Fear: Trump in the White House – Bob Woodward
“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.
The world that shaped Trump is one of privilege and wealth. His business style is one of brash authority where he doesn’t need to placate others, and if he makes a mistake, it costs money but is not life and death. As US President, one of the most powerful men in the world, he is responsible for global politics, economics and national security, and IT IS a matter of life and death. The big issue I wanted answering is, whether Trump is equipped with the capability, integrity and selfless ambition to form a Government and serve his nation. He is required to shoulder the expectations of ALL citizens to deliver prosperity and security to his country and play his role on a more and more inclusive world stage. Is he doing this?
Bob Woodward sets out a journalistic-style, piece-by-piece book, that draws a picture of a leader that is erratic, unpredictable and will say and do anything to remain a popular public figure. The image of Trump is of a president that lacks knowledge about his area of responsibility, someone who lacks integrity, someone who cannot analyse a situation in depth and bring comprehensive diverse advice to inform a coherent defendable but definite decision. He will make irrational decisions with little appreciation of political structures, legislature or legal agreements.
“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).
With Trump’s impulsive and unpredictable approach, this can be advantageous in certain instances and can achieve results. For example, the NATO agreements on moving each member country to honour it’s committed financial contribution, or the rapid consolidation of the Gulf Cooperation Council, showing unity against Iran. It would be a great tool to have at your disposal when diplomacy drags in the quagmire of debate and negotiation. However, if it becomes the norm, it becomes predictable and playable. Woodward describes a White House environment where advisors, aides, appointed officials, and Government staff are constantly berated while they protect the President/Country by hiding executive order documents to prevent serious international consequences. Rex Tillerson (Secretary of State), after one of the senior staff meetings, says to Reince
“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.
It’s almost impossible to be unbiased in considering Trump and his position as President of the USA. I haven’t read other books on Trump but when this account became available from Bob Woodward, my perception was that if there is an opportunity of reading a considered account of Donald Trump as US President, where the veracity of the background research and sources are validated, this would be it. There are obvious debates over those sources being played out in the news and Woodward’s own agenda, but I feel it slightly irrelevant, as there were no surprises or startling insights that would cause me to change my perception of Donald Trump.
I would recommend reading this book as it does provoke interest and debate but don’t expect any great revelations. I may just be cynical, but I’m still not convinced I’ve heard the truth and I’m just wondering what hidden agendas are at play by sources providing material for this book.