Note: This review is by my husband Jim.
Bob Woodward’s newest book, Fear: Trump in the Whitehouse quotes John Kelly, Donald Trump’s Chief of Staff, describing the atmosphere in the current Whitehouse as “Crazytown,” adding that his own position was “the worst job I ever had.” The book portrays Trump, as succinctly summarized by one reviewer, “as an impulsive, uninformed, tempestuous, narcissistic bully, who alternately torments his beleaguered staff with abuse and is in turn manipulated and deceived by them. In short, nothing we didn’t already know.”
What can I add to my review of one of the most reviewed non-fiction books in the last decade? Not much. However, the book contains a few observations and revelations that have not been emphasized in the reviews I have seen or heard thus far.
Woodward tries to maintain a tone of detached objectivity, presenting his sources’ points of view without commentary. For example, his description of the arguments raised by John Dowd, Trump’s personal lawyer, gives the reader cause to think that there may not be much of a case of collusion with Russia. But it is clear from other sources besides Woodward that Dowd was not given a full account of key facts about Trump’s campaign and his businesses. As “The New York Times” wrote, Dowd “took Mr. Trump at his word that he had done nothing wrong and never conducted a full internal investigation to determine the president’s true legal exposure.” Dowd’s conviction that Trump would lie under oath had nothing to do with Trump’s possible guilt but more to do with the general understanding that Trump is a pathological liar incapable of sticking to a story, at least, not one with more than a few words. Thus Woodward adds little about Russia, since he is only passing on what others have told him.
Woodward’s own perception of reality occasionally does intrude, as when he describes the internecine struggles over tariffs and balance of payments deficits. There he clearly believes that Gary Cohn and the “globalists” had a better grasp of economic policy than Peter Navarro, Trump, and the economic nationalists.
In another “intrusion” into the story by Woodward, he says he thought the FBI mishandled the disclosure to Trump of the notorious Steele dossier. The FBI knew that with Trump’s defensiveness and volatile temperament he would be upset. Woodward suggests that they should have given the dossier to the White House Counsel to finesse its handling with Trump.
For the most part, Woodward lets the principals do the talking and the analysis. Here is what the people hired by Trump think of him:
moron: Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson
idiot: Chief of Staff, John Kelly
5th or 6th grader understanding: Secretary of Defense, James Mattis
fucking liar: personal lawyer, John Dowd
Woodward doesn’t comment on the credibility of his sources or the purity of their motives. But some of them, especially those no longer in the administration, clearly want to rehabilitate their reputations that were sullied either by Trump directly, or more indirectly, just by having served in his administration. Gary Cohn, for example, was likely one of Woodward’s sources, according to many insiders. He is portrayed as somewhat of a hero, undoubtedly by virtue of his own reporting to Woodward. But the story Woodward tells is open to another interpretation. After Trump’s defense of “both sides” at the neo-Nazi demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia, Cohn attempted to quit. Trump accused Cohn of “treason.” Woodward reported: “It was chilling.” Yet, Cohn stayed on in spite of his alleged moral outrage, so that he could help push through the massive corporate-tax cuts from which Cohn would benefit along with the other monied moguls in the Trump Administration. Woodward writes that Cohn declared he was staying out of a desire to help the country. Readers might conclude otherwise.
Woodward makes Dowd’s evaluation of Trump the final sentence of the book. As alluded to above, in Dowd’s analysis, any forum in which Trump would be required to testify under oath, no matter what the subject at hand, would constitute a “perjury trap” because Trump is fundamentally incapable of telling the truth.
And yet, I found that the most damaging description of Trump came from Steve Bannon, his erstwhile apologist:
“He’s the bad father, the terrible first husband, the boyfriend that fucked you over and wasted all those years, and [you] gave up your youth for, and then dumped you. And the terrible boss that grabbed you by the pussy all the time and demeaned you.”
…And there’s more. But this review has already gone on too long. So I invite the reader to enter the “Crazytown” that is the Trump White House by reading it yourself. (It should be noted however that Fear covers only the first 14 months or so of the Trump presidency. A later “update” will undoubtedly have more revelations, given the tendency of Trump’s associates to “flip” on him rather than spend years in prison.)
Most importantly, this book should be required reading for anyone eligible to vote.
Published by Simon & Schuster, 2018