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

Russian Roulette: The Inside Story on Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump, by Michael Isikoff and David Corn

Eight stars

I assert my right to call this a #realreview

In possession of three somewhat inter-related books on the 45th POTUS, I thought that I would craft what I am calling my Trump Trifecta, which fits nicely into this non-fiction binge whose time is waning. Some may dispute the ‘non-fiction’ nature of these books, but that is for the reviewer (myself included) to decide in analysis while weighing the information presented. After reading about some of the wonky goings-on during the first year in the Trump White House in the opening book (check reviews should you want to know more), this second piece explores how Trump made it from long-shot candidate to winner of the 2016 US Presidential Election. Michael Isikoff and David Corn—both journalists who covered the recent presidential election—explore numerous players in the 2016 campaign and how they are interconnected in their divergent efforts to shape events. There were three significant issues that served to define the campaign and led to a number of noteworthy outcomes: Trump’s disinterest in distancing himself from Russia, significant hacks into the Democratic National Committee (DNC), and the Clinton email server discovery/repercussions. In the early portion of the book, the authors lay some of the significant groundwork used to shape these overall arguments. Trump’s connection to Russia and Putin can be traced back to his desire to have a Trump Tower in the Russian capital, paired with his apparent strong desire to create a relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin proved essential aspects to the future GOP candidates ongoing connection to the country. This was further solidified during the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant in Russia, where the authors depict Trump as trying to curry favour with the Russian leader and have him attend. This connection, alongside some leaked potential blackmail that Russian Intelligence captured during the aforementioned pageant stay, helped to strengthen Trump’s apparent desire to speak fondly of Putin and the larger Russian Government system, turning away from any criticisms or smears at any point. Moving to the year of the campaign, Isikoff and Corn discuss oddities that were found within the DNC’s email servers, cyber-footprints that could only be described as hackers having infiltrated the system and collected large portions of documentation, which included email chains that told of strongly worded opinions on a variety of sources. Some of these included the presumptive Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, while many others were from senior members of the DNC slandering Trump or Bernie Sanders. These emails were eventually released through WikiLeaks and tweeted by a number of sources that were eventually traced back to Russia, though it was only the DNC that received this rough treatment, leaving Trump and his team to stand on the side and use the documents to fuel their ongoing attacks. This hacking led to many questions about what else Russia might be able to do and how far their reach might go. Tied to the DNC hacking has to be the dark cloud that hung over its candidate and the personal server that Clinton used. While she stated that she did nothing illegal and only followed those who went before her, Clinton was not able to dodge this bullet, particularly when the FBI opened an investigation and sifted through many of the emails, finding crumbs of things that might have remnants of national security concerns. All this worked to gather negative momentum and helped Trump (and the hackers) to create a strong negative persona of the Democratic candidate. What followed was a mixture of these three issues and a number of other characters who, when added to the mix, created the most controversial and dramatic lead-ups to a presidential election in recent memory. Those who enjoy peeling back some of the layers that led to this tumultuous campaign will likely enjoy this piece, which pulls no punches and explores items from numerous perspectives. Isikoff and Corn do a masterful job of adding hype and intrigue to this, only helping to further stoke fires that have not yet dissipated. This book has all the elements of a political thriller, but with all the ties to publicly revealed information, I know it has elements of substantiated fact. Well worth the time for those who can stomach the drama.

I admit outrightly that I am not a fan of the current POTUS, but I do love a good election story that shows the drama of events as they unfold. The authors have tried as best they can to depict both sides of the race, but particularly the intrusion by Russia and the seeming inability of the US Government to stop the meddling and potential voter influence of the 2016 Presidential Election. Some within the Obama Administration were too timid to act with an iron fist, concerned that it would come across as partisan, while others did not want to appear to place a thumb on the scale and tip things in any direction. Within all of this, the FBI was trying to run two significant investigations: Clinton’s email scandal and the Russian hacking, taking no side while garnering a pile of information on which they could act. The book is surely full of salacious details, particularly directed at the GOP candidate, though much of this hit the airwaves and was not disputed at the time by Trump, even though his campaign wanted to nullify it from the get-go. Some will call the book a smear campaign, putting Trump in bed with the Russians or even trying to draw parallels between hacker and troll actions with his own campaign. While I choose not to dive in wholeheartedly, the evidence is quite strong and I would challenge anyone who can explain it away to do so, rather than try to toss mud and deflect on the accusations at hand (see my review of the first book in the trifecta to see how I feel about those who do nothing but whinge and try to bang pots because they cannot defend their position). It’s damning, but so are some of the concerns raised within the Clinton email scandal and the information released, albeit illegally. With Russian hackers, a candidate seen to be colluding with them, another embroiled in an email scandal, where do we turn? Who can shed some light on all of this while trying to take the high road? Let’s go to the FBI and its director, who was in the middle of this mess. That’s where this trifecta ought to close out its analysis. But, we could not have made it there without the help of Isikoff and Corn, who paved the way and left me itching with questions and shaking my head.

Kudos, Messrs. Isikoff and Corn, for a great piece of journalistic analysis. I can see the trolls (Russian and others) trying to pull down the foundations of your arguments, though you seem to have embedded them in a sturdy foundation. I look forward to seeing how it all plays out.

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