Feeling helpless in the impending Trump administration? Author Gene Stone is here to help with his new book “The Trump Survival Guide.”
The new book, out Jan. 10 from Dey Street Books (a HarperCollins imprint), is a trade paperback priced at $9.99 that’s subtitled “Everything You Need to Know About Living Through What You Hoped Would Never Happen.”
Bereft for about eight days after the Nov. 8 election, Stone, a New York Times bestselling author with 40 eclectic titles of several genres to his credit, says he couldn’t bear to watch or read the news. “Survival Guide” was written over the next 12 days (“I’ve had magazine deadlines that were much longer,” he says) with the help of seven co-writers.
Its chapters are devoted to topics like civil rights, the economy, education, energy, national security, LGBT issues and more. It’s billed as a “serious call to action for all anti-Trump dissenters across the political spectrum” that “succinctly analyzes crucial social and political policies, explains how Donald J. Trump has the power to undermine them and provides concrete practical solutions ordinary people can use to fight back.”
Stone spoke to the Blade by phone from his office in New York City. His comments have been slightly edited for length.
WASHINGTON BLADE: How did you channel your election funk into this project so quickly?
GENE STONE: After about a week of feeling sorry for everything, I decided, you know — and this is the point of the book — it’s one thing to be depressed and mopey and God knows I have friends who are still crying, but you have to do something. Being depressed doesn’t get you anywhere. Being dejected and crying doesn’t solve anything. … Sitting around doing nothing accomplishes nothing. I thought, “Well, I have to do something.” I’m not the deepest thinker in the world, but I’m certainly one of the fastest and I realized I could do this. I knew that I could turn this book around in a short period of time. I have a pretty solid publishing history so I knew I had the credibility to get a book contract for something like this. They knew I was dependable, that I’d done it before and could do it again. All that meant that I should do the book, I could do the book so therefore I felt I had to do the book.
BLADE: How unusual is this tight of a turnaround time in the book publishing world?
STONE: There was a time years ago when instant books were much more common. Bantam Books was famous for being able to turn around books in a couple of weeks. … It has actually gotten much less common because the way those books were often sold was through the bookstores that would support the book, put it on their counters and make people aware of it that way, but as bookstores have less and less market share, it’s actually harder to get something like this out now. A book like this on a counter priced at $10 is a very appealing prospect that doesn’t quite have the same appeal on Amazon …. so it’s become less and less common.
BLADE: Obviously all the chapters were important to you but did the LGBT chapter have any special significance being gay yourself?
STONE: I can’t really say any were less important than the others but when it came time to do the book — I had some friends help me; I couldn’t do it all myself, so I hired a few friends to help write, research and fact check, etc. — but I needed right away to come up with a template for each chapter and the LGBT chapter was the one I wrote first myself the night I got the book contract staying up till God knows when in the morning in order to get the template done because frankly, it was a chapter I knew really well. … That established the pattern for the rest of the book.
BLADE: When you mention the agencies readers may want to support at the end of that chapter, you mention GLAAD, GLSEN, Lambda Legal and others but only sort of mention the Human Rights Campaign, the largest, under “and don’t forget …” Why?
STONE: (pauses) As you can tell, I have some issues there.
BLADE: You also wrote “The Bush Survival Bible.” Did his presidency end up being better or worse than you expected at the outset?
STONE: Well, they’re in fact much different books. The Bush book was actually kind of a funny book. A mix of satire and jokes and some serious advice, but in the guise of a funny book. When Bush won, I was also depressed, unhappy, I didn’t like it, but at least Bush was in the ballpark. I didn’t agree with it, but there was no sense that the world was going to be turned upside down. The Trump book is not a funny book, it’s a serious book because I do have a strong sense that there’s a possibility that the world could be turned upside down and there’s nothing funny about that.
BLADE: Are there any lessons we can glean from the Bush years as a sign of things to come or is it not analogous enough to justify that sort of thinking?
STONE: Well, again, even with that Republican administration, even though we disagreed with so many of their policies, it felt nonetheless that there was some kind of dialogue available between the right and the left …. but I’m not getting that feeling with the Trump administration. Obviously it hasn’t started yet, but in looking at his cabinet picks and watching his first press conference, I’m not getting the sense that things are going to seem as normal as they seemed during the Bush administration so it’s almost like you look back and think, “Gee, could it ever be worse?” and now you realize, “Oh man, it is worse. It’s much worse.” So I’m not sure the lessons we learned in the Bush years really apply because we’re dealing with an entirely new creature and I don’t think he is going to abide by the rules. Previously there’s been a norm in politics and civil discussion that both sides, with a bit of a stretch, have maintained. We’re not seeing that now and that’s one of the things that worries me most.
