Kentucky Authors Forum: Maggie Haberman

Keith L. Runyon

On a recent weekend, I spent most of my time reading “Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America”, Maggie Haberman’s exuberant and revolting biography of Donald Trump. But I also saw the painfully eloquent new film “Till,” about the murder of a 14-year-old child by Southern fanatics. Taken together, the pair brought home a damnable fact about America in 2022: That virulent pus that flowed into the souls of Mississippi racists in 1955 still flows and has been pieced together in the despicable figure of Donald J. Trump. and people who follow him.

With the gifts of an excellent journalist and an equally competent storyteller, Haberman, a native New Yorker who will be a guest at the University of Louisville’s Writers’ Forum in Kentucky on November 21, has produced a best -seller controversial. Over the years of her career, she has covered Trump for three of her local newspapers, The Times, Daily News and Post, as well as Politico. Much of what citizens know about our treacherous former president comes from her writings and reporting. And for that we have a lot to thank her for.

This 607-page book on Trump has been widely reviewed, and I share others’ admiration for its accomplishment. But that doesn’t erase the fact that his story should send Trump if not to jail, then to the ash heap of history’s great wasters. In this review, I’d like to focus on just one aspect of “Confidence Man,” and why it means so much right now.

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Time and time again during his career, Trump has demonstrated a visceral hatred not only for black people, but also for Jews and LGBT people, women, immigrants and the disabled. It’s more than a temperamental quirk; it is the source of politics, and even of legislation, in this country. And given the current political climate, his return to the Oval Office is a real threat. If you’ve seen Ken Burns’ recent documentary Americans and the Holocaust, you’ll know that the current waves of anti-Semitism echo the horrors of Nazi Germany.

Chinonye Chukwu’s “Till” brings to life one of the defining stories of the civil rights movement, which happened in 1955, when this writer was five years old (only nine years younger than the young Emmett Till). Till and his mother, war widow Mamie Till Mobley, lived in Chicago, where Jim Crow was not the law. But it was ingrained in the culture, as made clear when mother and son shop at the best department store in town, Marshall Field’s, and are treated to the kind of latent bigotry that Donald Trump and his father have manifested in their efforts to keep blacks out. of their housing estates in New York. It was real and ugly: as a white child traveling in the Deep South in the 1950s, I remember the “colored” water fountains, the toilets, the waiting rooms of the stations and the exclusion of blacks from restaurants , cinemas and other public places.

Emmett Till’s “offence” was trying to be friendly with a white woman at a general store in Money, Miss. The boy was accused of making advances (he didn’t) and taunting her with a “wolf whistle”. Another type of whistle, the “dog whistle,” has been used by Republicans for decades in the Old South, and it’s been taken to a cheeky new level by Donald Trump and his cronies. Do you remember Richard Nixon’s calls for ‘law and order’, Ronald Reagan’s campaign kickoff in Philadelphia, Mississippi (where three civil rights activists were brutally murdered in 1964) and George HW Bush’s 1988 “Willie Horton” ad?

Torture and murder were young Till’s reward. Wealth, fame and elective office belonged to Trump. As Haberman lays out, every stage of “The Donald’s” life has been filled with lies, double-dealing, and a political philosophy we used to kindly call “kneeling to the lowest level.” . Because his style is fast-paced, the reader finds himself following the story, only pausing occasionally to gasp that Trump isn’t just a character. He’s a real person, on lists with Lincoln, Obama, the Roosevelts, Kennedy and Johnson.

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I spent 35 years on the editorial board of this journal and 25 years as editor. It is impossible to remember another public figure in American life who even begins to compare himself to Trump or his coterie of thieves and crooks. This would include Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon and Rush Limbaugh.

A final thought: in the film. Danielle Deadwyler’s portrayal of Grandma Till-Mobley is a true profile of courage, perhaps one of the most similar portrayals in Hollywood history. She stands in stark contrast to Haberman’s Trump, who is a pathetic profile in wickedness. I don’t know if I recommend reading “Confidence Man”; but I certainly thank Maggie Haberman for writing it. His work also requires courage.

Keith L. Runyon retired in 2012 as the editorial page editor and managing editor of the Courier Journal.

The University of Louisville, Kentucky Authors’ Forum Presents: Maggie Haberman and Laura Coates

WHAT: The University of Louisville Kentucky Authors’ Forum event features Maggie Haberman, New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of “Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America,” in conversation with CNN Senior Legal Analyst and Sirius XM Radio Host Laura Coates. US Representative John Yarmuth will be the master of ceremonies

WHERE: Kentucky Center, 501 W. Main St.

WHEN: Wine and cheese reception, Carmichael’s book sale in the lobby, 5 p.m.; Chat with Maggie Haberman and Laura Coates, live video, in the North Hall, 6 p.m.; Audience Q&A, live video in North Hall, 7 p.m.; Special dinner honoring Maggie Haberman and Laura Coates at the Muhammad Ali Center, 144 N. 6th St., 7:30 p.m.

TICKETS: Package $15 including all evening events before 7:30 p.m.; The $124 package includes all events plus dinner. ($40 tax-deductible contribution to the nonprofit Kentucky Authors Forum)

MORE INFORMATION: Tickets are on sale at the Kentucky Center, by calling 502-584-7777 or by visiting

What is the Kentucky Author Forum?

The University of Louisville, Ky., Authors’ Forum is made available to PBS member stations nationwide under the title “Great Conversations.” KAF is Louisville’s only nationally broadcast cultural program. Forums are also recorded as podcast episodes, called “Great Podversations”, which is distributed by Louisville Public Media and available on iTunes, NPR, Spotify, Stitcher and most other podcast apps.

The Kentucky Author Forum series is produced by Mary Moss Greenebaum and is sponsored by the Owsley Brown II family, Bittners and LDG Development. Other partners include Carmichael’s Bookstore, The Courier Journal, Kentucky Center for Performing Arts, KET and Louisville Public Media.

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