While on one hand it can feel shocking that this is not yet even the third year of the Trump presidency because of how busy these tumultuous years have been, it is surprising on the other that the administration is still surviving. The cabinet disarray and unprecedented level of departures and turnovers, infighting and cliquishness within the administration, and a barrage of scandals that would have threatened to end any prior presidency, all taken together, have left the administration with little credibility and with one of the most shockingly vacant legislative records of any previous administration, but it has essentially escaped unharmed in terms of its political position.
The country and parties seem to care little about this state of affairs, with the Republican party turning a blind eye, the Democrats waiting for criminality or for 2020 to unseat him. The tarnishing of the office of the Presidency of the United States, though, will be felt for decades as so many social norms have been demolished.
One notable book was previously released, alleging to catalog the chaos within the White House, but this article will exclude mentioning some of the publicity seeking releases from some of the more gutter characters from the administration. Michael Wolff’s work was mostly dismissed by the Trump administration, with the president himself calling Wolff, “a mentally deranged author, who knowingly writes false information.” Other journalists defense of him was tepid and best, and the public generally settled into partisan camps about the truthfulness of the claims made in that book.
The new work, Fear, by Woodward, claims to have a number of internal sources who serve or served in the administration, and who provide information to Woodward without their identities being revealed. The accepted credibility of Woodward, which Trump himself defended in 2013, and the specific denials from members within the administration mean this book is being taken much more seriously. None of the incidents described are outrageous, nor unbelievable, and the events described in fact seem to carefully track verifiable events within the presidency like the departure of key figures.
Prior and in the immediate aftermath of its release, a number of prominent quotes were attributed to various administration members, including John Kelly, Rex Tillerson, and James Mattis, among others. Most pertained to their frustration in dealing with a president who was perceived as uninterested in policy and strategy, impetuous, tempermental, and unfocused. They generally depicted Trump in these terms, calling him an “idiot,” a “moron,” and implying that he was crazy.
From the authors initial perceptions from observing the policy debates on complex issues, his interaction with members of foreign states and congress, and most importantly, the way he speaks and describes issues, it appeared that the president was borderline senile, relatively uninterested in politics in general, simply using the presidency to validate his own ego and advance his position, naive and childlike, with a severe inferiority complex.
If one takes the incidents and conversations in this book as fact, it should be more clear to any reader that Trump is not congenitally unintelligent or lacking in the ability to grasp concepts, he is rather willfully ignorant, and refuses to change his ideas to adapt to the reality of the position he now finds himself in. Time and time again, he makes clear that morality, truth, and reason are secondary to his conception of winning; unfortunately for the American people, this conception overlaps very little with American prosperity, and revolved more around personal winning in what he sees as a popularity contest surrounding the center of the world, himself.
Firstly, he sees international conflicts as personal contests instead of framing them in their proper context. His willingness to compromise and concede on issues depends more on his personal relationships with the interlocutors than the details of the agreements. In the events in this book he proves in innumerable cases and conversations that the advantage served to the American people is the last consideration, and the public perception of his strength and winning is the first.
For more complex issues, he also cares little about contemplating, or dealing with the long term or potential repercussions of his actions, even if they may lead to economic disaster or war. His is firstly unfocused, and interested in learning, or changing his views to best reflect reality. The primary consideration is whether he feels his actions appear to show his strength, or if they violates his campaign promises, which would show his weakness.
Without spoiling the details of this book, it paints a picture of a deeply egotistical, fake, unsympathetic, and intellectually crude but not stupid, man, whose aim at the end of the day is always advancing himself. This is deeply unfortunate for the American people, and what is clear is that if he is vicious and compulsive in times where his approval ratings are in the 40s and the economy is continuing to grow, how he will turn towards Americans and abroad in times when the economic growth inevitable does slow, especially after his tariffs, or when enough Americans tire of the political gridlock which has continued uninterrupted under his administration.
The book itself is not organized particularly well. It is mostly chronological, but not entirely. At points it follows certain issues at in more depth, skipping the chronological steps of parallel issues, and then can jump back at the end of a section, sometimes jarring to the reader. Notwithstanding this, the conversations in this book are in exceptional detail, and they work together to paint a vivid picture of an administration, now party, and country, run by a man characterized by caprice, hubris, and ignorance driven by a previously unparalleled rigidity of thought. He, in general, cares little about the country and its policies, is unaware of what happens in his administration, and is only concerned with the politics of personality, both with foreign leaders, congress, and within his administration.
Thus, it is almost inevitable that this administration will culminate in a climactic meltdown or conflict, and for this reason, the American people would be better off at least voting on November 4th to act to constrain his power.
Staff writer: Ari B
Photo: Tanja Heffner