LONDON – Ten publishers passed over a thriller in which senior aides plot to kill the US president after he threatens to launch a nuclear war on North Korea. The book was written just after Donald Trump took office.
In a chilling prediction of current affairs, Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland wrote “To Kill the President” under the pseudonym Sam Bourne. The novel features a presidential adviser who is close with the white supremacist far right, a group of vigilantes who round up illegal immigrants in the southwestern US, and the first daughter is referred to as “The Princess.”
The novel was completed just 72 hours after Trump was inaugurated as president and eight months before his clashes with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that threaten to turn into a conflict. Despite it echoing current events, Freedland did not change a word between January and its publication in June.
In his latest Guardian column, Freedland wrote: “The bar is set so low for Donald Trump that every day he doesn’t trigger a nuclear confrontation with a distant adversary is seen as a bonus.”
Ten US publishers rejected “To Kill the President” after a backlash against fiction that suggested the death of a US president. It is illegal to threaten to kill the president in America, even if such a threat might never realisticallu be carried out. Freedland’s agent told the New York Times that an effort to soften the title to “The Plot Against the President” still did not convince publishers.
Jonny Geller said: “The commercial view among publishers seems to be that people are living it and haven’t got the headspace for reading it. It is a lack of courage and imagination.”
There was outcry after comedian Kathy Griffin posed with a fake decapitated head of Trump. And actor Johnny Depp was criticised after asking the crowd at the Glastonbury festival: “When was the last time an actor assassinated a president?”
Freedland has insisted that the book a work of fiction, and that his aim was to create a debate around the moral questions that would face White House officials in the event that a US president was heading towards a global nuclear war.
In the thriller, aides decide that murder is the best course to take in order to prevent the president from using nuclear weapons.
The heroine of the book, Maggie Costello, hits upon the difficult position facing the officials, saying: “No matter how much you hated this man and, my God, there was every reason to hate him, this, surely, was not the way to get rid of him. You’d be destroying democracy in order to save it.”
Supporters of Trump reacted angrily to the book’s publication, with an article on Altright.com saying: “Anti-white journalist Jonathan Freedland has written a thinly veiled assassination fantasy targeting Donald Trump. Its publication and promotion are symptoms of a sick and co-opted culture.”
Writer Rachel Johnson, the sister of UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson, called Freedland “Nostradamus” on Twitter, commenting that “we’ve seen this movie before,” referring to current events.