Last night, the Reading Through It Book Club welcomed its first author, Seattle's own Martha Brockenbrough. Her book, Unpresidented, is a deeply researched biography of Donald Trump for young readers — though readers of any age are guaranteed to learn something. For a little over an hour, Brockenbrough fielded the group's questions — from process inquiries about her research (it involves a large Excel spreadsheet) to more vague questions about how the country can recover from such a thorough destruction of our norms.
Brockenbrough is a funny and generous public speaker who volunteered all her knowledge and freely admitted when she didn't know the answer to a question. But boy, oh boy, she knew a lot. Through hundreds of hours of work, Brockenbrough has managed to separate the necessary from the unnecessary when it comes to Trump-related information. She doesn't fall for the palace intrigue or wild speculation that plagues the waking hours of many of us. Instead, she recognizes the obvious patterns in Trump's life and pays attention to those things. As a result, she's rarely surprised by anything the president does.
This work came with a price. Brockenbrough admitted that after she finished writing and touring Unpresidented, she became very sick and was basically out of commission for a month — an ailment that she attributes directly to spending every waking hour living in Trump's head. She suffered a condensed, heightened version of the low-level stress and anxiety that we all go through every day when we check the internet to make sure that our country still exists.
Many of the questions from the book club were some variation on the theme of "will we be okay?" Can we survive a president who very likely will, as Brockenbrough suspects, question the legitimacy of any presidential election that does not result in a landslide in his favor? While she can't guarantee a happy ending, Brockenbrough seemed to be hopeful. The nation has survived norm-busting before in the past, she said, and if we can restore a faith in our institutions then things will likely improve.
Unpresidented certainly restored my faith in the institution of journalism. The clarity that Brockenbrough delivers in the book is entirely unlike the chaos that I encounter every day on Twitter or in the news. All through the past month, I keep returning to the opening passage of the book, in which Brockenbrough defines and explains the importance of truth.
When we have patterns and supporting documentation like this, we can feel confident we have an accurate understanding of an aspect of a person's character. We can feel confident it is also fair to include in a biography...Sometimes we define fairness as a balance of positive and negative information. It's an understandable impulse
But this is a bit like saying you can create balance by putting ten elephants on one side of the scale and ten babies on the other. Ten and ten are equal, but they are not necessarily equivalent. Fairness demands a writer examine the whole and select representative parts. It demands a writer constantly consider the credibility of sources. It's not easy work...My goal, as always, was to look for patterns, to find verifiable facts, and to put all of this information into context.
It's rare to see a mission statement delivered with such clear-eyed purpose. One thing is for sure: if we do survive this mess, it will be because people like Brockenbrough have devoted themselves in full to the quest for truth — because they believe that the truth has value, that it matters. Without that north star to guide us, we'll surely be lost.