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Fear: Trump in the White House


Fear: Trump in the White House

It was Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein who set my foot on a different path back in the Nixon years. If journalism and politics are in one’s DNA, the argument could be made that ink and politics run through my veins. As the daughter, niece, cousin and granddaughter of journalists and political activists, this hunger comes honestly --- and I hope honorably --- from my ancestors. None were famous, though some were notable in their own professions, but it made for lusty debate as the main course at family gatherings during my childhood.

So it was with anticipation that I opened the pages of FEAR by Bob Woodward to digest his discourse on “Trump in the White House.” The early chapters are devoted to the pre-nomination period as the “pols” (a derisive term for professional politicians) combed through registration figures, speeches, polls and the herd of opponents chomping at the bit to grab that golden ticket to the White House. I had been one of those backroom plotters during a presidential primary in the Iowa caucuses in the late ’70s. Earlier, when still young enough to get carded in bars, I earned enough stripes to become an alternate Jerry Ford delegate to the GOP National Convention in Kansas City.

"Although Woodward’s stellar reputation dates back to the Nixon years, age has not dimmed but actually has honed his finely tuned ear and zeal to get to the truth."

So, it was as if I had a seat at those planning sessions prior to Trump’s run for the presidency in 2015-16. Woodward’s authenticity in painting that scenario --- the hours spent in, yes, smoke-filled rooms, pouring over registration data, breaking down voting patterns, trying to separate gossip from reality, speculating over polling info --- told me that he is still the real deal. How he acquired those quotes, those thoughts, that atmosphere is an art of the tradecraft that we mere mortals tend to take for granted. It’s just plain old grunt work, late hours, infinite patience, research, dig, dig, dig. And it takes the ability to recognize the difference between BS and the truth. Although Woodward’s stellar reputation dates back to the Nixon years, age has not dimmed but actually has honed his finely tuned ear and zeal to get to the truth.

The rest of the book is devoted to Trump’s time in office. In a way, it seems as if Woodward was in the room, in the moment during the whirling mishegas that has reigned since Inauguration Day. He reports on the frantic efforts by an ever-changing cast of characters in the West Wing chain of command who scramble to cover Trump’s faux pas, tweets, profanity and temper tantrums. If you, like my family members and me, watch this play out on a daily basis on television and print media, you know what ultimately makes the news. In FEAR, you learn about the efforts it takes behind the scenes before it goes public. I refer specifically to Chapter 29, regarding Charlottesville and its aftermath. This, for me, was perhaps the most distressing section in the book.

Woodward has described it all chillingly. FEAR is precisely the right title for the book. He takes us through “Rocket Man” and pulling troops from South Korea, getting out of NAFTA, dropping out of the World Trade Organization, and dismissing the UN and NATO as useless wastes of money. Steve Bannon takes center stage in those early chapters in his role as villain before leaving his path of destruction behind.

The book ends when White House attorney John Dowd throws in the towel in late March 2018 as he tries and fails to convince Trump not to testify in front of Robert Mueller because he is a “f***ing liar.” Still to come would be trade tariffs, the immigration crisis and separation of children from migrant parents --- and, of course, Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s hearing.

A quote from Donald J. Trump on March 31, 2016 while running for president appears on the back cover: “Real power is --- I don’t even want to use the word --- fear.”

It reminds one of the Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times.”

Reviewed by Roz Shea on September 28, 2018

Fear: Trump in the White House
by Bob Woodward

  • Publication Date: September 10, 2019
  • Genres: Nonfiction, Politics
  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 1501175521
  • ISBN-13: 9781501175527