Fear: Trump in the White House
By Bob Woodward
What comes through loud and clear in Bob Woodward’s Oz-like curtain reveal is that Donald Trump is out of his depth; that he cannot grasp how government functions, let alone how international relations work; that he cannot seem to budge from his own preconceived notions on authority, trade, and any number of other subjects; that he’s not capable of learning; that he can’t take advice and dislikes anybody tagged as an expert; that he enjoys winning, only winning by his definition, at any cost; that something is good when it benefits him; that he yearns for total control, like he exercised in his business; that he seems to have no long or short term memory; and that he lies about everything to everybody. His incompetency shines through on nearly every page.
Woodward writes simply. He threads through the major topics well known to anybody who follows the news by whatever method they choose. These are trade, international relations, the DPRK challenge, being personally liked, reliance on personal relations with authoritarian leaders, lambasting of the free press, and, of course, Robert Mueller and the Russia investigation. We see how Trump manages, or more correctly, mismanages. Much of this has to do with insistence on his immutable ideas, his method of end running pretty much everybody who works for him, his knack for taking advice from exactly the wrong people (e.g., the likes of Peter Navarro and Wilbur Ross), his penchant for undermining his staff (from Kelley to Porter to Priebus to McMaster, most history now), and perhaps what will be most fatal to him, not listening to his competent lawyers, particularly John Dowd.
As for his demagoguery, what’s more distressing than what he spouts on his ongoing, ceaseless campaign rallies is how calculated and cynical these pronouncements are. Does Trump believe in anything, that is other than his brand, his sable genius, and profit? Apparently not.
Part of the enjoyment of reading Fear is seeing that what his better advisors warned about are coming to pass. At the very moment of this writing, the economy is top of mind. Trump inherited a strengthening economy and seems intent on reversing all that’s good about it. This passage, then, is very telling, not only about how Trump operates, but how he defers to his worst advisors and how he introduces his reckless business practices (recall he declared bankruptcy six times) into national affairs:
“[Gary] Cohn knew the real battle was going to be over tariffs, where Trump had the most rigid views and where he could do the most damage to the U.S. and world economies. He shoveled all the data he could to the president about how tariffs on imported steel would be a disaster and hurt the economy.
“A 17-page document that Cohn sent contained a chart showing the minuscule revenue earned in 2002-03 when President Bush had imposed steel tariffs for similar reasons. It showed that the revenue that came in was $650 million. That was .04 percent of the total federal revenue of $1.78 trillion ….
“Tens of thousands of U.S. jobs had been lost in industries that consumed steel, Cohn said, and produced a chart to prove it.
“Trump had three allies who agreed with him that trade deficits mattered: Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, Peter Navarro and Bob Lighthizer, the U.S. trade representative.
“Navarro said that the data did not include the jobs created in the steel mills under the Bush tariffs of 2002-03.
“‘You’re right,’ Cohn said. ‘We created 6,000 jobs in steel mills.’”
“‘Your data is just wrong,’ Navarro said.
“Trump was determined to impose steel tariffs. ‘Look,’ Trumps aid, ‘we’ll try it. If it doesn’t work, we’ll undo it.’
“‘Mr. President,’ Cohn said. ‘that’s not what you do with the U.S. economy.’ Because the stakes were so high, it was crucial to be conservative. ‘You do something when you’re 100 percent certain it will work, and then you pray like hell that you’re right. You don’t do 50/50 with the U.S. economy.’
“‘If we’re not right,’ Trump repeated, ‘we roll them back.’”
And there you have it, the Trump presidency in a nutshell. So, if you’re worried, you have good cause to be. If you’re not, perhaps you should read Fear as soon as you can. w/c