BLADE: Does Trump’s impulsiveness and reactionary personality lessen the value we would ordinarily perhaps glean from all the endless prognostication and tealeaf reading we see at the outset of any administration?
STONE: Two months ago, I probably would have said yeah, but now we have been seeing a fairly consistent pattern so I’m beginning to think the mixed signals from Trump are a thing of the past. What we’re seeing now is a pretty consistent formula of appealing to the alt right or right policies. We haven’t seen anything to the left or even the center so it’s been pretty consistent. It feels like the inconsistency of the past is melting into this kind of dreary consistency.
BLADE: Ideology aside, is that a good sign or do you still feel he could go off on some crazy limb at any point?
STONE: Yeah, the latter. Obviously we don’t know what’s going to happen till it happens, but all the signals so far have been pretty negative if not very negative.
BLADE: What do you think was the biggest factor in Hillary’s loss?
STONE: That’s something we always want to do in the media, and I’m as much to blame as anybody else, but we want to talk about the thing, the one thing, that made this happen but I would say it was really a combination of the Comey letter, perhaps faulty campaigning on her part, the country wanting change and any number of other factors. I really think it was the imperfect storm of factors and remember — she did win the popular vote. … It was very close. He’s also coming in with the lowest favorability ratings since polling began.
BLADE: By design, this book will have a short shelf life. Are you OK with that?
STONE: That’s just the nature of a book like this — nobody will be reading this in two years. I write a lot of books. I co-wrote a book on how not to die based on plant-based diets and it’s sort of an antidote to the major causes of death in America and I like to think that book will be around for many, many years to come. … I’d be very happy if all the sales of this book took place in the next six months. For the lessons here to be applied, people need to read the book now.
BLADE: There are a lot of things one could point to — eight years of Obama, the Obergefell ruling, the outcry from the Trayvon Martin case and so on, that made it feel like we’d really turned a corner on the straight, white, old boys’ club in politics then bam, in one fell swoop the old boys’ club came roaring back to win the White House and both chambers of Congress. Is it just that entrenched or something else?
STONE: It does speak to entrenchment yes, but it also points to another factor that’s been prevalent in American politics since the beginning, its back and forth nature. Carter to Reagan, Bush to Clinton, Clinton to Bush, Bush to Obama — it’s been a lot of back and forth. And also the fact that they barely made it in this time makes me hopeful. I mean here we had a centrist, liberal woman running with very, very negative favorability ratings and yet she came really close to winning. I also like to think that unless the damage Trump does to our democracy is really overwhelming, that the pendulum will eventually swing back again.
BLADE: Did progressives get too complacent? If this shakes us from our complacency, is that the silver lining?
STONE: I agree with that. I think liberals have a tendency to think that we’re right. We know what’s right, we’re kind and decent and empowering. That’s the way humans are supposed to be but unfortunately, that’s not the way all humans are. We did get very complacent having a terrific president for eight years and this is going to shock us out of our complacency and hopefully make us work in a way we saw the Tea Party work. As much as I don’t agree with anything they stood for, I admire the way they got their objectives into the policies of America and we need to do the same. If my book is really about anything, it’s about fighting back and finding ways to take on the Trump administration, not by waiting four years to vote against it, but by turning every day of your life into some kind of act of resistance. If there’s anything that’s going to make me happy, and I’ve heard it a few times already, it will be to hear people say, “I read your book and I joined an organization or I donated money or now I’m going to go march in the women’s protest. The point of the book is to try to get people to move.
BLADE: But how much can really be accomplished in this environment. How was the Tea Party able to become such a force while, say, the Occupy movement seemed like it had difficulty sustaining itself or harnessing that energy into something with any measurable impact? Is the right just better at mobilizing than the left? How can you be effective when you’re not the group in power at any given moment?
STONE: Well, I think one of the things that motivated the Tea party is that it didn’t have a titular head. You couldn’t say so-and-so ran everything because it was such a grass roots thing taking place in so many parts of the country. We need to learn from that. You don’t need a powerful leader. You don’t need a spokesperson. Every one of us can be a spokesperson just as everybody in the Tea Party felt they could go to the media and say whatever they wanted, we can do the same. … I also think politics tend to trickle up from the local level and we just don’t seem to get that. We get all excited about presidents and senators but it starts with local representatives and school boards. We just don’t seem to organize on the local level the way the Tea Party can do.