Fear by Bob Woodward

I’m on a bit of a US politics bender at the moment. And with the political intrigue floating around Donald Trump at the moment, there’s a queue of books being released  to satisfy my reading desires.

The most recent of these books is ‘Fear’ (Trump in the White House) by journolist, Bob Woodward. So, here are a few of my thoughts.

I recently read James Comey’s book ‘A Higher Loyalty’, as well as the best seller ‘Fire and Fury’ by Michael Wolff, making Fear my third foray into the murky world of US politics in the last few months.

Why my interest in international affairs? Probably just to take my mind off the slowly unfolding catastrophe that is Brexit; it’s kind of comforting to know that it’s not just the UK having to deal with the out of control fire hose that is mismanaged political populism.

But also because, outside of the political intrigue and potential conspiracy between the leaders of rival nations, there’s something fascinating about watching these scenes unfold in real-time and comparing them to historical events. When you have a society that doesn’t understand or hold a collective memory about how these events came about, we are destined to repeat them.

Bob Woodward
Bob Woodward

Where Comey’s book was more of less a biography of the author, and Fire and Fury felt like reported snatches of conversations and rumours from the White House corridors, Fear is a terrifyingly intimate portrayal of life living at the feet of Donald Trump. It’s for that reason, and the pedigree of the author, that Fear is the most authoritative book on the first two years of the Trump presidency yet released.

I’ve never really been a history buff, or really that interested in the World Wars outside of the small signs still found in British towns and villages today — the war memorials, occasional military installations, and so on. But the thing that really gets me interested is how these events came about.

What happened in August 1914 that had such significant and tragic consequences; how did a previously civilised country like Germany suddenly become capable of building death camps;  and how would another leader have dealt with the aftermath of the September 11th attacks?

And that’s why Fear is so compelling. Unlike most of the other Trump hit pieces to be released recently, Fear shows a leader who is so completely out of his depth, and so utterly flawed psychologically that it’s almost — almost — possible to feel compassion for the man.

“Cohn and Porter worked together to derail what they believed were Trump’s most impulsive and dangerous orders. That document and others like it just disappeared. When Trump had a draft on his desk to proofread, Cohn at times would just yank it, and the president would forget about it. But if it was on his desk, he’d sign it. “It’s not what we did for the country,” Cohn said privately. “It’s what we saved him from doing.”

Fear — Bob Woodward

In Fear, Woodward highlighs with stark evidence the story of a man bumbling around unable to internalise the degree of power and responsibility that he wields, while at the same time failing to understand even the most basic information about international politics, the economy, or the military.

The book portrays a man so certain of his own accuracy that he is unable to take on board any information to the contrary.

Trump is the perfect leader for the current state of politics in both the US and UK.

Trump

Fear is equally terrifying and mildly reassuring.

Terrifying, because the man at the wheel has no self control and with the advent of social media is able to light the touch paper of potentially world defining events at the press of a button; the man is without filter.

But reassuring in that Woodward’s book doesn’t show a man with evil intent — Trump is apparently not the next Adolf Hitler — but he’s a man so damaged, so mentally unfit, that he has no apparent agenda or political position on anything; he’s just doing what he feels is right in the moment.

I admit, that’s not hugely comforting, but it does mean that while he doesn’t think actions through to their consequences, he is equally unable to plan or build a strategy to achieve…well…anything.

What I find more scary is that the checks and balances designed to provide guide rails to Trump are clearly failing, and the world order, which has kept peace in the West through most of last century is at risk.

Despite the horrific anecdotes of abuses of power, mismanagement at the highest levels of governments, and fall out from misguided decisions; in Fear Woodward is actually very fair to Trump. So much so that the last few chapters of the book, which deal with the Mueller investigation, are actually quite scathing of the Special Council, and show Trump as a man under huge pressure being somewhat unfairly treated.

Fear, more than any of the recent Trump books, drops you directly into the Oval office and makes you feel the true frustrations of the people working there. Woodward’s book is sourced to the hilt and doesn’t drift off into drama as many of the other authors do.

If you want to be terrified and shocked while learning a little something about how US politics works in the real world, read this.

If you want to sleep tonight, don’t.

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