Books of The Times
In ‘Fear,’ Bob Woodward Pulls Back the Curtain
on President Trump’s ‘Crazytown’
By Dwight Garner
Sept. 5, 2018CreditCreditSonny Figueroa/The New York TimesNothing in Bob Woodward’s sober and grainy new book, “Fear: Trump in the White House,” is especially surprising. This is a White House that has leaked from Day 1. We knew things were bad. Woodward is here, like a state trooper knocking on the door at 3 a.m., to update the sorry details.
Some of these details, at first glance, are amusing. Trump lamented when Twitter, the social media platform on which he dispenses Pez-sized pellets of discourtesy, raised the maximum size of an individual tweet from 140 to 280 characters because, he is quoted as saying, “I was the Ernest Hemingway of 140 characters.” Somewhere in heaven, Papa is wondering if he can’t self-destruct all over again.
It is stranger still to learn that Trump orders his most popular tweets printed out, so that he can study them. What lesson has he learned? That his most effective tweets are often the most unhinged. He’s a focus group of one, thriving on the smell of his own sulfur. Reince Priebus, his former chief of staff, calls the presidential bedroom, where Trump goes to tweet, “the devil’s workshop,” and early mornings and Sunday nights, when Trump is at loose ends, “the witching hour.”
Some in the White House have tried to tone down the president’s online effusions, but that idea seems to have been jettisoned in the havoc. His advisers are viewed in mostly pitiless terms by Woodward. “Trump had failed the President Lincoln test,” he writes. “He had not put a team of political rivals or competitors at the table.”
Woodward vividly quotes Priebus on the chaos of the White House’s decision making. “When you put a snake and a rat and a falcon and a rabbit and a shark and a seal in a zoo without walls, things start getting nasty and bloody. That’s what happens.”
That’s what happens.”
ImagePresident Donald Trump at a roundtable discussion with state leaders in August.CreditTom Brenner for The New York Times“Fear” is a typical Woodward book in that named sources for scenes, thoughts and quotations appear only sometimes. Woodward has never been a graceful writer, but the prose here is unusually wooden. It’s as if he wants to make a statement that, at this historical juncture, simple factual pine-board competence should suffice.
The critic Clive James once complained that Woodward “checks his facts until they weep with boredom.” Well, fact-checking and boredom seem sexy again. Even weeping is making a comeback.
Woodward dispenses in “Fear” with most of the small human details that brightened his earlier books. There is no moment like the one in “Bush at War” (2002) in which George W. Bush said to a Navy steward on duty in the West Wing, “Ferdie, I want a hamburger.”
Woodward keeps the scene-setting to a minimum. Those he does set tend to be around policy disputes over North Korea, Afghanistan, tax reform, trade and tariffs, and the Paris climate agreement, among other issues.
Woodward’s subjects have always been able to trade access for spotlight and some sympathy in his books. Among the primary sources for this book are clearly Priebus; Gary D. Cohn, Trump’s former chief economic adviser; and Rob Porter, Trump’s former staff secretary.
There are terrifying scenes in which Cohn and Porter conspire to keep certain documents out of Trump’s reach. One of these would have withdrawn the United States from a crucial trade agreement with South Korea. Another would have pulled the country from the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Describing one of these moments, Woodward writes: “The reality was that the United States in 2017 was tethered to the words and actions of an emotionally overwrought, mercurial and unpredictable leader. Members of his staff had joined to purposefully block some of what they believed were the president’s most dangerous impulses. It was a nervous breakdown of the executive power of the most powerful country in the world.”
Trump rarely realizes when things go missing, Woodward sugg[quote]ests. Though he does quote him shouting, like a boy king, “Bring me my tariffs!”
Cohn is in some ways this book’s moral center. If this were a first-person novel, he would be its narrator. He is shocked at every turn by Trump’s lack of knowledge and utter lack of interest in learning anything at all. It was pointless to prepare a presentation of any sort for him.
Cohn and Jim Mattis, the secretary of defense, had “several quiet conversations” about what they called “The Big Problem: The president did not understand the importance of allies overseas, the value of diplomacy or the relationship between the military, the economy and intelligence partnerships with foreign governments.”
