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448 pages, Hardcover
First published September 11, 2018
Several times Cohn just asked the president, “Why do you have these views?”
“I just do,” Trump replied. “I’ve had these views for 30 years.”
“That doesn’t mean they’re right,” Cohn said. “I had the view for 15 years I could play professional football. It doesn’t mean I was right.” (138)
…the only thing we have to fear is fear itself - Franklin Delano Roosevelt Inaugural address – March 4, 1933
Real power is—I don’t even want to use the word—fear. - Presidential candidate Donald J. Trump in an interview with Bob Woodward and Robert Costa on March 31, 2016FDR was correct. The fear that gripped the nation in the Great Depression may have had a basis in reality, but acceding to that fear could have hindered any attempts to make the dire economic situation better. Would Roosevelt feel the same way today? Do we have nothing to fear but fear itself? Well, we do have a very concrete problem that generates a fair bit of concern, anxiety, nervousness, and yes, fear. The guy in the White House. The fear that Roosevelt addressed was a concern that the nation, under the weight of the latest in a series of economic collapses, might not be able to recover from it soon enough to matter, leaving the nation impoverished, riven with internal strife, and in danger from external enemies. The fears we contend with today include a widespread concern about a declining standard of living, a whipped-up concern about minorities, both foreign and domestic, distrust of those who worship differently, or not at all, confusion about increasing gender fluidity, and diversity. But there are specific fears that center on the guy in the Oval Office, both of the incoming and outgoing sorts.
It was no less than an administrative coup d’état, an undermining of the will of the president of the United States and his constitutional authority.
In addition to coordinating policy decisions and schedules and running the paperwork for the president, 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.”
Another strategy was to delay, procrastinate, cite legal restrictions, Lawyer Porter said, “But slow-walking things or not taking things up to him, or telling him—rightly, not just as an excuse—but this needs to be vetted, or we need to do more process on this, or we don’t have legal counsel clearance—that happened 10 times more frequently than taking papers from his desk. It felt like we were walking along the edge of the cliff perpetually.
…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.As with Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury, Steve Bannon has clearly offered the author considerable information on the goings on inside the White House. It is also clear that there are many other insiders who have talked to Woodward. One must always wonder, of course, where reporting events accurately leaves off for these sources, and where reputation embellishment begins. Thankfully, Woodward has gone to great lengths to corroborate diverse accounts to arrive at an accurate picture. I would be inclined to take what is reported in this book as the best obtainable version of the truth.
We must especially beware of that small group of selfish men who would clip the wings of the American Eagle in order to feather their own nests.
FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT, State of the Union Address, Jan. 9, 1941
“Cohn realised that Trump had gone bankrupt six times and seemed not to mind. Bankruptcy was just another business strategy. Walk away, threaten to blow up the deal. Real power is fear.”Donald Trump is probably the most divisive President in US history and has created a polarised nation between those believing he is honestly and strategically playing a role to achieve gains for the US, and those who think he’s destructive, stumbling from one, sometimes self-imposed, incident to another.
“Despite almost daily report of chaos and discord in the White House, the public did not know how bad the internal situation actually was. Trump was always shifting, rarely fixed, erratic. He would get in a bad mood, something large or small would infuriate him”Trump is presented through the various incidents covered in the book to show a lack of understanding on economic strategies and how they affect domestic and global markets, and how little candour and loyalty he has when it comes to building a team that can cohesively deliver the Government’s plans. His turnaround in staff is deeply concerning and his history of turning apparently close friends into enemies is shocking. In particular the Clintons, Steve Bannon (Trump’s Chief Strategist) and Gary Cohn (Director of National Economic Council).
“I just don’t like the way the president talks to these generals. They don’t deserve it. I can’t sit around and listen to this from the president. He’s just a moron.”Chapter by chapter, the narrative covers the period from pre-Republican nomination to recent times, through issues involving, immigration, racial divisions, tax reforms, North Korea, South Korea, Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, NATO, and the numerous trade deals. Unfortunately, there are no real revelations that we may have hoped for. The sad result is that our greatest fears about Trump, his bullish, disrespectful and offensive character, and his inability to constructively contribute to a domestic and international political and economic agenda have a solid foundation, and are not just a front. The pace of these events and the dialogue are a little slow but there are moments of interest that are engrossing, and then it’s gone again.
