The leak of Bob Woodward’s new book “Fear” about the inner workings of the Trump White House revealed nothing that anyone who has been paying even marginal attention to how the country has been run for the last 18 months would find surprising in the least.
Woodward depicts Trump’s anger and paranoia about the Russia inquiry as unrelenting, at times paralyzing the West Wing for entire days. Learning of the appointment of Mueller in May 2017, Trump groused, “Everybody’s trying to get me”— part of a venting period that shellshocked aides compared to Richard Nixon’s final days as president.
The 448-page book was obtained by The Washington Post. Woodward, an associate editor at The Post, sought an interview with Trump through several intermediaries to no avail. The president called Woodward in early August, after the manuscript had been completed, to say he wanted to participate. The president complained that it would be a “bad book,” according to an audio recording of the conversation. Woodward replied that his work would be “tough” but factual and based on his reporting.
A central theme of the book is the stealthy machinations used by those in Trump’s inner sanctum to try to control his impulses and prevent disasters, both for the president personally and for the nation he was elected to lead.
Woodward describes “an administrative coup d’etat” and a “nervous breakdown” of the executive branch, with senior aides conspiring to pluck official papers from the president’s desk so he couldn’t see or sign them.
Again and again, Woodward recounts at length how Trump’s national security team was shaken by his lack of curiosity and knowledge about world affairs and his contempt for the mainstream perspectives of military and intelligence leaders.
At a National Security Council meeting on Jan. 19, Trump disregarded the significance of the massive U.S. military presence on the Korean Peninsula, including a special intelligence operation that allows the United States to detect a North Korean missile launch in seven seconds vs. 15 minutes from Alaska, according to Woodward. Trump questioned why the government was spending resources in the region at all.
“We’re doing this in order to prevent World War III,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told him.
After Trump left the meeting, Woodward recounts, “Mattis was particularly exasperated and alarmed, telling close associates that the president acted like — and had the understanding of — ‘a fifth- or sixth-grader.’ ”
What, you were expecting Lincoln’s “team of rivals” or FDR’s calm and occasionally jovial sense of duty? We’ve known all along that Trump has all the patience and insight of a sugared-up six-year-old with a full bladder. (Speaking as a recovering teacher of sixth graders, Secretary Mattis’s claim is misplaced. Most if not all of the sixth-graders I taught were capable of demonstrating far more maturity and dispassionate judgment than Trump.)
The most disturbing aspect of these revelations isn’t how he operates. It’s that no one around him, either in the West Wing or on Capitol Hill, seems inclined to step up to rein this behavior and the ensuing clusterfuck of an administration in. What is it going to take to get someone to put the day-to-day operation of the executive branch on a path of normal behavior before it truly runs into a disaster? Aside from the fact that the business of running the country is being thrown for a loop and displaying an amazing lack of leadership, it’s revealing to the rest of the world, including a whole lot of people and nations who wish us ill, that our nominal leader is guided by the instincts and self-control mechanisms of an alligator. (But this is what you get when you “drain the swamp.”)
Whether it’s the cabinet or Congress, someone with a backbone and a sense of national preservation needs to step up, invoke whatever kind of authority they can muster, and stop the madness.