I have decided to embark on a mission to read a number of books on subjects that will be of great importance to the upcoming 2020 US Presidential Election. Many of these will focus on actors intricately involved in the process, in hopes that I can understand them better and, perhaps, educate others with the power to cast a ballot. I am, as always, open to serious recommendations from anyone who has a book I might like to include in the process.
This is Book #32 in my 2020 US Election Preparation Challenge.
Analysis of the 45th President of the United States (POTUS) proves to be a sport of conversations, insults, and downright headaches, particularly when scanning the published word. As I have done with the other books in my challenge, I sought to approach reading this text with an open and curious mind, as I did with the first tome on Trump penned by Bob Woodward.
The author remains a highly esteemed journalist in his own right, having been blunt in his assessments, no matter what the subject matter might be. While this may sting the ever-Trumpers, the smears hurled fall on deaf ears and Woodward’s Teflon suit. Eager readers should gather round, as this is yet another stellar piece of work, with more than simply the leaked COVID-19 tidbits to open an eye or two.
Woodward returns to the early time in the Trump presidency to explore some of the key cabinet selections he made. Those mentioned are men who would shape the Administration, but also serve as Trump’s puppets. As would become the case with all those who received special attention in the early chapters, the men were either fired or resigned because of the micromanagement of the president for reasons not entirely clear. It would seem that things would always have to run on the Trump-table, a guideline and timing that baffles many and is fuelled by consumption of Diet Coke.
The book moves between a number of themes throughout, offering the reader a glimpse into all of them on a rotating basis. Woodward explores the the ongoing development of some peace with the North Koreans. While Trump entered the White House with a warning from President Obama about how troubling North Korea and Kim Jong Un would be, the incoming Leader of the Free World was ready to make some noise and turn things into a political pissing contest. Woodward explores how Trump used his Secretary of State to show that America meant business, demanding a scaling back of nuclear weapons in the brashest terms. Only Trump could grab Kim by the proverbial ‘missile’ and not be called a political misogynist.
The warming of relations between these two did eventually occur when Kim agreed to denuclearise. Woodward speaks of a handful of ‘love letters’ (Trump’s words) between the two that were used as background research for the book and helped to promote two key summits. These letters were chivalrous and highly praise-worthy, according to Trump, something that would surely baffle many who see both men on television and how they comport themselves.
Trump also came out swinging on America’s military role in the world. He sought to pull troops from Syria, even though the civil war there was balancing precariously. He also sought to remove America from its NATO commitments, citing a fiscal imbalance, something that Woodward probes in some of his early interviews. The eternal businessman, Trump is so focussed on the ledger and the outcomes that he cannot see the game of political Jenga he’s playing.
When it came to the intelligence community, Trump was ready to dismiss America’s capabilities form the get-go, especially since much of the early (read: first week on the job) messaging sought to show that Russia interfered in the election that Trump won. Those with concrete proof sought to present it and show that there was an issue that needed addressing. However, as many readers will already know, Trump chose to stick his fingers in his ears and sing a loud song, thereby negating the intelligence as being fake and part of a leftist conspiracy.
As I mentioned in my review of Woodward’s last book, if there is a single theme that echoes throughout the pages of all well-documented chapters, it is that Trump wanted to do things his own way, choosing rarely to follow the advice proffered by those tasked with being the representatives or experts. Such renegade behaviour is enough to make anyone rage at such an ignorant leader. As seen above and on more occasions below, it was Trump’s way or no way, going so far as being a narrative that the president believed, with the alternative labelled #fakenews. Woodward challenged him on this numerous times, as appears in the narrative, though Trump always found a way to be boisterous and ignore the topic if it did not suit him.
Woodward explores some of the interesting backstory into the creation of the Special Counsel of Robert S. Mueller III, tasked with exploring Russian meddling and any collusion by the Trump Campaign. While this event was so sensationalised that there is not likely much ‘new’ information, the attentive and curious reader will see the blunt and egotistical responses to the investigation. Trump and his sycophants alike sought to diminish the importance of the process and neuter Mueller from the get-go, at times mulling over firing him. One can only imagine what might have happened had this taken place.