The elder Kim had dealt with weapons test failures by ordering the death of the responsible scientists and officials. They were shot. The younger Kim accepted failures in tests, apparently absorbing the practical lesson: Failure is inevitable on the road to success. Under Kim Jung Un, the scientists lived to learn from their mistakes and the weapons programs improved.
"You're a fucking liar."
"Even when telling the truth, he sounded like he was lying to you."
"Bankruptcy was just another business strategy. Walk away, threaten to blow up the deal."
"Harmony could lead to groupthink. He embraced the chaos and churn beneath him..."
"You couldn't talk to him in adult logic. Teenage logic was necessary."
"Many of the president's senior advisers, especially those in the national security realm, are extremely concerned with his erratic nature, his relative ignorance, his inability to learn, as well as what they consider his dangerous views."
"It's not what we did for the country. It's what we saved him from doing."
"He conveyed the belief that improvising was his strength. He could read a situation. Or the room. Or the moment...Too much advance preparation would diminish his skills in improvising. He did not want to be derailed by forethought. As if a plan would take away his power, his sixth sense."
"It's a good thing [now he could flesh out his thoughts and add more depth], but it's a bit of a shame because I was the Ernest Hemingway of 140 characters."
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.
What follows is that story.
The glass in Trump Tower was thick, but they could hear the roaring crowd of Trump supporters in the street—a riot of “deplorables,” who had adopted Hillary Clinton’s derisive term as their own.
“My people!” Trump declared. “I’m going to go down. Don’t worry about the rally. I’m going to do it right here.”
“You’re not going down there,” a Secret Service agent insisted. “You’re not going outside.”
“I’m going downstairs,” Trump said. He headed out. “This is great.”
Conway tried to intervene. “You just can’t cancel” on ABC.
“I don’t care. I’m never doing this. It was a dumb idea. I never wanted to do it.”
Porter left the White House on February 7 after two ex-wives went public with allegations that he had physically abused them. One released a photo showing a black eye that she said Porter gave her. Each, one to the press and one in a blog post, gave graphic descriptions of domestic abuse.
Porter quickly concluded it would be best for all—his former spouses, his family and close friends, the White House and himself—to resign. He wanted to focus on repairing relationships and healing.
The New York Times wrote, “Abuse Claims End Star’s Rise in White House” and “Aide’s Clean-Cut Image Belied His Hot Temper, Former Colleagues Say.”
In a statement, Porter said, “I took the photos given to the media nearly 15 years ago, and the reality behind them is nowhere close to what is being described.”
“Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation,” Trump tweeted.
The Washington Post editorial board accused the White House of “shrugging off domestic violence” and The New York Times said “Trump Appears to Doubt the #MeToo Movement.”
Cohn saw that one of the main restraining influences on Trump was now gone.
“The president has zero psychological ability to recognize empathy or pity in any way.”
“The president’s unhinged,” Kelly said.
Oval Office business and decision making became increasingly haphazard. “The president just really doesn’t understand anything about that. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” Kelly said.
Cohn realized that Trump had gone bankrupt six times and seemed not to mind. Bankruptcy was just another business strategy. Walk away, threaten to blow up the deal. Real power is fear.
Grievance was a big part of Trump’s core, very much like a 14-year-old boy who felt he was being picked on unfairly. You couldn’t talk to him in adult logic. Teenage logic was necessary.
During Trump’s first six months in the White House, few understood how much media he consumed. It was scary. Trump didn’t show up for work until 11: 00 in the morning. Many times he watched six to eight hours of television in a day. Think what your brain would be like if you did that? Bannon asked.
Cohn realized again what he had said before to others about the president: “He’s a professional liar.”
Trump’s action and mounting threats on tariffs were jarring. Cohn thought that Trump had to know. “But he’s not man enough to admit it. He’s never been wrong yet. He’s 71. He’s not going to admit he’s wrong, ever.”
Priebus had his troubles with Bannon but Bannon had fallen in line and was 10 times the unifier that Jared and Ivanka were.
Some things were clear and many were not in such a complex, tangled investigation. There was no perfect X-ray, no tapes, no engineer’s drawing. Dowd believed that the president had not colluded with Russia or obstructed justice.
But in the man and his presidency Dowd had seen the tragic flaw. In the political back-and-forth, the evasions, the denials, the tweeting, the obscuring, crying “Fake News,” the indignation, Trump had one overriding problem that Dowd knew but could not bring himself to say to the president: “You’re a fucking liar.”
Evelyn brought her endless good sense and wisdom, serving as full collaborator and in the spirit—and with the level of effort—of a coauthor.