three thousand dollars Lee had given her to go shopping, spent a hundred on a pair of pajamas for him, and had deposited the rest into her bank account.” Knowing that his priority is to be linked with money, she knows how to manipulate him with material things. He gives her shopping money to feel like the man, but doesn’t realize that she doesn’t care about stuff—she cares about building up her money.

Meanwhile, Tahj also cheats on him all the time, both for sex and for money. Eventually Lee finds out and kicks her out. Tahj doesn’t put up much of a fight, and “with her Louis Vuitton luggage piled up in her car and her ‘the day will come’ account, Tahj put that car in drive and slowly drove off. She didn’t have any particular destination in mind, but she knew wherever she ended up, it would be on top.” She’s able to drive away from him at the end without losing anything only because she never lost sight of her goal. Her freedom from him is only freeing because she never really liked him. Maybe the happiest ending is that she no longer associates with someone who wishes they could associate with trump.

I know that there’s another book that I saw his name in over the past year, but I can’t remember what it was. I’ve looked through the log I keep of all the books I read, and none of them stand out to me as the one. I’ve stopped searching for it now. It seems stupid to spend time skimming through all the books I’ve read in the past year just to look for his name. So I’m not going to. I just know that that name gets uglier and uglier the more I see it.