The world is crashing in on Donald Trump. Arraigned on a 34-count indictment accusing him of falsifying business records to cover up hush money paid to a porn star, Trump also faces an investigation into his handling of classified documents after leaving office, a lawsuit claiming that he lied to insurers by wildly overvaluing his assets, and an investigation into his attempts to interfere with the 2020 election results. Trump needs something, anything, to help him claw back a scrap of dignity from the jaws of certain destruction. Luckily, he has just the thing: a 12-year-old Post-It note from Jay Leno reading, “Yo Donald! You da man!”
The Leno Post-It constitutes an entire double-page spread in Letters to Trump, an expensive, improbable, vainglorious, unintentionally hilarious, and potentially illegal book of correspondence spanning the last four decades of Donald Trump’s life. Released this week, priced at $99 (or $399 if you want it signed), Letters to Trump would easily qualify as the most nutso get-rich-quick scheme of Trump’s career were it not for the fact that he literally just released an NFT of himself dressed up as a superhero, and there is no way on God’s green earth that this book will ever make him rich.
You might have assumed that Letters to Trump would be bad, but you really have no idea. It’s published by Don Jr.’s firm Winning Team Publishing, whose previous releases include a book by Donald Trump, a book by Don Jr., and something called The College Scam, about the dangers of education. And despite containing more than 150 private letters spanning more than 40 years, Letters to Trump barely even qualifies as a book. Materially, it feels like one of those photo albums you can knock together on your phone in 30 seconds. And in terms of content? Well, you had better not get your hopes up.
It’s being billed as “the incredible private collection of correspondence between President Donald J. Trump and the countless world leaders, celebrities, athletes, and business leaders who shaped the United States and the world,” but the truth is a little murkier than that. The letters shared in these pages are a genuinely bizarre mix of bravado, revenge, and a pathological neediness that could sink ships. Yes, the book contains a letter from Richard Nixon, but it’s a letter from 1987 informing Trump that he did not watch an episode of The Phil Donahue Show that Trump had just appeared on.
You might have assumed that Letters to Trump would be bad, but you really have no idea.
And, yes, there are other letters from world leaders. It’s just that those leaders include Viktor Orbán, Jair Bolsonaro, and Kim Jong Un. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these are the people whom Trump seemed to get along best with. Orbán sends him birthday wishes, Kim repeatedly refers to Trump as “Your Excellency,” and Bolsonaro sends him a nostalgic little message out of the blue, misty-eyed at all the beautiful ways they both screwed their countries. Even Vladimir Putin gets in on the action, applauding Trump for hosting the Miss Universe contest in Moscow, and apologizing for not being able to meet him.
There are also letters designed to make his opponents look bad, telegraphed by the bitchy little captions that Trump has written for them. Mario Cuomo is “extremely disloyal.” Hillary Clinton (whose campaign office sent Trump a form letter in 2002 thanking him for a donation) is “the angriest woman anywhere in the world.” John McCain? “I was never a big fan.” The photo of Bill Clinton’s correspondence, meanwhile, shows him standing with Monica Lewinsky.
Much more revealing, however, are the letters that demonstrate Trump’s attitude toward showbiz. There’s the Leno Post-It, which looks like something that Leno sends his guests as a matter of formality. Letters from Princess Diana and Prince Charles are both perfunctory thank-you notes, as is the letter from Michael Jackson (billed in the book as “The Great Michael Jackson!”). There’s even a letter from Simon Cowell, an unremarkable little note—the sort of thing an assistant would draft—attached to a box of Britain’s Got Talent tapes. Is this really how Trump wants to bolster his authority in the year 2023? With a boilerplate cover letter from Cowell, of all people?
Orbán sends him birthday wishes; Kim repeatedly refers to Trump as “Your Excellency.”
And that isn’t even the weirdest letter in the book. That distinction, bewilderingly, and yet not surprisingly, goes to Rudy Giuliani. Now, you would expect Giuliani to have written Trump a letter of groveling praise much like the one Don Jr. composed that appears later in the book (“Dad, congratulations on an unprecedented achievement”), and yet his letter is inexplicably an impersonal round-robin New Year’s newsletter. It isn’t even addressed to Trump personally. It begins: “Dear friends.” Why the hell did that make the cut? Is Trump really that desperate for pals?
Possibly. Because although the book is called Letters to Trump, a staggering percentage of the letters are actually written by him. They’re easy to spot as you flick through. They’re the ones that end with that demented seismoscopic Sharpie signature of his, the one that always looks like he wrote it with his tongue sticking out of the corner of his mouth in concentration. They’re also easily the most complimentary.
Trump’s own letters, if anything, are the real draw here. He reaches out to almost anyone famous, and then underlines the most gushing parts. To Liza Minnelli: “Everyone was mesmerized!” To Serena Williams: “Everybody loves you!” To Lorne Michaels: “You are better than ever.” He didn’t write to Celine Dion, but he did write to the Mar-a-Lago members about her: “Sadly for me she is the most expensive performer—but also the best!” And this is apparently enough to warrant inclusion.
Only David Letterman earns his scorn. Responding to comments Letterman made on-air, Trump blasts, “There is nobody who is less of a racist than Donald Trump.” That letter, for what it’s worth, is placed next to a picture of Letterman looking deeply contrite, so that’s him told.
But even stuffing the book with letters that he wrote himself doesn’t quite fill Letters to Trump to a satisfying degree, which might explain why the rest of it is made up of either bizarre handwritten full-page notes that read like Live Laugh Love decals for the MAGA set. (One screams, “I WILL ALWAYS STAND UP FOR OUR GREAT AMERICAN FLAG.”) Or just wounded little reminders of past indignities, like the double-page spread he includes of an inauguration photo, published with the caption “Remember when the Democrats and their partner, the Fake News Media, said that nobody showed up for my inauguration? The crowd was gigantic!”
If you squint hard enough, there’s actually something a little heartbreaking about Letters to Trump. In the right light, it reads like something an overlooked little boy would do alone in his bedroom, pasting a series of disinterested ghostwritten celebrity letters into a scrapbook to make himself look important. Not that it matters, because the legacy of this book already seems certain.
The press has reported that a number of these letters—potentially all of them—have been published without consent. This is generally not a great idea. J. D. Salinger successfully sued Random House in the 1980s for printing his unpublished letters in a biography against his wishes. More recently, Bob Woodward used recordings of Trump in his Trump Tapes audiobook, and, as a result,Trump is currently suing Woodward for $50 million. This means that, in the near future, Trump could face similar action from every single person who has ever written to him. But why worry? The world is crashing in on Trump. What difference will a few more lawsuits make?
Stuart Heritage is a Kent, U.K.–based Writer at Large for AIR MAIL and the author of Bedtime Stories for Worried Liberals