Kenneth (kensmind) wrote in bookish,
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Book Review: Fear - Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward

Bob Woodward is an iconic investigative journalist and associate editor with the Washington Post who became famous for his 1974 expose of the Nixon White House entitled All the President's Men (co-authored with his friend and colleague Carl Bernstein), which detailed their investigative reporting which broke the Watergate scandal and led to the downfall of a President. In the intervening years he had written many other best-selling books about Presidents and their administrations. In his new best-seller Fear: Trump in the White House, Woodward once again utilizes his ability to amass an impressive array of sources to give the reader a front-row seat to the most private and intimate policy discussions between the President and his senior advisers and cabinet members, discussions so frank that it is as if Woodward had the Oval Office bugged. The book is based on hundreds of hours of interviews had with senior members of the White House Staff.



As many might expect, Woodward portrays an unflattering picture of the 45th President as someone who is impulsive, narcissistic, and disorganized, having a short attention-span, and who is unwilling to share the limelight or admit mistakes. The book maintains that on many occasions, subordinates sabotage Trump's impulsive decisions, ones which lack consideration of their long-term negative implications. This is not to suggest that the book is at its core motivated by "anti-Trump" considerations. There are a number of areas in which Woodward is actually supportive of the President, for example in his criticism of former FBI Director James Comey for his clumsy effort to intimidate Trump in a J. Edgar Hoover-like manner over an incident alleging activities with Russian prostitutes that is likely a made-up story. Woodward's sources also suggest that the President and his lawyers have been extremely forthcoming in providing information to Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller in his investigation of the Trump White House. He is unable to locate any credible evidence of wrongdoing on the the part of the President in connection with alleged Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election.

Many of the positions taken by Trump are ones which might otherwise be supportable, if not for the President's personality. They are at least concerning issues on which reasonable people can hold opposing views. For example, according to Woodward, the President would like to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and other venues around the world and end American's role as the world's policeman. On this he is at odds with his generals and national security advisors who warn that doing so would make the nation unsafe. In the age old historic battle of protectionism vs. free trade, Trump is against the globalist perspective, while all but a few of his economic advisers strongly disagree. It is ironic that many of the people who mobilize protests against the president likely share many of his opinions on many of these issues.

Woodward takes Trump to task for some of his more indefensible positions and actions, such as his refusal to refute his criticism of both white supremacists at Charlottesville, as well as those who protested their activities (in which Trump said that both were equally at fault). He also calls out the President for his recklessness in courting nuclear war by his childish twitter war with North Korean leader Kim-Jong Un.

This book, like many other Woodward offerings, is amazing for its rich supply of source information. A number of private discussions between the president and his chiefs of staff, leading cabinet members and cabinet level officials, and top military advisers are described in conversational detail. Featuring prominently in the book are former Staff Secretary Rob Porter, former economic adviser Gary Cohn, lawyer John Dowd and Senator Lindsay Graham. It is especially astounding that somehow Woodward has access to solicitor-client discussions between Trump and his lawyers, which if accurate (and Woodward assures us that they are), raise questions about potential and serious breaches of lawyer-client confidentiality. The detail provided in the book about meetings on national security issues are also concerning in that if this level of detail is accessible to reporters, what secrets are kept from foreign governments?

Writing a book about perhaps the most polarizing president in history makes objectivity an impossible task. Trump supporters are apt to write off any criticism as "fake news" while Trump haters are out for blood and likely to magnify any transgressions or flaws, rather than see them in their proper perspective. For the reader interested in seeing current events through as future history (and therefore concerned about the absence of bias or agenda on the part of the narrator), Woodward comes as close as possible to presenting an objective picture of life in the White House. He gives the reader a good sense of what is overblown and what we should be concerned about. In this day and age of twitter wars and cyber-incivility, that's a pretty amazing accomplishment.
Tags: author: w, genre: non-fiction, review, subject: biography, subject: history
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