I listened to a call-in radio show recently about the impact of Trump's presidency on the U.S. economy. Most of the talking points were familiar. Business owners spoke about the regulation rollbacks and hoped-for tax reforms that have already had a positive impact on their businesses. People cited a soaring stock market and approximately 300,000 jobs added in February and March. But one woman called with a surprising anecdote that broke the pattern. A children's book illustrator, she called to say that she'd seen an uptick in her business due to the surge of children's books being created on the subject of "love."
Love. She didn't spend a lot of time talking about why love was a topic that could be tied to President Trump. No one else on the call refuted why this might be a theme that would emerge in the wake of Trump's election. Whether you're a rural voter whose voice has been marginalized as a know-nothing redneck or a coastal voter tagged as elite and out of touch, there's little love to bridge the differences these days. Instead we throw brash, insulting language at each other, further alienating the very people we need to gather. In this climate, it's easy to see that our society needs a stronger dose of love and understanding, and not just in children's books. Though it's a start.
So I went to my local independent bookstore to check out the socio-political titles and see whether love was in the mix. I expected to find some of the more popular Trump-related books representing different factions, such as Gene Stone's The Trump Survival Guide or Big Agenda: President Trump's Plan to Save America by David Horowitz. These kinds of books were there, alongside more neutral, non-partisan selections, such as David McCullough's The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For and Nick Licata's Becoming a Citizen Activist. But I found no books focused on the elusive qualities required to love and respect our fellow citizens regardless of their political views. Only love for country was on full display in prescribed ways for select audiences.
I asked the store owners if there were any unexpected books that became popular in the wake of Trump's election. "Oh, the Trump bump," one of the owners said, describing the phenomenon. They said that dystopia had definitely made a comeback. Classics such as George Orwell's 1984, Sinclair Lewis's It Can't Happen Here, and John Steinbeck's The Winter of Our Discontent are prime examples of books whose sales have soared.
When I asked specifically about whether any "love and understanding" books were cutting through the noise, there was no immediate response, except for one. The owner took me back to the table with the political books and showed me one of the bestsellers among them that I'd missed. There it was—The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu.
"I decided to put it in among all the political books and it's done really well here," he said. I hadn't noticed that book when I'd browsed this table earlier. I wondered, had I not been looking for a book on joy in the political section?
"Diversity is also doing really well," he continued, walking me over to the children's and young adult section to show me a wide-ranging selection of popular books about women, immigrants, and people of color. These included Kate Schatz's Rad American Women A-Z, Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures Young Readers' Edition, and Warren St. John's Outcasts United: The Story of a Refugee Soccer Team That Changed a Town. And (at last!), I perked up when I saw Loving vs. Virginia: A Documentary Novel of the Landmark Civil Rights Case by Patricia Hruby Powell. This book combines the most powerful of love stories, of Richard and Mildred Loving, with a true-life narrative of segregation and prejudice, which led to the Supreme Court ruling that legalized interracial marriage. There's no better example of how a deep understanding of our differences can lead us to slowly and courageously take steps to right a wrong in our country.
Yet I'd come up short in finding the trove of love-thy-neighbor books I'd been seeking that could ease our political mood. I'm sure they exist. Probably they are like the sentiments themselves, difficult to see at first. Maybe bookstore owners should place more of them in the political section where we need them most. Or Amazon could offer them as featured recommendations, regardless of which political book you've searched on their site. A bonus selection for everyone's booklist.
Still I'm heartened that books on joy and diversity have been good for business. And—if the illustrator is to be believed—more books on love should be coming our way soon to meet the demand for a kinder, gentler nation. For those looking for the calm, cool path between the warring factions of pro-Trump and anti-Trump America, it's nice to know that themes of generosity and caring have a foothold in our consciousness. Now there's a business model I can get behind.
On my way out of the bookstore, I noticed something even more encouraging. The ultimate book for every American was sitting at the checkout counter, waiting for an impulse buy: a tiny pocket guide titled The U.S. Constitution and Fascinating Facts About It. A must-have for an informed citizenry. Maybe we can all just start there.