I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year, by Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker

Nine stars

Having thoroughly enjoyed their original collaboration, I turned to this unexpected follow-up tome by Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker. Full of wonderful journalistic nuggets, the authors use their credible sources and varied perspectives to paint quite the picture of the last year Donald J. Trump served in the White House during his term as president. Touching on a number of powerful themes and using the support of many within the Trump inner circle, the authors portray things as chaotic as they appeared in reports by the mainstream media throughout 2020 and into 2021. Not to be missed by those who want a strong piece that has been substantiated by the reporting of many others, a well the reader who needs an inside look into how power can create delusions of grandeur for those who become easily inebriated by it.

While there is much Leonnig and Rucker have to report throughout 2020, perhaps the most pervasive throughout the year would be the events surrounding COVID-19 and its handling by the Administration. Downplayed from the outset, Trump and his closest aides refused to see the storm that was brewing. Medical professionals sought to develop a plan to protect the public, but Trump was more about appearances and stopping any limitations that might befall his voter base. Even the Secretary of Health and Human Services tried to appeal to the safety concerns for the general public, but it seemed as though Trump was ready to call this a simple flu-like event and scoffed at any further concern. This sentiment bled into many other parts of the book, including the campaign for reelection, and was not stymied when Trump, himself, contracted COVID in the weeks before the election. Social distancing, masks, and any precautions seemed to be a waste for the man who thought himself Superman amongst the commoners.

As mentioned above, Trump used 2020 to push his own agenda, which included attending many more of his mega (MAGA) rallies. These events, which gave POTUS a chance to spout lies and half-truths to people who could not drink the Kool-Aid fast enough, turned out to be the place to stir up drama and trouble for everyone. Trump thought these rallies were the lifeblood of his presidency, though they were all scripted to ensure his supporters heard him speak on the latest theory that passed his desk and seek to defile anyone who might have a voice to the contrary. The authors show how these events became even more troublesome when the election preparation was in full swing, as people would not follow protocols and infected one another with ease. All to hear lies forced down their throats and chants that would leave some to question to extent of the First Amendment.

Amidst all the other goings-on in 2020, the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement solidified a chance for the president to bring the country together, though he failed miserably. Instead, it was more pandering to his base and vilifying peaceful protesting in hopes of discounting the issues at hand. As the authors discuss in passing, Trump had no interest to address issues that would push him away from his base, choosing to ignore the violence or point fingers on the left for being the sole troublemakers. As the tensions rose, Trump politicised the clashes as being a fight for truth, all while pushing lies onto his base, most of whom knew no better, an issue unto itself.

The 2020 presidential election was perhaps the central event that year, though it touched on so many other aspects the book professes. Trump was sure that he was headed to a massive reelection victory and wanted the world to know it. He tossed verbal grenades at anyone standing in his way and downplayed the need to alter how things were done. Social distancing meant that voting would take on a new face, with many choosing mail-in ballots ahead of Election Day. While Trump downplayed this as a means of ‘falsifying’ results, he kept at his whirlwind rallying and trying to run things within the West Wing. When Joe Biden was chosen as the Democratic nominee, Trump lashed out at the man, trying to use unfounded views the stir up controversy, as only he can with ease. The authors do a masterful job looking at the election events and how Trump thought he could steamroll through things, creating doubt in the results even before they came in. At the end of the day (or a few days), the dust settled and Trump had lost. As many readers will know, Trump does not handle NO or LOSE well, which led to another whirlwind that proved to be the most intriguing part of the book; Trump’s swan song.

From the news that certain states (read: Arizona and Georgia) were not firmly in the Trump column on Election Night, the White House knew there were to be issues with POTUS and his handling of the results. As the authors depict in detail, Trump challenged the validity of the results as soon as they began coming in, crying foul and making sure everyone knew it was fixed. This led to days of conspiracy theories, even as all states recounted and a formal announcement of Biden’s win came across the airwaves. What followed was a collection of lawsuits, accusations, and false bravado to explore what appeared to be some sort of breach in the democratic process. Many readers will remember the soap opera-like dram that ensued and the flimsy lawsuits that were, almost literally, laughed out of court. Still, it was only when the formal certification of the results in Congress took place that things go really problematic. Building up to it in the final chapters, the authors clearly show events of January 6, 2021 as being a true insurrection on the Capitol and an attempt to hijack the democratic process, led by a man whose drunkenness on power baffled even those within his inner circle. Democracy had been tested and yet it withstood, for the most part, its most ardent foe sitting in the White House. America returned to a form of greatness, not because of the events from January 20, 2017- January 20, 2021, but in spite of it!