As the country remains in the grip of the COVID-19 crisis, Woodward uses many of his interviews with Trump to hash out what he knew and when. Much of it has been leaked now, but it is eye opening to see just how dismissive Trump was about things, which parallels some of the idiocy shown after he contracted COVID and still downplayed the severity of it. Woodward uses a significant amount of time exploring the needed backstory and reactions around the COVID-19 crisis, dispelling many of the myths that the White House has tried to shove down the throats of the general public. Many of the interviews with Trump for the book took place as things were developing, allowing for a great narrative and ongoing exploration of sentiments in almost real time.
While Woodward does offer praise where needed, especially when Trump agreed to a country-wide shutdown in March, he also explores how the president would not push for stronger safety measures and precautions. Interest to see how Trump felt it would not be good for POTUS to wear a mask ‘when greeting heads of state, queens, kings, and ambassadors’, as though this would show weakness. Fast forward to the autumn, as an infected president refuses to follow the guidelines, showing that there was likely some cerebral infection in the part of the brain where reasoning occurs (my sentiments, not Woodward’s). I suppose we should applaud him for being consistent (and reckless?)!
It would seem that Trump was scorned by other world leaders for his practices, as Woodward cites numerous examples within the text. Things were said to his face and then the opposite done thereafter. While perhaps not the laughing stock of the world, his bombast proved to be more than enough for some, who could not take his blowhard approach. Much of this can be attributed to his Trump-table approach, immovable and unwilling to accept that he could be wrong. This doesn’t to bode well for a political leader, particularly one representing a large population on the world scene.
Woodward should be applauded again for this second book, seeking to offer insights through the eyes of others, rather than rallying his own personal attacks with little substantive proof. While he does seek to challenge Trump to think and explore what he’s saying (as any good journalist would do), he permits the president to dig his own grave with a presidential shovel. This is not a book of ‘gotcha’ moments, unless the reader chooses to label such writing as one where direct quotes in open interviews serve to entrap the speaker.
I sought to secure my copy of this book the day it was announced as being ready for pre-order. This interest only grew when the leaked tapes emerged, so I could see the context in which Trump and others would box themselves into corners or speak frankly. From what I have seen and heard, some love the book for being open and exploring many topics, while others hate it for its few ‘aha’ moments. Still others are critical because it knocks POTUS down a peg or two at a time when we ought to rally around him (maskless and Proud Boy shirt visible) during this crisis. It is this latter group for whom I have the most pity, as someone has surely been lacing your Kool-Aid with ignorance powder!
The book opened my eyes in many ways and I felt as though much could be taken away from it by the dedicated reader. While I have read a fair number of books on the Trump presidency over the last month (all in preparation for the election), 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. Woodward explored this in the first book and revisits them again, showing that nothing has changed. Billy club in hand (in the form of his Twitter account), Trump forges on.
All of these and other perspectives were further solidified through the interviews Woodward undertook with those closest to Trump and the president himself. This was not Woodward dusting off the soap box and issuing criticism dreamed up in his own mind, though some will spin it as such. Woodward used the words and sentiments of many who were ‘in the trenches’ to garner a better understanding for the reader and to show that things were not always peachy behind the velvet curtain. These type of books are likely the best, as they provide truths that are hidden from the general public, or discounted on a regular basis.
Call me naive again, but I cannot see Bob Woodward using weak information to build his arguments, having written about nine presidents in his career. 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. As I mentioned above, he went so far as to document that he held Trump accountable, even when the man refused to see his ignorance wafting around his coiffed head.
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 have built up a foundation of understanding through reading and trying to better understand the situation. Of note, no one once approached me with any recommendations for great tomes on the right (see disclaimer at the top of the review), which leads me to wonder if there are any. I may be an outsider, hailing from Canada, but I do love my politics.
Should we, as citizens of the world, have lived in fear up to the 2020 elections, as many Republican senators did? Might the type of behaviour exemplified in this book lead to horrible things if the Russians collude again and skew the results? There is that possibility, but this book 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. We’re almost there people and if you have not cast your ballot yet, I’ve spent a lot of time summarising a ton of information for you to consider (as well as countless others)!
Kudos, Mr. Woodward, for giving me something about which to think yet again. While this is not the final book in my challenge, I am glad I left it as one of the last!
A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons