by Linda Reale – Horvat
BOOK REVIEW: FEAR – BOB WOODWARD
It is not by coincidence that the Presidency of Donald Trump makes us wonder if we are in a parallel universe or living in a reality show. It would be laughable if we were not tittering on the brink of annihilation with a lunatic having the nuclear codes and his finger hovering over them. Henry Ford (a nazi sympathiser) once said “History is bunk.” Winston Churchill said “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” In the present circumstances with Donald T. Trump occupying the most powerful position in the world, each of these quotes sends shivers down one’s spine. The parallels in the rise to power and the initial behaviour once in power as described in former US Secretary of State (Madeline Albright) in her book “Fascism” (referencing Mussolini and Hitler also serve to sound a warning bell which should not be ignored.
In his book “Fear,” Bob Woodward provides example on example of dysfunction in the world’s highest office and surrounding sycophantic staffers. This dysfunction is described in detail going back to the Presidential campaign: haphazard attitude going nowhere until the arrival of the unifocular right-wing Breitbart supporter Steve Bannon. Initially, Bannon did not believe that Donald Trump was interested in running for President. After his initial meeting, he realised how fluid Trump’s attitude was: he was malleable, self-interested, could change direction on a whim. He was only interested in self-promotion and Bannon realised that he could mould him to the right, guide him to a disaffected part of the population in the USA who, in turn, could lead him to victory – which they did**. He played up to the President’s basest instincts (misogyny, arrogance and lack of respect) and he found his niche both in this disaffected population and those who felt that their hatred of Hillary Clinton was greater than voting for someone who had proven himself unprepared, racist and mysoginistic – and who was uninterested in listening to the world’s top briefers to learn what was happening. He has never cast aside his KKK white cap, apologised to the Central Park 5, and supported nazi marchers in Charlottesville. He felt – and still feels – that he knows better than anyone else, and – having been educated by Cohn (Joe McCarthy’s former attorney), he still wears the mantle of arrogance and belief that apologies, backing down or apologising for despicable behaviour are signs of weakness which he refuses to adopt. The danger for the entire world is that his sycophantic staffers and those in his cabinet and inner circle pander to this inflated ego at the cost of common sense – no one gives a different opinion to his.
Woodward also gives examples of Trump’s penchant for vengeance and never forgetting anyone who differed in opinion or who tried to brief him on the reality of a situation of which he was afraid or did not want to hear about: for example, Brennan (former CIA Head) and Comey(former FBI Head) were those charged by the intelligence community to inform Trump of the compromat file in the possession of the Russians. Brennan refused to sugar-coat the presentation or to play down the seriousness of the situation; Comey knew he was walking a thin line in bringing the file to Trump’s attention. Both men have been vilified and disrespected – and Trump constantly attacks their reputation. “Fear” catalogues a list of examples of pure dysfunction in a White House led by someone with no experience and not interested in being briefed on anything which does not feed into his ego and whose short attention span, inflated ego and self-belief puts him at odds with proven strategic and historic actions aimed at maintaining peace and ensuring justice (eg hitting up against and disparaging NATO; threatening to remove vitally-important/strategically placed US troops in South Korea and Germany; vilifying Iran and going against an agreement supported by the rest of the world to ensure peace (in deference to Israeli and Saudi interests – the historic hatred of Israel and Saudi Arabia as well as the oil interests of Saudi vying with Iran on the world market); encouraging the break up of the EU by supporting Brexit (even though he did not know what countries comprised the UK or what Brexit meant); undoing the World Trade System, introducing tariffs with no rhyme nor reason and to pander to small constituencies and fellow billionaires’ interests. He will not listen to anyone of experience – only those with an agenda of their own (including his). On the world stage also, he likes to think he is on a par with people like Putin, Xi Jinping and Kim Jong Un — each of whom is a wily, experienced, dictator who know how to play Trump; he longs for dictatorial power, and believes he is the ultimate deal maker – which he is NOT, as Woodward confirms, as seen following the “summit’ in Singapore, and his disastrous meeting in Helsinki. He is more interested in optics, soundbites and pandering to his 33% base and fellow billionaires back home – and craved a Nobel Peace Prize! This pandering to his base has been evident also in his alignment with the evangelical element in the USA: they had refused to support him unless he dealt with gender and women’s issues (eg excluding transexuals etc from the military – a step which Woodward confirms was (and still is) ignored by the military elites: just as the generals had refused to give him a plan to bomb Iran when he asked for it (“ignore it and he will forget”), the same has happened with the gender issues. Pence garnered the evangelical base for Trump, who has promised to fill the Supreme Court with judges who can fulfil their wishes.
Woodward confirms that the Muller inquiry has enraged Trump – but the departure of his personal lawyers in desperation of a client who believes he knows better but who refuses to follow their advice not to testify lest he end up in an orange jump suit (Guantanamo reference) bears witness to his lack of understanding. Trump has ended up with Jay Seculo and an unhinged Rudy Giuliani who either tell blatant/provable lies in defence of the President or rant a la trump and he is described by his former lawyer (John Dowd) – who was aware of the skeletons in Trump’s closet – as a “fucken liar.” God help us all. He rides high on his mysogenistic charger – disregarding women from way back (the hollywood access tape, supporting those accused of heinous crimes against women – roy moore, moovnes, bill o’reilly, weinstein…. etc etc. Not for him respect for women – and, again, he has been supported and enabled in this by the female staffers surrounding him (Conroy, Hicks, Sanders) – not to mention his “First Daughter” Ivanka (her words, reported by Woodward – not mine!). The White House atmosphere is likened to a kindergarten at times. Woodward gives many examples of staffers hiding things from the President, removing things from the Oval Office and ignoring instructions thrown out on the cuff in order to “save the USA and the world.”
While the book is a catalogue of examples of fear one worse than the other, Woodward is a man of the highest calibre and reputation, and a journalist of the first level; he confirms that the information presented comes from multiple deep background interviews with firsthand sources. His is not a book written as a sensation (Wolf’s “Fire and Fury,”) to set the record straight (as in Comey’s “A Higher Truth”) or as pure self-promotion and revenge (as in Omaroso’s “Unhinged”). The content of Woodward’s book serves to remind us of what can happen when people ignore their common sense and choose an unknown, inexperienced, arrogant, racist, misogynistic, wily, dishonest and self-interested prick (my word) as President. It is interesting to note that despite the great number of examples given and people cited in the book – nobody has denied the content! The world lives in fear (not only the White House) of what Trump will/can/could do next. BE AFRAID, BE VERY AFRAID ** (presently travelling throughout Europe supporting right wing parties in Poland, Hungary, Italy, France and Germany in advance of the European elections in May 2019 and trying to sew an disarray on this side of the Atlantic).