Books postsWednesday September 12, 2018
Shallow Deep Background
One thing's for sure about Bob Woodward's book, “Fear: Trump In the White House”: Steven Bannon was one of his “deep background” sources.
It's not just that he comes off well. We actually know what he's thinking. As in this scene between Bannon and Gov. Chris Christie after the “Access Hollywood” story broke in Oct. 2016 and Bannon urged Trump to follow his instincts and play offense (“that's in the past,” “locker room talk,” “Bill Clinton was way worse”) rather than defense (“I'm sorry, so sorry”):
“You‘re the fucking problem,” Christie said to Bannon. “You’ve been the problem since the beginning.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You‘re the enabler. You play to every one of his worst instincts. This thing’s over, and you‘re going to be blamed. Every time he’s got terrible instincts for these things, and all you do is get him all worked up. This is going to be humiliating.” Christie was in Bannon's face, looming large. Bannon half-wanted to say, You fat fuck, let's throw down right here.
The only way Bannon isn't a source is if Bannon told several people this story, including his thoughts, and they relayed it to Woodward.
You can pretty much tell when someone is a source. At one point, Sen. Lindsey Graham makes an appearance and it's suddenly all about him. That's actually when they book gets dull: When Graham enters the room, dispenses wisdom, and saves the world to—one imagines—the applause that's only going on in his head.
His Own Asshole
I‘ve said if often: Trump supporters think Donald Trump is their asshole—the guy who will tear down the opposition—but he’s not. He's his own asshole. It's always been about him; the rest of us are merely flunkies. Bob Woodward's book, “Fear,” which I began last night, is confirmation. As if we needed it.
Here's an excerpt. It's not anything that anyone's written about really. It's not “orange jumpsuit” or “fucking moron” or any of that. It's something no one's denied.
It takes place the weekend after the Access Hollywood story broke in early October 2016, when all of the Donald's political cover began to run from him. Everybody. There was talk of dropping him fromthe ticket and running Pence with Condoleezza Rice as his running mate. Pence/Rice 2016.
There was also internal debate about what to how to respond to the tape. Most wanted an apology tour. Kellyanne Conway arranged for ABC News to do an interview. But Trump, buoyed by Steve Bannon—who is an obvious source for Woodward—went on the attack. He talked “locker room talk” and “Bill Clinton actually did worse things.” He trotted all that out in the first debate. But before then, there were the Sunday morning news shows. Who would go on to defend Trump? Nobody. Priebus, Christie, and Conway had all been scheduled; they all canceled. Only one guy agreed to do it: Rudy Giuliani. And not just one news show—he went on all five, completing, Woodward writes, “what is called a full Ginsburg—a term in honor of William H. Ginsburg, the attorney for Monica Lewinsky, who appeared on all five network Sunday programs on February 1, 1998.”
I'm reading this, and some part of me is thinking, “Well, no wonder Giuliani is where he currently is. Trump is rewarding his loyalty.”
Giuliani was exhausted, practically bled out, but he had proved his devotion and friendship. He had pulled out every stop, leaning frequently and heavily on his Catholicism: “You confess your sins and you make a firm resolution not to commit that sin again. And then, the priest gives you absolution and then, hopefully you‘re a changed person. I mean, we believe the people in this country can change.”
Giuliani, seeming punch-drunk, made it to the plane for the departure to the St. Louis debate. He took a seat next to Trump, who was at his table in his reading glasses. He peered over at the former mayor.
“Rudy, you’re a baby!” Trump said loudly. “I‘ve never seen a worse defense of me in my life. They took your diaper off right there. You’re like a little baby that needed to be changed. When are you going to be a man?” Trump turned to the others, particularly Bannon. “Why did you put him on? He can't defend me. I need somebody to defend me. Where are my people?”
“What are you talking about?” Bannon asked. “This guy's the only guy that went on.”
“I don't want to hear it,” Trump replied. “It was a mistake. He shouldn't have gone on. He's weak. You‘re weak, Rudy. You’ve lost it.”
To be continued.
Stingy for Bernie
David Denby's recent New Yorker piece, “A Great Writer at the 1968 Democratic Disaster,” about how Norman Mailer's “Miami and the Siege of Chicago” contains lessons for our time, sent me back to the book to read it, or skim it, again. It's great writing. Unbelievably so. Norman, with just his memory, notes and a typewriter, created this document, which is complex, existential, political; then went on talk shows to talk aobut it. People listened. Enough people. That was the world we lived in back then.
Of course, that world still elected Richard Nixon president, and then again in a landslide four years later.
One thing Denby doesn't call out? Mailer's description of the “Clean for Gene” students who backed McCarthy for the Democratic ticket in 1968 over more establishment candidates. Who does it remind you of?
No, like all crusaders, their stinginess could be found in a ferocious lack of tolerance or liaison to their left or right—the search for Grail seems invariably to lead in a straight line.
It's the Bernie Bros. And they‘re still out there, Daniel. I’d underlined the sentence back in the '90s when I first read it. Not sure why. But it packs a whallop in 2018.
The Enemy Within
“The right will always invoke an enemy within. They will insist on a distinction between real Americans and those who say they are but aren‘t. This latter group is your basic nativist amalgam of people of the wrong color, recent immigration, or incorrect religious persuasion. At the beginning of the cold war, ”fellow travelers“ and ”pinkos“ were added to the list. (Communists being historically beyond the pale.) Mr. Nixon contributed ”effete intellectuals“; Mr. Reagan’s secretary of the interior, James Watt, threw ”cripples“ into the pot with Jews and blacks, and this president [H.W. Bush] and his men have consigned to perdition single parents, gays and lesbians, and a ”cultural elite,“ by which they mean not only the college-educated, cosmopolitan (Jewish and their fellow-traveling) residents of both coasts who write or work in publishing, films, or television but really any person in any region of the country who is articulate enough to compose a sentence telling them what a disgrace they are.”
E.L. Doctorow, “The Character of Presidents,” 1992
Reading Marty Appel's new book, “Casey Stengel: Baseball's Greatest Character” and it's not the greatest. Appel's “Pinstripe Empire” is a must-read for baseball fans and Yankees haters (and their fans), but this one feels cobbled-together. It feels like Appel did a little research, stuck in liberal use of Casey's quotes, and sent to the publisher, who sent it on to us without a glance.
I keep running into “probably,” a red flag for any editor. “Charlie was probably named after...” “Casey and his dad probably saw more than that one game at...” “Casey probably had his tobacco card.” Know or don't know; there is no “probably.”
I really rolled my eyes at this graf:
Jennie Jordan, Casey's mom, was born in 1861, when Abraham Lincoln became president and the Civil War broke out.
It's like a kid trying to stretch out a book report.