Here are three takeaways from Bob Woodward’s “Fear: Trump in the White House”.
One, special counsel Robert Mueller may not have the goods on the president, at least for colluding with the Russians to get himself elected. Two, Trump may have an appalling temperament, but there is, as the equally insufferable Boris Johnson has said, method to his madness. And three, the creeping piecemeal coup under way in the White House which Woodward recounts, and which an anonymous senior official confirmed in a New York Times op-ed last week, is scarcely less unsettling than Trump’s apparent deficit in the hinge department.
The dossier assembled by ex-MI6 man Christopher Steele alleging, inter alia, that the Russians have kompromat on Trump, is a “garbage document”, Woodward has said. In his reporting for the book he turned up nothing to change his view or to support the idea that Trump knowingly connived with Vladimir Putin and his creatures to do down Hillary Clinton.
Trump may, in the quoted words of his lawyer John Dowd, be a “f…king liar”, but that does not mean he is lying when he says there was “no collusion”. Dowd resigned because he could not dissuade Trump from agreeing to be interviewed under oath by Mueller’s investigators. He was convinced his client would perjure himself, not out of any intent to conceal wrongdoing, rather because of his inability to open his mouth without uttering untruths.
Hugh Hewitt, a conservative commentator sympathetic to Trump, told Woodward he thought his picture of the president was not entirely negative. He was considering sending copies to embassies. This, I think, is astute. It’s worth reading the whole book, not just the juicy bits, if you want insight into how Trump thinks and operates.
In scene after chaotic scene with his advisers he challenges the assumptions and tenets of what Barack Obama’s adviser Ben Rhodes called “the Blob” — the bipartisan foreign policy establishment.
Why does the US have forces and hugely expensive missile defence systems in South Korea? What’s the point of NATO when the Cold War has been over for nearly 30 years? What are we still doing in Afghanistan? Why are we protecting Taiwan? Why do we seem to the subsidising the defence of so many perfectly well-off countries? Why are we ceding sovereignty to multilateral institutions like the WTO? If we can get better trade deals thanF the ones we now have, why not give it a try? On what theory do we have to be perpetually at odds with Russia or North Korea? These are not unhealthy questions even if there are good answers.
What Woodward’s narrative makes clear is that Trump is utterly transactional — to the point of “amorality” as the New York Times’ Anonymous would have it — and thinks everything is negotiable, or re-negotiable. He is also quite predictable when is comes to tactics. He likes to unnerve his counterparties with preposterous opening bids then smother them with oleaginous flattery once they blink. His is not the way the Blob is used to doing business. It’s the way of a hustler from the outer boroughs of New York.
And that, for better or worse, is what America duly elected as its president in 2016. It did not anoint Anonymous or Woodward’s sources to act as our protectors or to usurp the president’s authority by purloining documents from his desk to delay his signature. The constitution assigns other elected people to act as a check on the executive. Congress. Here’s hoping the Congress to be elected in November will do its duty as the present one has not. I may not like Trump but I would rather not be governed by an unaccountable cabal that has appointed itself to save us from him.