A Very Stable Genius: Donald J. Trump’s Testing of America, by Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig

Nine stars

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 #15 in my 2020 US Election Preparation Challenge.

Working to share a large and overarching narrative of life inside the Trump White House, Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig provide readers with this book. The clear narrative and large number of sources, as well as a familiar set of tales, help the reader to feel as though there is little to call this fake or completely misrepresentative, but rather a strong depiction of just how chaotic things were and how many people feared for themselves, having to speak under veil of anonymity. Very enlightening for those who have the time and wherewithal. The title of the book also provides a great foundation for the content of the book, using a phrase Trump has used to refer to himself on numerous tweeted occasions.

As is commonly said, working inside the White House under Donald Trump is anything but calming. Rucker and Leonnig substantiate that from the opening pages of the book, but also provide a strong sentiment that, even to the candidate, it was a shock that they made it past Election Day. While many were pushing to dismantle much of what the American political landscape had seen, there was still a great deal of shock when the results emerged. This surprise, almost a shock that the ‘plan’ had worked, would prove highly indicative that other schemes could be tried, in hopes that no one would catch them once they held the reins of power.

It was a rush to fill spots in the opening days of the transition. As the authors explore, senior positions were being handed out like candy at the Wonka Factory, with little regard for a best fit or strategic placement. Ivanka Trump played a key role, not only in doling things out, but in ensuring, alongside her husband, that she was close enough to the trough to really be able to keep her finger on the pulse and whisper in her father’s ear. As troubling as it was, there were times this was more a game of favouritism than well-plotted decision-making. That being said, it would seem that at least some of the key positions had a scent of meritocracy, with a wafting of staunch conservatism.

While there are countless fires and issues that arose in the early days of the Administration, some of the key themes that emerged provide strong plot lines throughout this narrative. Case in point, the Russian Election Tampering Investigation, which morphed into the Mueller Investigation. This proved to be one of significant importance. Discussions from many angles of the actors and the means by which things came together proved highly interesting throughout. There is a significant discussion about what Trump wanted to do about how Robert Mueller was able to get such access and how he ought to be fired, though many also talked down this idea. Others worried about the probe itself and how Trump would be cornered into answering questions. There is no apparent ‘smoking gun revelation’ that Rucker and Leonnig might have hoped to reveal to the reader, but there were certainly those who panicked at the thought of what could happen. The authors offered up an excellent analysis of the struggles amongst many of the actors ahead of the public release of the findings, which were spun and bastardised nonetheless.

What comes across as quite intriguing is the need for solidarity to Trump in order to keep one’s job. The book explores so many of the ongoing issues that arose and how the actors were always teetering on the brink. Trump not only expected fidelity, but also proved fickle about his choices. The turnover rate of senior positions, both Cabinet and staff related, proved to outsiders as a sign that there were issues inside. The authors depict this well throughout, as Chiefs of Staff and National Security Directors, as well as senior Department of Justice officials all proved to be in the spotlight and had heads rolling. Perhaps most troubling of all was that Twitter became the new pink slip generator, as though publicly announcing a firing made sense. There is no shock here, but one would have hoped that a business as prominent as the US Government would have a better system, or at least one with a little more class.

One final theme that emerged throughout is the treatment of world leaders. The authors divide this into two camps, both of which are highly troubling. Trump would attack long-standing allies of the United States when they sought to offer an opinion that differed from his own. He felt the need to mock them in person, berate them over the phone, or turn to scorn through his tweets. Trump misses the gist of diplomacy at all levels and leaves his aids to clean up many of the messes left, or have other leaders counselled to turn the other cheek. The other treatment would be complete adoration or trust without substantiation. These include Russia and the Putin response to election rigging, the almost amorous relationship between Trump and Kim Jong Un when it came to North Korea, and the support for the Saudis when they denied killing one of their journalists. As these issues emerge throughout, the narrative depicts this completely baffling view that Trump takes.

When historians look back on the time of the Trump presidency in decades or perhaps a century from now, many will surely gasp at the reporting and presentation of books penned in the era. This is not shocking, for Donald Trump himself sought to redefine the role of POTUS and the America in which everyone lived. As this book has done, it shows a reckless man who wants nothing more than to get his own way and let everyone else fall into line. Whether that is sound for a man who chose not to play by a pre-ordained playbook is up to the reader, but it just does not sit well with me.

Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig offer the reader a great deal of insight throughout this book, substantiating many of the narratives that have emerged in the past, both in media outlets and other books, as well as some strong tidbits of their own. The vast array of people who contributed to the book, some attributed and others anonymously, helps to bolster the narrative and keep the reader on their toes throughout. With chapters of well-documented evidence told in an easy to digest manner, the reader can see many of the key points being made and find something to their liking. I see this less as a tell-all and more a shining light of what was actually going on, which may leave some worried about exaggeration or over-dramatisation, but that sentiment only raises more red flags about truths many would rather have hidden. By this point, I cannot discount all the similar stories as being #fakenews or a conspiracy to smear the man and the administration. They only help to strengthen the argument that the truth is that prevalent and the spin doctoring cannot hide what goes on behind the walls. Then again, I am only offering my own opinions!

Kudos, Mr. Rucker and Madam Leonnig, for an insightful piece on a man who dubbed himself a real genius. I think the smartest people out there will take what you have to say with more than a grain of salt and think before casting a ballot by November 3rd.

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