Books postsSunday October 14, 2018
The One Way Trump is Jeffersonian
“In 1806, [Pres.] Jefferson secured the passage of a Non-Importation Act, banning certain British imports and, in 1807, an Embargo Act, banning all American exports. During the ongoing war between Britain and France, the British had been seizing American ships and impressing American seamen. Jefferson believed that banning all trade was the only way to remain neutral. No Americans ships were to sail to foreign ports. He insisted that all the goods Americans needed they could produce in their own homes. ...
”The embargo devastated the American economy. Jeffersonian agrarianism was not only backward-looking but also largely a fantasy.“
from Jill Lepore's ”These Truths: A History of the United States"
What's Missing from ‘Fear’
I should probably write more about Bob Woodward's book, “Fear: Trump in the White House,” because at this point I doubt I‘ll finish it. I’m about halfway through but I'm not a fan.
I don't doubt a lot of what happens in it. But I know I'm getting a skewed perspective that is being presented by Woodward as the perspective.
Woodward uses sources on deep background—as he did with Deep Throat during the Watergate investigations—but writes the book in the third-person omniscient. Everything is presented as fact, as “this is how it happened,” but it‘s, at best, a few people’s perspective, and at worst one person's perspective. It should be, “According to Steve Bannon...” etc. etc., but it isn‘t. Woodward seems to be putting us in the room where it happens but he’s actually putting us in Bannon's idea of that room—and without telling us. That's actually dangerous.
BTW: Between Bannon being a source for Woodward, and being a source for Michael Wolff in “Fire and Fury,” it's a wonder he gets anything done.
You know when I had to put the book down? It was post-Charlottesville, when Trump's tepid response to Nazis marching in America led to the resignation of Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier, an African American, from Trump's American Manufacturing Council. Here's what Frazier said about why he resigned:
America's leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy. . . . As CEO of Merck and as a matter of personal conscience, I feel a responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and extremism.
The presidential response?
Within an hour, Trump attacked Frazier on Twitter. Now that Frazier had resigned, Trump wrote, “he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!” The CEOs of Under Armour and Intel followed Frazier, resigning from the council as well. Still stewing, in a second Twitter swipe at Frazier, Trump wrote that Merck should “Bring jobs back & LOWER PRICES!” On Tuesday, August 15, Trump tweeted, “For every CEO that drops out of the Manufacturing Council, I have many to take their place.” He called those who had resigned “grandstanders.”
And my reaction to that? “Oh right, he's an asshole.”
That's actually what's missing from the book: Trump's horrible voice. He's an idiot, sure, he doesn't know what he's doing, yes, he has no real structure to decision-making in the presidency, OK, and god he watches way too much fucking TV—and propaganda TV at that—but we don't hear what an awful bombastic bully he truly is. And that's the thing we hear every day. In a way, through all of these sources telling Woodward their story, and via Woodward's own toneless prose, Trump is insulated. He's muted. As awful as he comes across in the book, he comes across much worse in our daily lives.
Best Trump Book Title (Thus Far)
The winner for the best title of a tell-all Trump book (thus far) goes to Greg Miller of The Washington Post, who, next month, will publish: “The Apprentice: Trump, Russia and the Subversion of American Democracy.” An excerpt is available today on the Post site.
The article is mostly about Trump's visit to CIA headquarters on Jan. 21, 2017, his first full day in office, and how, in front of a marble wall with 117 hand-carved stars, each for an agent/contractor killed in the line of duty, Trump began to brag and lie about: 1) the size of the crowds in the final days of the campaign; 2) the size of the inauguration crowd the day before; 3) the new bigger room he would build so every CIA officer who wanted to see him, could. One CIA vet called it “one of the more disconcerting speeches I‘ve seen”; another said it was a “freewheeling narcissistic diatribe.”
The second part of the article, about Trump’s love for Putin and seeming intolerance for our allies, is even more disturbing. But thus far, none of it is news.
Here's the excerpt that connects the dots on the title:
In the reality show that had propelled him to great fame, Trump was depicted as a business titan with peerless instincts — a consummate negotiator, a fearless dealmaker, and an unflinching evaluator of talent. Week after week, contestants competed for the chance to learn from a boardroom master — to be, as the show's title put it, his apprentice.
In the reality that commenced with his inauguration, Trump seemed incapable of basic executive aspects of the job. His White House was consumed by dysfunction, with warring factions waiting for direction — or at least a coherent decision-making process — from the president.
His outbursts sent waves of panic through the West Wing, with aides scrambling to contain the president's anger or divine some broader mandate from the latest 140-character blast. He made rash hiring decisions, installing Cabinet officials who seemed unfamiliar with the functions of their agencies, let alone their ethical and administrative requirements.
Decorated public servants were subjected to tirades in the Oval Office and humiliating dress-downs in public. White House documents were littered with typos and obvious mistakes. Senior aides showed up at meetings without the requisite security clearances — and sometimes stayed anyway.
Trump refused to read intelligence reports, and he grew so visibly bored during briefings that analysts took to reducing the world's complexities to a collection of bullet points.
The supposedly accomplished mogul was the opposite of how he'd been presented on prime-time television. Now he was the one who was inexperienced, utterly unprepared, in dire need of a steadying hand. Now he was the apprentice.
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.