Nonfiction — Kindle edition. Simon & Schuster, 2018. 357 pgs. Purchased.
When my uncle emailed informing me that he purchased this book for our shared Kindle account, he said it seemed wasteful to buy a book about how Trump is crazy when we already know he’s crazy. I shared his sentiment, but I was intrigued enough to pick it up because the author is Bob Woodward, the journalist who uncovered the Watergate cover-up.
Subtitled “Trump in the White House”, Woodward’s book covers the start of Trump’s presidency through the resignation of his personal lawyer in March 2018. The focus is on the turmoil within the White House, on the comings and goings of a multitude of advisers and staff members and how that amplifies the inability of Trump to stay on message and follow through.
I’ve read a number of Woodward’s books and, in some ways, this one felt like a premature addition to the breath of works that are sure to come after Trump’s presidency ends. Much of the information gleamed from Woodward’s reporting in this book is already know — Trump is a liar; his staff is plagued by infighting; Trump is easily swayed by what he sees on TV and how foreign leaders treat him — and there is little analysis about the impact of these issues on people and places and what that could mean for Trump’s legacy on the Presidency.
Instead, in a twist that surprised me, the book is more about how Trump fails against the Republican Party’s whims and mechanisms. Woodward titled his book after Trump’s comment on how fear is the real source of power, but it doesn’t appear that anyone within his inner circle actually fears him. Advisers (Gary Cohn) and staff members (Rob Porter) take papers off his desk to prevent him from ending trade agreements or enacting other policies that Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and the wealthy supporters of the GOP disagree with.
“The most important part of Trump’s world was the ring right outside of the bull’s-eye: the people that Trump thought perhaps he should have hired, or who had worked for him and he’d gotten rid of and now thought, Maybe I shouldn’t have. It was the people who were either there or should have been there, or associates or acquaintances that owed nothing to him and were around him but didn’t come in for anything. It was that outside circle that had the most power, not the people on the inside. It wasn’t Kelly or Priebus or Bannon.”
He’s supposed to be this big agent of change, and yet his efforts are confounded by people who weren’t elected by the American people. While there are some moments (like the one highlighted below) where I’m glad the people around refuse to listen to Trump, it is unsettling to know this is occurring. And that’s the real fear that comes through in Woodward’s book.
“In the Oval Office later that day, McMaster had a sensitive order he wanted the president to sign relating to Libya. I’m not going to sign it, Trump said. The United States should be getting oil. The generals aren’t sufficiently focused on getting or making money. They don’t understand what our objectives should be and they have the United States engaged in all the wrong ways.”
That, and the information Woodward includes about Trump’s personal lawyer, John Dowd, and the Mueller investigation on Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion with the Trump team. At the end of the book, Dowd decides to resign because Trump refuses to take his advice as his lawyer not to testify in the investigation.
This advice comes from the fact that Dowd believes there is no Russian or obstruction of justice case against Trump. Instead, Mueller and his team are looking to trap Trump in a perjury charge. And there’s another moment of fear because as much as I dislike Trump, his policies, and the GOP as a whole, this country needs answers on what happened with Russia and Trump. We need more than a perjury charge in order to overcome pervasive beliefs among the general public of political conspiracy and “fake news”.