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••• The International Writers Magazine - 21 Years on-line - Review

Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward
Thorndike Press 2018
ISBN 13: 978-1-4328-5968-6
673 pp Large Print, 42 chapters, notes on each chapter
• Stevellie Wheeler review


Bob Woodward needs no introduction. He is famous for his work with Carl Bernstein on Watergate and many books written since, twelve of which were #1 best sellers. He has won 2 Pulizter Prizes and is an Associate Editor of The Washington Post where he has worked for 47 years. He is meticulous in recording many hours of interviews, meeting notes, personal diaries and documents in the Oval Office, the Situation Room, Air Force One and the White House residence.

Fear includes much profanity, a literal retelling of what was said.

The title of the book is taken from a quote of President Trump when he was a presidential candidate in an interview with Bob Woodward and Robert Costa on March 31, 2016 at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. “Real power is – I don’t even want to use the word – fear.”

The prologue to Fear describes Gary Cohn’s (former president of Goldman Sachs and Trump’s top economic adviser) and Rob Porter’s (the staff secretary and organizer of presidential paperwork) strategy of stealing documents from Trump’s desk to avoid foolish action on the President’s part. The notice to South Korea which brought all the US troops home and ended the free trade agreement with South Korea was one of Trump’s favorite obsessions. It was taken off Trump’s desk more than once by Cohn or Porter. They counted on his forgetfulness to succeed.

Having the US troops in S Korea gave the US a fifteen second warning of hostile acts by N Korea. Doing a way with the treaty meant the US would only get a fifteen minute warning from the next closest observer.

Woodward writes of Cohn’s and Porter’s actions: “ It was no less than an administrative coup d’etat, an undermining of the president of the United States and his constitutional authority.”

Cohn said privately, “It’s not what we did for the country. It’s what we saved him from doing.”

Porter told an associate, “A third of my job was trying to react to some of the really dangerous ideas that he had and try to give him reasons to believe that maybe they weren’t such good ideas.”

Fear is a catalogue of events which demonstrates the lack of credibility the Trump administration exhibits daily. Woodward states his objections to “the dossier” being mentioned to the president but the rest of the book contains accounts of the questionable decisions made by Trump in dealing with the border wall, DACA, Charlottesville, transgender troops, withdrawal from S Korea and Afghanistan, Israel, the Mueller inquiry, NATO, NAFTA and the WTO.

The first chapters cover the election campaign and the unexpected (even by Trump) victory. When Trump ran he didn’t know the meaning of the words, “pro-life” and “populist”.

Cohn and Porter lined up against Wilbur Ross (Secretary of Commerce), Peter Navarro (director of trade and industrial policy and director of The National Trade Council) and Steve Bannon (Chief Executive Officer of Trump’s campaign) in a conflict of globalism vs isolationism. Cohn and Porter believed the tariffs Trump was proposing were destructive. Ross, Navarro and Bannon supported them.

Rex Tillerson (former CEO of Exxon Mobil and Trump’s Secretary of State) didn’t want steel tariffs placed on China because he needed to keep China happy so they would help with N Korea.

Trump hired John Dowd to handle the Mueller inquiry. Dowd was a well respected lawyer who, among other things, was responsible for Pete Rose being banned from the baseball hall of fame. Trump refused to follow Dowd’s advice (“Don’t testify. It’s either that or an orange jump suit.”) but backed out when time came for an interview with Mueller. Dowd had already resigned because of Trump’s refusal to take his advice..

In one telling moment, Cohn asked the president “Why do you have these ideas?”

“I just do” Trump replied, “I’ve had these ideas for thirty years.”

Cohn resigned after a swastika was painted on his daughter’s dorm, a result of Trump’s reaction to Charlottesville.

As a famous NFL coach once said, “They were what we thought they were.”

So it is with Woodward’s 'Fear'. Just as we thought, The White House is in constant chaos because of Trump. Jared Kushner and Ivanka are flitting on the outskirts of the action but in positions which allow them special access to the president.

The turnover is steady because of Trump’s attitude, best summed up in another presidential quote, “If you disagree with me, you’re wrong”

Bob Woodward faithfully recorded Trump’s “best people” in business, military affairs and law as they made their pronouncements, short and sweet:

Rex Tillerson, “ He’s a fucking moron.”

John Kelly “He’s an idiot. It’s pointless to try to convince him of anything. He’s gone off the rails. We’re in crazytown. I don’t even know why any of us are here. This is the worst job I’ve ever had.”

Gary Cohn “He’s a professional liar”

John Dowd “He’s a fucking liar”.

Unfortunately, as I write this, the US is beginning a battle with the corona virus and is woefully unprepared. The President is downplaying the seriousness of the virus and his responsibility for the American reaction. The American people know, after three years, that Trump can’t be believed and that his administration is proposing cuts to the CDC and other medical services. The only means by which Trump and Vice President Pence have any credibility is by surrounding themselves with medical experts.

The end of Trump’s assault on American democracy will be recorded in books like Fear.

© S Wheeler March 2020

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