EDITORS’ PICKSTrump is quoted saying feckless things like, about the war in Afghanistan, “You should be killing guys. You don’t need a strategy to kill people.”
Many insults are flung in “Fear,” sometimes behind backs, sometimes right in the kisser. Most are from Trump. He said to Porter about Priebus: “He’s like a little rat. He just scurries around. You don’t even have to pay any attention to him.” He calls Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in Porter’s presence, “mentally retarded” and mocks his accent.
John F. Kelly, Trump’s chief of staff, is quoted as saying about the president, in a meeting, “He’s an idiot. It’s pointless to try to convince him of anything. He’s gone off the rails. We’re in crazytown.”
ImageBob Woodward arriving at Trump Tower in New York in 2017.CreditPool photo by Albin Lohr-JonesMike Pence, the vice president, comes off as a glorified golf caddy who doesn’t want to rock the boat lest Trump tweet something mean about him. Stephen K. Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist, simmers frequently in this book’s background. About Melania Trump, Bannon says: “Behind the scenes she’s a hammer.” Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner are seen by nearly all parties as pointless. “They were like a posse of second-guessers, hovering, watching,” Woodward writes. He does describe how Ivanka got her father to talk to Al Gore about climate change.
Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation rattles Trump to his core in “Fear.” Woodward sugg[quote]ests that the president is right, at least in one regard, to be aggrieved.
The intelligence report from the C.I.A., the National Security Agency, the F.B.I. and others about Russian interference in the 2016 election was an airtight document, he says. Why then did James Comey, then the F.B.I. director, also introduce the so-called Steele dossier?
“It would be as if I had reported and written one of the most serious, complex stories for The Washington Post that I had ever done,” Woodward writes, “and then provided an appendix of unverified allegations. Oh, by the way, here is a to-do list for further reporting and we’re publishing it.”
There is a strong sense here of the clock ticking. John M. Dowd, Trump’s former lawyer, does not think Trump is mentally capable of testifying to the special counsel. “Don’t testify,” he is quoted as saying. “It’s either that or an orange jump suit.”
Trump declined to be interviewed for this book, Woodward writes in a note to readers. But the book’s title is from a quote Trump delivered in a 2016 interview with Woodward and his Washington Post colleague Robert Costa: “Real power is — I don’t even want to use the word — fear.”
If this book has a single point to drive home, it is that the president of the United States is a congenital liar. I wish “Fear” had other points to make. I wanted more context, more passion, a bit of irony and certainly more simple history. Surely Woodward, of all people, has worthwhile comparisons to make between Trump and Richard Nixon.
But this is not Woodward’s way. “Fear” picks up little narrative momentum. It’s a slow tropical storm of a book, not a hurricane. You turn the pages because Woodward, as he accumulates the queasy-making details, delivers on the promise of his title.
Follow Dwight Garner on Twitter: @DwightGarner.
Trump in the White House
By Bob Woodward
Illustrated. 420 pages. Simon & Schuster. $30.
I Am Part of the Resistance
Inside the Trump Administration
I work for the president but like-minded colleagues and I have vowed to thwart parts
of his agenda and his worst inclinations.
Sept. 5, 2018 President Trump is facing a test to his presidency unlike any faced by a modern American leader.
It’s not just that the special counsel looms large. Or that the country is bitterly divided over Mr. Trump’s leadership. Or even that his party might well lose the House to an opposition hellbent on his downfall.
The dilemma — which he does not fully grasp — is that many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.
I would know. I am one of them.
To be clear, ours is not the popular “resistance” of the left. We want the administration to succeed and think that many of its policies have already made America safer and more prosperous.
But we believe our first duty is to this country, and the president continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic.
That is why many Trump appointees have vowed to do what we can to preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump’s more misguided impulses until he is out of office.The root of the problem is the president’s amorality. Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making.
Although he was elected as a Republican, the president shows little affinity for ideals long espoused by conservatives: free minds, free markets and free people. At best, he has invoked these ideals in scripted settings. At worst, he has attacked them outright.
