much like its predecessor FEAR (SIMON & SCHUSTER, 2018), legendary WASHINGTON POST journalist BOB WOODWARD's second book on the TRUMP ADMINISTRATION entitled RAGE (SIMON & SCHUSTER, 2020) provides a third-person perspective of events within the WHITE HOUSE based on deep background interviews. what separates this book from its predecessor, aside from its timeline (as this book covers time up until SUMMER 2020), is the actual participation of PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP himself. not liking how he was depicted in the first book and confident of his persuasive abilities, TRUMP spoke with WOODWARD seventeen times from DECEMBER 2019 through JULY 2020, many off the cuff with the president initiating the call himself. it was unprecedented opportunity for both.
that is not to say i learned anything per se reading his words. as WOODWARD states of his experience, "at times, talking to him meant being talked at." that comes across in spades throughout the conversations. WOODWARD asks carefully constructed questions crafted intently for the sake of posterity and TRUMP repeatedly offers a world salad of ramblings and half truths. it isn't shocking, you just get the sense that he doesn't care about facts or information. makes perfect sense when you learn that ANTHONY FAUCI, the director of the NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES once stated that "his attention span is like a minus number." it seems that WOODWARD has infinite patience and endurance throughout the proceedings as he often rephrases his questions multiple times in order to draw out some semblance of a coherent thought from TRUMP, most often to no avail. in the end he felt that they were essentially "speaking past each other, almost from other universes."
this tic seems to be a rhetorical device aimed at wearing down his perceived adversaries with brute repetition. it is essentially GASLIGHTING. and it works. in FEAR there is a constant theme of TRUMP impulsively and maybe even obsessively bringing up the same topics over and over again with his secretaries. the repetition of having the same discussion multiple times most definitely word down former cabinet secretaries like GARY COHN, JAMES MATTIS, DAN COATS and REX TILLERSON as well as former CHIEFS OF STAFF REINCE PRIEBUS and JOHN KELLY. this book showcases how that same tactic plagued his administration into further mismanagement with the rise of CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC and the NATIONAL PROTESTS that erupted in the aftermath of the senseless killing by MINNEAPOLIS police of an innocent unarmed black man, GEORGE FLOYD. it would be an interesting aside if its consequences were not so dire.
as i write this our national death toll in the UNITTED STATES from COVID-19 is at 204,000 and continuing unabated. as WOODWARD soberly states near the end of his interviews in a first-person aside to the reader, "Trump never did seem willing to mobilize the federal government and continually seemed to push problems off on the states. There was no real management theory of the case or how to organize a massive enterprise to deal with one of the most complex emergencies the United States had ever faced."
it is hard for me to read this book with the proper distance and perspective as its events are still fresh in my mind. i appreciate the fact that WOODWARD is able to present the administration's perspective effectively, while choosing to interject only when facts run counter to the narrative being presented by such. in this manner both books are great tools for gaining insight into their process or lack thereof when creating policy and making important decisions. i only wish the credo that TRUMP's senior aide and son-in-law JARED KUSHNER presents that "controversy elevates message" wasnt true. fact-checking means nothing in this post-truth digital hell-scape where social media platforms essentially incentivize disseminating disinformation.
the moral failures of this administration will stain us long after he departs the WHITE HOUSE, whenever that may be. as SOUTH CAROLINA SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM is reported to have said to TRUMP in the aftermath of his photo op at the nearby ST. JOHN's CHURCH, the president had the opportunity in the wake of the wave of protests to react in the mold of either "George Wallace, Robert Kennedy or Richard Nixon."
it is to what will be our eternal dismay that he chose GEORGE WALLACE.
RAGE is an incredible book that is quite harrowing to read but well worth the effort. this book will prove to be important for people to read down the road for insight into the mind of our current fearless leader and how we collectively lost our way as a nation.
where to begin?
i guess i should start off by stating that the timeline of events in FEAR: TRUMP IN THE WHITE HOUSE (SIMON & SCHUSTER, 2018) take place from the beginnings of his first ideations of running for president in the 1980s to SPRING 2018 of his first term.
reading any book by legendary journalist BOB WOODWARD is the nonfiction equivalent of watching a movie. his books are written in third-person for the most part in direct, unadorned prose that allows the reader to achieve a sense of clarity and understanding about the multiple discussions and plot points at hand and ultimately their real-world consequences. it should be said that rarely chooses to break into first person, and when he does it is usually to present anecdotal evidence or reasons why he omitted specific details for national security reasons.
what is interesting about reading FEAR is that the confusion experienced is not based in his writing style or handle on the relevant facts, but rather the convoluted subject that is the TRUMP ADMINISTRATION and how chaotic and unorganized it is. many things are happening concurrently and largely secretly in what can only be described as an administration whose organizing principle is that of a free-for-all.
internally domestic and foreign policy decisions are discussed and litigated (and often relegated ad nauseam) by an ever-changing cast of officials and secretaries with no protocols or scheduling adhered to by anyone. this seems to be by design from TRUMP himself who sees such a pugilistic bloodbath as a way of discerning which agendas are worth pursuing by how much advocates for such are willing to carpet-bomb their rivals in order to promote. and even then he doesnt take ownership. TRUMP even states to his aides that the only real power is fear. which makes sense both in what he wishes to project and what his antiquated worldview entails regarding modernity.
former REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE chairman and first TRUMP chief of staff REINCE PRIEBUS has a colorful quote describing this melee as "when you put a snake and a rat and a falcon and a rabbit and a shark and a seal in a zoo without walls, things start getting nasty and bloody." it comes as no suprise that this bloodsport has resulted in policies that are often extremist and morally reprehensible. a related insight was the fact that the most powerful set of advisors in his orbit where those slightly outside of the ring. in economic terms the people who served as the opportunity cost: those he could have chosen to be officials and secretaries but didnt. in TRUMP's mind it was never his fault that he fostered a chaotic, unproductive, hellish work environment. it was always everyone else that was under scrutiny. it was them that failed him. its a shockingly naive and juvenile psychology at play. again in his mind there was always someone out there with better insights, that was better prepared and more cutthroat, ruthless and unencumbered by morality or common decency that could possibly utilize and discard to his own end.
if you are looking for an author here that ascribes an explicit sense of moral indignation at the subject, this is not that book (for the most part). largely it is written from the macro perspective of those who collectively participated in the WHITE HOUSE discussions and events related in the book. the value of such is that you get a useful sense of how TRUMP and his supplicants and web of cronies viewed world events. anyone paying attention to such over the past few years will know all these events, such as the 2016 ELECTION, CHARLOTTESVILLE, and THE MUELLER INVESTIGATION. noticeably at the end when his lawyer JOHN DOWD departs his legal team after TRUMP doesnt heed his advice regarding ROBERT MUELLER's investigation, WOODWARD does concede the book's overall thesis that much of the chaos and ensuing acrimony caused by this administration is based on a series of people who couldn't call him out for being he is: a liar.
and we all pay for it.
i recommend this book for all concerned citizenry of the UNITED STATES and the world.