John Grisham Interview 'I'm Not Worried about Trump'
John Grisham's legal thrillers, filled with depravity, injustice and prejudice, are microcosms of America. In an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE, he discusses the US election, the Trump phenomenon and why he believes Hillary Clinton will prevail.
Charlottesville, an idyllic town in rural Virginia: John Grisham's name is not on the doorbell. Yet there he comes down the stairs -- tall, jovial, in jeans and shirt sleeves -- to show the visitor up into a huge, airy loft. This is his office away from home, when he's not back on "the farm," where he writes and lives with Renee, his wife of 35 years. The place is packed with books, film posters and other mementos from the blockbuster movies they made from his bestsellers. Cardboard boxes filled with fan mail are everywhere. He tries to answer most himself, by hand.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Mr. Grisham, you've always been politically outspoken, in your books and in the world. Please explain Donald Trump to us.
Grisham: Donald Trump appeals to the angry white people. Angry, mostly uneducated white people who feel left out. Who could have seen it coming? He's been a buffoon for 30 years, nothing new. And he's the most unqualified person to run for office in the history of this country.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Are you worried he could win?
Grisham: I'm not worried about Trump. As a Democrat, I hope he gets the nomination. Because if he gets it, I don't think there's any way he can win. To win as a Republican, you have to win all the Republican core, you have to win a fair number of the Hispanic vote, and you have to win a fair number of the undecideds. There's no way he can do that. I grew up in the world of fundamental Southern Baptist conservative Christians, and I know some people there who are simply not going to vote for Trump. Period. They despise him, third wife and all. And they would never vote for Hillary.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: So they'd rather stay home?
Grisham: They would stay home. Trump is not going to get all his Republicans out, and he's going to scare off a lot of the female voters, and he's going to scare off every single Hispanic voter because of his outrageous statements about immigration.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: But these angry white folks, they may be here to stay even if Trump goes away.
Grisham: Some will go away. They won't be happy, but there's no other place for them to go. Trump is appealing to a lot of voters who haven't voted in a long time, they gave up on the system. He's attracting a lot of people who've been out of the system for a long time. When he goes away, they will disappear again, too. If they don't get a chance to vote for him in November, they're probably not going to vote at all.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: So where does that leave you?
Grisham: After the conventions, there will be a reset button. You will have a Democratic candidate -- Hillary -- and a different Republican candidate, whoever it will be.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do you think Clinton can win?
Grisham: This nation right now is about 45 percent Democrat and 45 percent Republican, so you fight over the swing voters, the undecided -- the ones who go either way. And I think Hillary will have an easy time getting her 45 percent and more.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What about Bernie Sanders?
Grisham: Bernie is a fluke. Bernie is the kind of guy that the Democrats used to nominate because the left wingers ruled the party, just like the right wingers rule the Republican Party.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: But doesn't he bring up valid issues?
Grisham: They sound great to a point, but look at our history. In 1972, McGovern was a left-wing guy and got annihilated by Richard Nixon, I think it was the largest defeat in history. In 1984, Walter Mondale got killed by Reagan. In 1988, Michael Dukakis, a Democrat, got slaughtered. Bernie cannot win in November. He has a lot of far-left voters, but there aren't enough to win. He's got a bunch of young kids who have no clue what they're talking about. He's not going beat Hillary. And if he does, we're doomed as Democrats. He can't win in November. If it's Bernie versus Trump, God help us.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Either way, it seems like we're heading into a nasty fall campaign.
Grisham: The divisions are getting deeper. Most of my friends are Republicans, my family is split 50/50. And we never discuss politics because if we did it would get really ugly really fast. We all have such strong feelings, and their feelings are just as strong as mine. So we learned. Don't get anywhere near politics. It cannot be discussed. It's been that way for the last 20 years, and it's not getting any better today.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Why is that?
Grisham: Maybe because the haves and have-nots are getting further apart. There is so much wealth in this country concentrated in the hands of so few people, and there are so many people who have lost their jobs, who are out of work, who are terrified of the future. That drives a lot of the unrest and dissatisfaction.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Unrest and even violence.
Grisham: Look at the violence at the rallies, and Trump urging his people to take up arms, and the Republicans all want to carry guns to the convention in Cleveland and actually fight. But I do fault the Democrats, too, for some of the trouble. If Trump is going to have a rally down the street and draw a big crowd of people, let him do it, don't go start a fight. Just mind your own business. Why do you want to show up and start trouble? I don't get that. And I think some of the Democrats have been doing that. Just go vote.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: A crucial part of what's bubbling up here, also, is racism. Racism still permeates politics and, as you seem to have predicted in your legal thrillers, the US justice system.
Grisham: It's such a part of the nature of so many people in a position of power. Police, homicide detectives, prosecutors, judges, even jurors. In so many cases we see that a black suspect is getting treated differently from a white suspect. Because almost all the cops are white, the prosecutors are virtually all white, the judges are virtually all white. And that type of racism is proven to be so difficult to get away from.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: But isn't there a backlash happening? Take, for instance, the growing rejection of capital punishment and its often racist application.
Grisham: I'm on the board of the Innocence Project. We're now seeing juries all over the country return fewer and fewer death penalty verdicts. We suspect it's because there have been so many high-profile exonerations in the past 15, 20 years. Folks are not as willing to trust the cops and prosecutors anymore. The jurors have become tougher. Hopefully we will slowly make a change. We do know for a fact that there are fewer death penalty verdicts and fewer executions. Executions have just plunged in the last five or six years.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: And they're now reduced to a handful of states.
Grisham: The Southern states, the old Civil War states, where I'm from, where they believe in killing. I never understood that. There, race is still such a factor. It's just so deep-seated and complicated. I wonder if we're ever going to get past it.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: You have a black president.
Grisham: We looked at Barack Obama and said, well, didn't we do something great, we elected a black president! But in other ways, I wonder how much progress we actually made.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Weren't you skeptical of Obama yourself in the beginning, politically speaking?
Grisham: We didn't know who Obama was. He was a rookie senator from Illinois. Then everything fell his way, and he got the lucky breaks, and he won.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Lucky breaks?
Grisham: I do think that the media embraced Obama and the American people embraced Obama because he was young and smart and attractive and happened to be black. That was something unusual. A lot of people voted for Obama and felt good about themselves, voting for a black guy. I voted for Obama because I'm a Democrat. I would vote for Obama again this year if he ran. I like Obama a lot. I thought he was kind of green when he got elected. I think he's done a pretty good job -- not great, not bad. He inherited a very difficult situation. The Great Recession, and then he had a Republican Congress. So he's been very well handcuffed in what he tried to accomplish. What has been shocking to me and to a lot of people is the way racism has surfaced.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Racism was a theme in your very first book, "A Time to Kill," and it's still valid today, 27 years later. That's pretty sad.
Grisham: I'm sure I'll be writing about it when I'm dead.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: If people still buy books then.
Grisham: They are buying in declining numbers. The publishers are making more money with e-books because they don't have to print anything. That's the big fight now with Amazon. Amazon takes 30 percent off the top, they made the market, they deserve it. Which leaves 70 percent between the publisher and the writer. And that's where the infighting is going on right now.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: So why would someone still want to be a writer?
Grisham: It's always been difficult to break in as a new writer. At the same time every year you get a whole bunch of first novels, and a fair number of them get good reviews.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: You had a hard time yourself once.
Grisham: " A Time to Kill" didn't sell. Couldn't give it away. So I said I'll write one more, and if this doesn't work I'm done. So I wrote "The Firm" and that kind of changed everything. But I had no idea I'd write 38 books and be 61 years old, and still have fun.