I am generally not a big fan of reading books on contemporary subjects, because books get better with a few years of hindsight. But for Bob Woodward’s book about the Trump presidency, Fear, I made an exception. Of all the people who have published books on the current president, Woodward is probably the most meticulous researcher.
The White House is dysfunctional and the President was and remains unprepared; that’s not news. Everyone can see that, every day. Thus, Bob Woodward doesn’t have that much new to offer. But the sheer amount of information and in particular the verbatim conversations, mostly provided by people who have since been fired or resigned (Gary Cohn, Rob Porter, Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus and John Dowd seem to be the main sources), can still be shocking at times.
Here are some of the things that were new to me:
- The amount of disdain that almost anyone working with Trump has for him. In meetings, they call him “a fucking moron”, “an idiot” with the intellectual grasp of a 6th-grader or even “unhinged”. And these are all people picked by Trump, who want to support him.
- But I can understand how one could lose one’s mind, trying to have a rational argument with Trump. He doesn’t have the most basic understanding of NATO, of international trade, of inflation. At one point, he suggested that the US can just print money to reduce the deficit. And he is obsessed with trade balances between individual countries, although almost everyone explains to him that these are irrelevant.
- Trump doesn’t care about arguments, facts, numbers or legalities, ending the debate by explaining, “this has been my opinion for 30 years and I won’t change it”.
- He does however change his opinion on foreign policy, like the military presence in Afghanistan, particularly after listening to generals’ recommendations. Of course, he regrets it after an hour and says that he made a mistake by listening to advice. In essence, whoever last speaks to Trump, will win him over. Until the next conversation with someone else.
- As President, it’s apparently OK to start your working day at 11:00, to go back home early and to never read one’s homework. What a life. Sad.
- Aides to the President repeatedly removed papers from the President’s desk to prevent him from signing something, like terminating a trade agreement with South Korea in the middle of the nuclear stand-off with North Korea. Even scarier, Trump doesn’t realize that the papers are gone because he doesn’t keep a mental or physical to-do list. He doesn’t have an agenda. He just deals with whatever comes to his mind, usually by way of television.
- Trump is a pathological liar. It is his natural modus operandi. I was most shocked to learn that he even lies in condolence calls to parents of killed service members.
- After reading that attorney John Dowd charged Trump $ 100,000 per month, I am thinking of raising my fees.
Woodward is not trying to dramatize anything. If at all, his tone is rather boring at times, like someone taking notes at a National Security Council meeting. Still, if you haven’t been reading any newspaper in the last year, or if you want to know how bad it really is, this is probably the best book out there for now. But for the definitive account, we will have to wait. With more people getting fired, there will be may more sources, I am sure.