In addition to his mass-marketing of the notion that the press is the “enemy of the people,” President Trump’s impulses are generally anti-trade and anti-democratic.
Don’t get me wrong. There are bright spots that the near-ceaseless negative coverage of the administration fails to capture: effective deregulation, historic tax reform, a more robust military and more.
But these successes have come despite — not because of — the president’s leadership style, which is impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective.
From the White House to executive branch departments and agencies, senior officials will privately admit their daily disbelief at the commander in chief’s comments and actions. Most are working to insulate their operations from his whims.
Meetings with him veer off topic and off the rails, he engages in repetitive rants, and his impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back.
“There is literally no telling whether he might change his mind from one minute to the next,” a top official complained to me recently, exasperated by an Oval Office meeting at which the president flip-flopped on a major policy decision he’d made only a week earlier.
The erratic behavior would be more concerning if it weren’t for unsung heroes in and around the White House. Some of his aides have been cast as villains by the media. But in private, they have gone to great lengths to keep bad decisions contained to the West Wing, though they are clearly not always successful.
It may be cold comfort in this chaotic era, but Americans should know that there are adults in the room. We fully recognize what is happening. And we are trying to do what’s right even when Donald Trump won’t.
The result is a two-track presidency.
Take foreign policy: In public and in private, President Trump shows a preference for autocrats and dictators, such as President Vladimir Putin of Russia and North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, and displays little genuine appreciation for the ties that bind us to allied, like-minded nations.
Astute observers have noted, though, that the rest of the administration is operating on another track, one where countries like Russia are called out for meddling and punished accordingly, and where allies around the world are engaged as peers rather than ridiculed as rivals.
On Russia, for instance, the president was reluctant to expel so many of Mr. Putin’s spies as punishment for the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain. He complained for weeks about senior staff members letting him get boxed into further confrontation with Russia, and he expressed frustration that the United States continued to impose sanctions on the country for its malign behavior. But his national security team knew better — such actions had to be taken, to hold Moscow accountable.
This isn’t the work of the so-called deep state. It’s the work of the steady state.
Given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would start a complex process for removing the president. But no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis. So we will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until — one way or another — it’s over.
The bigger concern is not what Mr. Trump has done to the presidency but rather what we as a nation have allowed him to do to us. We have sunk low with him and allowed our discourse to be stripped of civility.
Senator John McCain put it best in his farewell letter. All Americans should heed his words and break free of the tribalism trap, with the high kuv phem of uniting through our shared values and love of this great nation.
Reactions to this op-edTrump Lashes Out After Reports of ‘Quiet Resistance’ by StaffSept. 5, 2018Anonymous Op-Ed in New York Times Causes a Stir Online and in the White HouseSept. 5, 2018It Wasn’t Me: Pence, Pompeo and a Parade of Administration Officials Deny Writing Op-EdSept. 6, 2018Opinion: ‘Anonymous’ vs. Trump: Resistance From WithinSept. 6, 2018We may no longer have Senator McCain. But we will always have his example — a lodestar for restoring honor to public life and our national dialogue. Mr. Trump may fear such honorable men, but we should revere them.
There is a quiet resistance within the administration of people choosing to put country first. But the real difference will be made by everyday citizens rising above politics, reaching across the aisle and resolving to shed the labels in favor of a single one: Americans.
The writer is a senior official in the Trump administration.
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OP-ED...Trying to SAVE AMERICA...
DUMP TRUMP...Daily Tweeted and Appeared on the Media
fighting everyone from within the White House, Congress, Nation,
and International Communities...on every Issues from Wars, Trades, Tax,
Global Warming, Immigrants, Racists, Hatred, Division of the People,
Division of the Country, Division of the World...
BUT...he embraced one PERSON that is PUTIN of Russia who said
Russia could DESTROY AMERICA in one NUKE that America would not be able
This Dumb Trump...is sick, crazy, insane, un-intelligent,
and is not fit to BE IN THE WHITE HOUSE & RUN THE COUNTRY...!