Fear: Trump in the White House, by Bob Woodward

Nine stars

While the talk of the 45th President of the United States (POTUS) seems to be an endless cycle of conversation, insults, and downright headaches, I approached reading this book with an open and curious mind. I chose to let Bob Woodward —a highly esteemed journalist in his own right—guide me through some of his findings during the early period of the Trump presidency. Woodward explores Trump’s candidacy and first year or so in the Oval Office, tackling some of the more controversial events and topics that came to light. Woodward offers the reader some insights into this time, where Trump was fuelled by a passionate hatred of President Obama and how he would do anything to derail or dismantle programs put in place, making promises at rallies and seeking to enact them as soon as he had a presidential seat. There was also much talk of his attempts to make his own mark in the military, trade, sanctions, and even diplomacy, all guided by his Trump-centric mentality. Woodward clearly points that Trump was not alone, as he had a number of well-meaning—as well as completely useless—advisors around him, many of whom tried to guide him in a certain direction. While I may not agree with their politics, Woodward presents these advisors as those who sought to educate and guide Trump towards what could be done for America and how the Jenga blocks needed to be inched in a certain direction in order not to make things come cascading down, thereby heralding catastrophe. The few sycophants who emerge from the text are those who are useless to the larger process, but entirely what Trump felt he needed on a daily basis. Armed with his narrow view on the world and with his Twitter account as a billy club, Trump tried to fix all things in a few characters, which usually failed to bring about presidential diplomacy. If Woodward offers a single theme in this book that echoes throughout the pages of well-documented chapters, it is that Trump wanted to do things his way and will rarely follow the narrow and calculated path asked of him. A renegade to some and completely rogue to others, there is reason to fear. America’s enemies are ready and willing to strike, which evokes added concern, when the man with his finger on the button treats it like his own personal toy, rather than listening to the reason of those who seek to advise. Woodward should be applauded for this book, as he seeks to offer insights through the eyes of others, rather than rallying his own personal attacks with little substantive proof. Recommend for those who want a glimpse inside the West Wing without the baseless attacks of a jilted few who feed only negative information to sell books.

I have heard much about this book before I even began the opening sentence. Some loved the book for its openness and exploration of a number of topics, while others hated it for not revealing new smoking guns or additional finger pointing. Still others criticized it for poking fun at the POTUS in any way, as we should bow to him and allow him to create America in a new image. I found the book to be intriguing in many ways and took much away from it. While I have read a few books on the Trump presidency—is it not indicative of something that so many pieces have come out so soon after he made it to the Oval Office?—there are themes that come out in all of them. These include: obsession with television portrayals, refusal to read background materials for essential decisions, preconceived notions of effective governance, and a hatred for all who oppose him. What this book helped me see was that all of these and other perspectives were further solidified through the interviews Woodward undertook with those closest to Trump. This was not Woodward standing atop a soap box and issuing criticism dreamed up in his own mind, he used the words and sentiments of many who were ‘in the trenches’ to garner a better understanding for the reader. Call me naive, but I cannot see Bob Woodward as one who is all that interested in using weak information to build his arguments. Woodward has shown time and again that he asks the tough questions, but seeks to be fair in his delivery. First hand accounts serve as the foundation of this book’s narrative momentum, which I applaud. There are moments of praise for Trump and others of complete mockery, but when they come from within, can be really call it a smear campaign by liberal media sources? I have never hidden my sentiments on this topic and while I try to get some of my foundation through reading and trying to better understand the situation, I am also an outsider. I admit to being happy that I have the right to expand my horizons and to better comprehend that which I argue against from my side of the (unwalled) border. Freedoms to express my sentiments cannot be taken, nor should they, so long as I am not fanning unfounded hatred for the sake of personally harming others. Worry not, Woodward handles this discussion in the book when he speaks of the supremacist rallies in the summer of 2017.

This was the first book I read on the subject where I was attacked by both pro- and anti-Trump folks. The former group sought to criticize me for reading about the negativity of the POTUS and how it all lies, while the latter bemoaned that I would waste my time reading about him at all. It is this ignorance that has pushed for me to seek a better understanding of the situation. I find many readers seek to ‘trump’ the ongoing discussions, in hopes that people will stop talking and trying to better understand things as they evolve. Should we, as citizens of the world, live in fear until 2020? Might the type of behaviour exemplified in this book lead to horrible things? There is that possibility, but it could also be a rallying cry for American voters to turn out to cast their ballots, while Intelligence agencies work to plug some of the gaping holes that permitted outsider influences in elections past. I encourage Bob Woodward to return to this topic after the Trump presidency has ended (however that will come about), as I would read that book, which can explore the entire experience in a single arc. Until then, I encourage all readers with an interest to give this book a try, ignoring the trolls on both sides who hurl insults at your choice.

Kudos, Mr. Woodward, for giving me something about which to think. I feel enriched about what you have presented and look forward to where things will lead from here.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons