Artwork by Hilary Cole
by Lyle Harris Sr.
Bob Woodward’s latest book, “Fear: Trump in the White House,” about Donald Trump’s fitness for office, has won strong reviews in major publications. In short, the book presents a crisis of leadership underscoring Trump’s inability to handle the job of president.
In a review in The Washington Post, Jill Abramson writes that Woodward focuses on “just the facts,” meaning digging and thorough interviews about President Trump that he keeps on tape.
Abramson, former executive editor of The New York Times and a columnist for The Guardian, calls Woodward’s work “truth’s gold standard.” Woodward, winner of two Pulitzer Prizes and twelve #1 bestsellers, partnered with Carl Bernstein in writing “All the President’s Men,” the famous book of 1976 that brought Republicans and Democrats together to bring down President Nixon. And where is that unity today in putting country over party? Abramson, who also is a senior lecturer in Harvard’s English department, calls Woodward’s writing a “flat, reportorial tone” which gives the book “the authority of dogged reporting, utterly denuded of opinion, … and credibility.” And, she says, his book is a powerful antidote to “alternative facts” and Trump’s tweets about “fake news.”
“Fear,” she writes, “is full of Nixonian echoes, including Trump’s childishly short attention span and refusal to read briefing papers.” Trump’s staff, Woodward writes, works to block “the president’s most dangerous impulses.” Abramson says, “Even the most jaded readers will be struck by numerous examples of his childishness and cruelty.”
A Government of Laws, Not of Men
In the October Atlantic, Hillary Rodham Clinton argues our democratic institutions and traditions are under siege, and she laid out five key points that are essential in examining Donald Trump’s presidency.
She wrote, “I don’t use the word crisis lightly. There are no tanks in the streets. The administration’s malevolence may be constrained on some fronts — for now — by its incompetence.” Since she lost the 2016 election to Trump, yet won nearly three million more votes in the total count than he did, we have to consider: Is this sour grapes or a thoughtful and vital comment? Were she alone in making such comments, we might wonder. But she is only one of many well-qualified observers to reach similar conclusions. Her five key points are vital, and, for many of us, obvious.
First, she cites John Adams in the founding of our country when he said a republic is “a government of laws, and not of men.” That means two things: We are all subject to the law and all of us have the right to equal protection under the law. The New York Times reported in January that Trump’s lawyers sent Special Counsel Robert Mueller a letter that said If Trump interferes with an investigation, it’s not obstruction of justice, because he’s the president. Wrong! No president is above the law, although that point has never been adjudicated. Trump even demanded that the FBI director pledge his loyalty, not to the Constitution, but to Trump himself, and go after his political opponents.
Second, Clinton says we have lost the meaning of “one person, one vote,” and believes “the legitimacy of our elections is in doubt.” She lists Russia’s interference in the election and Trump’s unwillingness to stop it, along with voter suppression, and manipulating political boundaries of voter districts to ensure that Republicans often win as reasons.
5,000 False or Misleading Claims
Third, Trump constantly lies. The Washington Post reported that its fact-checkers have found he has made 5,000 false or misleading claims while in office and recently has averaged 32 a day. Clinton cites the “60 Minutes” reporter Lesley Stahl, who asked Trump during his campaign why he attacks the press. He said, “I do it to discredit you all and demean you all, so when you write negative stories about me, no one will believe you.”
Fourth, he has not put his personal and business assets in a blind trust, and he will not release his tax returns as other presidents have done. Clinton reports Trump has “created unprecedented conflicts of interest, as industry lobbyists, foreign governments and Republican organizations do business with Trump’s companies or hold lucrative events at his hotels, golf courses and other properties. … He’s profiting off the business of the presidency.”
Fifth, “Trump undermines the national unity that makes democracy possible.” Examples: Trump said Haitian and African immigrants come from “shithole countries,” and that he wouldn’t trust an American judge because of his Mexican background. Clinton concluded: “None of this is a mark of authenticity or a refreshing break from political correctness. Hate speech isn’t ‘telling it like it is.’ It’s just hate.”
“We Are a Superpower Run by a Simpleton”
Michael Gerson, a columnist for The Washington Post, writes that Trump has no “deep or subtle strategies.” He says Trump “does not even consistently seek his own interests. He responds like a child or a narcissist … to positive or negative stimulation.” As a result, Gerson writes, “Fox & Friends” can so often set the agenda of the president. Trump’s lawyers can’t allow Trump to be interviewed by Robert Mueller. “It would be like a 9-year-old defending a Ph.D. dissertation. Or maybe a rabbit jumping into a buzz saw,” he wrote.
Gerson says any foreign intelligence agency can buy, for $18 online, a “comprehensive account of the president’s psychological and political vulnerabilities.” In short, he says, “We are a superpower run by a simpleton. From a foreign policy perspective, this is far worse than being run by a skilled liar. It is an invitation to manipulation and contempt.”
For Further Reading
• “Bob Woodward’s Meticulous, Frightening Look Inside the Trump White House” https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/bob-woodwards-meticulous-frightening-look-inside-the-trump-white-house/2018/09/06/b30ebc5e-b1e6-11e8-a20b-5f4f84429666_story.html?utm_term=.04a32c9904d5
• “American Democracy in Crisis” https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/09/american-democracy-is-in-crisis/570394/
• “We Are a Superpower Run By a Simpleton” http://www.dailycamera.com/columnists/ci_32121422/michael-gerson-we-are-superpower-run-by-simpleton
• “Opinion | There Oughta Be a Law” https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/06/opinion/trump-illegal-protests-justice.html
• “Presidential Lying Is Contagious: Donald Trump’s chronic dishonesty threatens to infect his entire administration”
Lyle Harris Sr., a former reporter in Washington D.C., is Journalism Professor Emeritus, Western Washington University.