While i love politics and history, there are some events that are so enshrined in both that I cannot help but read about them over and over. While I lived through the drama of the Trump Administration (and worry there may be a second if voters do not get their poop in a group), I cannot help but sit, jaw slackened, when I read about all the antics that took place. Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker have used their two books to do just that, offering up sensational writing, reporting, and narratives about events and how things played out. The storytelling is almost fictional, as there is so much that just does not seem real, but the authors substantiate it with interviews, comments, and source material to keep it fresh for the reader. This book, which chronicled only the last year of the Trump Administration, proved to be a powerhouse in all forms, leaving the reader to feel enthralled by the detail, fearful by the events depicted, and curious about the future. Well-developed chapters tell the story in a clear fashion, while sources help prop up the goings-on, even when certain sycophants choose to forget what happened before them. I cannot say enough about the book, the authors, and the events depicted therein.

While I took many, many things away from this read, one that jumped off the page and slapped me in the face repeatedly would have to be the level of belief surrounding unsubstantiated accusations or the enshrinement of a false narrative that many tied to Trump have (including the man himself). Dictators of the future take note, this is how you spin things and indoctrinate others!

Kudos, Madam Leonnig and Mr. Rucker, for an sensational piece. I can only wonder what’s next for you both, collaboratively or individually. You’ve proven yourselves to be stellar journalists and apt political commentators.

Zero Fail: The Rise and Fall of the Secret Service, by Carol Leonnig

Nine stars

Always one to gravitate towards books of a political nature, I have come to enjoy those penned by Carol Leonnig. While I have read some of her collaborative work previously, this was my first foray into her independent writing, which was just as captivating and revealing. Many would think of the Secret Service as the protection detail behind the scenes, saving those of some political ilk from threats and keeping the riffraff away. However, Leonnig explores not only the new ‘poltiical protection’ role of the Secret Service, but also some of the gaffes in which they have been involved, which brought some unwanted attention to the role. Leonnig does a masterful job in her explanations and description analysis of the Secret Service, choosing to educate the reader, rather than use it as a tell-all or smear piece.

The Secret Service are by no means a new arm of the US Government, but their role as political protectors has really come to fruition in the last number of decades. Carol Leonnig explores when the shift took place to move the Secret Service from primarily involved in the realm of the US Treasury to being point people for political figures, especially the President of the United States (POTUS). The significant shift can be traced back to the Kennedy Administration, though this was also the start of the major gaffes in which the Service found itself, namely the Kennedy assassination in 1963.

Leonnig moves through each of the presidents from Kennedy to Trump with some cursory explanation of the evolving role of members of the Service, as well as some detailed discussion of any major assassination attempt made or plot revealed regarding POTUS. Leonnig opens the reader’s eyes to just how busy the Service tends to be, chasing down leads and keeping things straight for all those involved in the preparation of trips, both foreign and domestic. In addition to protection, Leonnig explores some of the ‘secret keeping’ roles that members of the Service had to keep, from Obama’s smoking to Clinton’s nightly rendezvous with a variety of women. While readers may not be shocked to read about this, substantiating media rumours solidifies much of what is known about a number of those holding the highest office in the land.

In the latter portion of the book, Leonnig explores the three most recent Administrations with additional analysis, including some of the more scandalous sides of the Secret Service. Leonnig seeks not to out those who worked on the various details, but to offer some substantial explanation as to just how rampant issues and abuse of power can be, which may not be well known to the reader. Use of taxpayer dollars to drink, cavort, and put the protected at risk because of a lack of acuteness cannot be lost on what comes out in the narrative, though there is a need to understand that these men (and some women) are human and will likely ‘play while the cat is away’. Leonnig offers up some raw and straightforward explanations from what she has been able to garner, putting the Secret Service under the microscope to se how effective they have been and could be into the future.

No shock to the attentive reader, when it comes to Trump, things within the Secret Service took a highly political direction. As Leonnig discusses, Trump uses the Service as a private security force and made sure the taxpayer footed the additional bill. Using blind loyalty to ensure job security, in an organisation that is to be apolitical, Trump soiled things to the point of making another mockery of a core American institution. Leaving bitterness and destruction in his wake, Trump left the Service divided and forced America to clean up the mess, riddled in falsehoods.

I was not looking for a tell-all book or something that would seek to dismantle the structure of the Secret Service. Carol Leonnig did not provide that either. Instead, she left the reader feeling well-informed about what is taking place within the Service and how the machine works, both when well-oiled and as the wheels are falling off. Her frank narrative opens up many questions, but also seeks to educate the reader as to what is going on, which proves highly educational. Seen mostly as being the wallflowers they hope to be, members of the Secret Service have a special role, particularly when protecting POTUS on a day to day basis. However, in being given that responsibility, there is a high standard that must be met, something that Leonnig discusses on a regular basis. Lengthy chapters offer great insight into what has been going on and how things have evolved (and perhaps devolved) since the Kennedy Administration. Leonnig takes the reader on a ride like no other and substantiates much of what she says through interviews and detailed research. As with the other books of hers I have read, I leave this experience with a great deal more knowledge and a thirst to obtain more, as time permits.

Kudos, Madam Leonnig, for shedding some light on this most interesting topic. I look forward to reading more of your work soon.

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