Since anytime is a good time for a book on politics, I eagerly grabbed for this piece by Michael C. Bender to explore things a little more. Bender, who had been following Donald J. Trump since he announced his candidacy for President of the United States (POTUS) in 2015, originally set out to write a book exploring the 2020 presidential election campaign. Using his role as a political journalist for the Wall Street Journal, Bender soon saw his tome morph into an insider’s look at the Administration’s handling of all things COVID-19 and preparation for an election like no other. Bender’s insight and closeness to many of those who spoke with regards to the book allows the reader a front-row seat into the thinking, actions, and policy delivery that had only been speculated about by many other news sources. Sure to be panned by those who suckle at the teat of Trumpism as yet another #fakenews fabrication, one must ask just how large this apparent conspiracy must be if Bender’s interviews substantiate much of what has been reported over the last few years.
Bender’s connection to US politics is by no means peripheral. His role as a senior political reporter for the Wall Street Journal allowed him to follow Donald J. Trump from the inception of the man’s campaign for POTUS in 2015. Bender opens by exploring some of the early memories of those days when Trump fought tooth and nail with his own unique style to win-over many Republicans (GOP) voters in the primaries. He does not delve too much into the Russian hijacking of the results, but that is surely for another book outside the purview of what he wishes to cover. Still, there was a buzz around Trump, an aura of something other worldly that, at the time, could not have easily foretold the mess that would be the next number of years.
While Trump made the uncanny decision to announce his reelection campaign almost as soon as the ink dried on the 2016 results, Bender explores this as a means to ensure the political fundraising never stopped. While there were some issues with this (politically knowledgeable folks will know what I mean by the Hatch Act), Trump went with it and turned his campaigning into something unlike anything others had seen before. Mass rallies of supporters, coming to hear the message their leader told, even if it could not be substantiated in fact. These rallies and gatherings would become the crux of the issue in the years to come, particularly when a few other elements were added to the mix.
With the formal 2020 election season getting underway, Trump sought to crush anything that stood in his way, though Bender shows that he could not have predicted some of the hurdles. The emergence of COVID-19 was something that could not have been predicted in the most fanciful pieces of political fiction, though here it was in reality. Trump used it not as a means to unite the country, but divide and alienate those who wanted to protect their health before everything else. Bender cites numerous times when Trump and his inner circles tried to curtail responsible leadership around the virus and used their own personal views to lead a people who were dying or getting sick en masse. Mass gatherings, unfounded (and dangerous) cures, and refusal to take things seriously all led to infection numbers (and deaths) much higher than they needed to be, while Trump downplayed the issue repeatedly. Even some within his inner circles (and, gasp, Fox News) began to wonder if Trump understood the gravity of what was taking place before him and how his leadership failed abysmally.
Other issues that arose in the 2020 campaign included the continual push towards understanding and synthesizing the civil rights movement, reinvigorated by a number of police brutality cases across the country. Trump, who apparently wanted to offer sympathy to the victims, soon turned things on its head by leaving the messaging and appealing to his base, by refusing to point fingers at obvious problems. This fuelled the fires and led to much animosity amongst large portions of the population, as well as turning the events into political fodder to further divide the country. Bender offers countless examples of how Trump and his inner team tried to turn things on the protestors as being violent insurrectionists that he needed to trample, all in an effort to show law and order, while being anything but the leader needed at the time. While this should surprise one one at all, seeing it substantiated yet again is truly shocking.
Bender uses the latter portion of the book to explore his original intent for the book. The election campaign was full of rallies, one-first statements, and attempts to bully any number of those who might be the Democratic Party candidate. Once Joe Biden emerged, Trump turned to a new level of mockery and tried to use his past accusations against the candidate’s son, Hunter, to gain traction. However, as Bender repeats, Trump often forgot that these accusations and the financial fallout of political bullying a foreign government got him impeached the first time. With great analysis of the presidential debates, Bender explores how much of a mess the Trump Campaign sought to make things, as though drama should supersede truth in an attempt to convince voters of their best choice. Standing firm to polls and accusing those who tried to contradict them ass #fakenews advocates, the drama continued, even after the country chose Biden.
The last portion of the book explores the zany challenge to election results, which culminated in the January 6th, 2021 riots on the Capitol. While Bender tells it so well, much of what he says has been discussed at such length that it does not bear repeating in this review. Sour grapes and a refusal to grasp with reality become themes of the book’s culminating chapters, which also served as the swan song for, perhaps, one of the country’s most controversial leaders. Bender leaves the door open as to what 2024 holds, which could be a return for yet another round of embarrassing Kool-Aid drinking and fabricated realities. I’m ready, popcorn in hand, to see what is to come!
While I have not read anything by Michael C. Bender before, I found his writing to be not only clear, but levelled. He is obviously one of the respected journalists that Trump has allowed into his inner circle, as well as one who has earned accolades for his work. The telling of the stories here was both clear and detailed, with source substantiation throughout. I felt as though I were right there, inside the White House or sitting in on key conversations. While I did not always agree with the angle, I could see Bender’s perspective and respect that a great deal. The reader can see how things progress nicely, provided perspectives on all sides of the story. What they do with the facts presented is up to them, but I applaud Bender for his strong writing style, well-paced chapters, and wonderful narrative throughout. I will certainly look for more by the author to better understand American politics, should time permit.
Kudos, Mr. Bender, on a stellar piece of work. You’re on my radar for political non-fiction and i am eager to see what else you have to offer.