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writing for godot

Nothing to Fear but...: A review of Fear

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Written by Zepp Jamieson   
Thursday, 13 September 2018 04:44

Fear: Trump in the White House

Bob Woodward
Simon & Schuster September 2018
Yes, I know the title of the book is Fear, and I should have regarded that as fair warning.
But FFS, I thought I would at least get through the Prologue without being reduced to mindless, numbing, existential terror!
In a well-reported vignette from the book, “On the desk was a one-page draft letter from the president addressed to the president of South Korea, terminating the United States–Korea Free Trade Agreement, known as KORUS.” Woodward goes on to relate the immense strategic, tactical, economic and diplomatic damage the United States would suffer as an almost immediate result of a sudden, unilateral withdrawal from KORUS.   
Gary Cohn, the former president of Goldman Sachs and the president’s top economic adviser, spotted the draft and stole it from the President’s desk, counting on Trump’s sparkler-like mind to forget about it.  And in fact, he did.
Woodward writes, “It was no less than an administrative coup d’état, an undermining of the will of the president of the United States and his constitutional authority.”
That’s pretty scary right there.  
Woodward goes on to relate a power struggle, with Trump and Kushner on one side, and Mattis, Cohn, and Porter on the other.  Trump was determined to destroy KORUS, but only intermittently, and Kushner’s agenda was focused on real estate and Israel, so he didn’t seem to be behind the memos to destroy the pact.
So who was behind it?  Woodward doesn’t know.  Possibly even Trump doesn’t know.
That’s very scary.  An unstable, mercurial president who is easily manipulated is bad enough, but when nobody even knows who is pulling his strings, that is truly terrifying.
Fear is a surprisingly easy read, broken up into 42 easily-digested chapters.  A lot of them won’t taste very good, but that’s not Woodward’s fault—he just reports what he saw.  And he saw a lot.  
Just how crass, craven, amoral and reckless with the truth is Trump? This vignette, from the Chapter detailing Trump’s contentious relationship with NATO, sums it up nicely:

A staffer who sat in on several calls that Trump made to Gold Star families was struck with how much time and emotional energy Trump devoted to them. He had a copy of material from the deceased service member’s personnel file.
“I’m looking at his picture—such a beautiful boy,” Trump said in one call to family members. Where did he grow up? Where did he go to school? Why did he join the service?
“I’ve got the record here,” Trump said. “There are reports here that say how much he was loved. He was a great leader.”
Some in the Oval Office had copies of the service records. None of what Trump cited was there. He was just making it up. He knew what the families wanted to hear.


It’s been a week since the pre-release reviews of this book rocked the Trump White House. Since then, the op-ed by Anonymous came out, Trump called Woodward a liar and Woodward promptly produced a tape showing he talked to Trump, Trump made fist-bumps to celebrate 9/11, and his son Eric, poster child for post-partum abortion, made a stunningly anti-semitic remark about Woodward.  Trump declared the catastrophe of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico an “unsung success” and promised to bring that same high level of preparation and competence to the Carolinas when Florence makes landfall late tomorrow.  
I feel sorry for the Carolinas and wish them well.
It seems like in any given week, Trump manages to recapitulate the worst of Nixon, Reagan and Bush the Lesser.
As I finish Woodward’s latest and perhaps greatest, I’m reminded of another President: “...let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory.”
In those dark days, reality was what we feared, and Franklin Roosevelt was what stood up to it.
In these dark days, Trump is what we fear, and we have to stand up to him. Woodward is one of the strongest voices yet to do so.
We have nothing to fear but Trump himself.

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