Bob Woodward is known, aside from his Watergate fame, for a series of books on sitting presidents. His strategy of conducting numerous interviews with policy-making participants, many anonymous, to build a credible picture of an administration, probably works pretty well. That said, I’m suspicious of well known establishment journalists. They are the ones who rise to the top of a system that filters out “radicals”, advancing those who feel it in their bones, or at least pretend to, that the current system is the highest possible economic arrangement. The author tends to write snappy, slightly heroic descriptions of his subjects, especially military figures and politicians like Lindsey Graham, a sleazeball of the highest order – his behavior protecting Kavanaugh’s supreme court appointment alone is enough to establish that. Woodward doesn’t entirely let him off the hook though. He quotes a conversation between tRump and Graham where they are exploring options dealing with North Korea’s nuclear threat. The idea of attacking North Korea before they can develop the capacity to reach the U.S. with nukes is one option. Another is to “take out” Kim Jong Un (works for the Mafia), or do nothing, depending on the guaranteed total disappearance of North Korea the U.S. can guarantee to keep them at bay. Lindsey wants to hit’em, which can only mean nukes, and when told of the risk to millions in South Korea and Japan he responded, “If millions are going to die it should be over there not here.” Even tRump, a guy not known for his empathy, says, “That’s kind of cold.”
The North Korea topic comes up more than once, along with the Iran agreements that tRump ends up abrogating. It is disturbing that in these discussions it doesn’t occur to the brainstormers that there are options beside war, threat of war or assassination… non-violent conflict resolution practitioners exist whose expertise could be called upon. The military hammer seems to be too readily reached for. Outrageous arms shipments to Venezuela in support of tRump’s preferred faction there is another example, though unmentioned in Woodward’s book. It was true for Obama, in his drone assassination program, who really should have known better, given his awareness of King and Gandhi and the civil rights movement. This arrogance is also evident in the stance where the U.S. sees no contradiction in demanding nuclear disarmament of Iran or North Korea but stands ready to pour trillions into expanding their own nuclear war capacities. They want to dominate, they want to “win”, they want, as Chomsky says, hegemony. They do not get it, the choice clearly stated in Chomsky’s book title, Hegemony or Survival. We can’t have both. Going for the former is a path divergent from the possibility of the latter. Utilizing the skills of non-violent conflict resolution is highly challenging but no less necessary for that. We’ve got to get really good at it as soon as possible if this civilization experiment is to continue.
The internecine struggle among tRump advisors, what one observer called predators, is very much parallel to the way mainstream media operates. It gives the impression of vigorous and serious debate but masks the narrowness of the parameters. Leading up to tRump’s pulling out of the Paris Accords on Climate Change, factions in the administration ranged from, “get out now, climate change is a hoax”, to “yeah but we should stay in the accords for public relations reasons, just not honor them”. The exception to this being, tRump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, who surprisingly pushed for staying in for the right reasons (maybe). Trump allowed these family “advisors” free rein around the White House, responding to staff complaints with “Ah, they’re liberal democrats.” Cute kids, but naïve.
On immigration I was puzzled at the vehemence with which Bannon, Kelly and the rest of the anti-immigrant faction pursued their mean-spirited agenda, to end DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and deport Dreamers who had essentially lived in the U.S. their whole life, had probably never been in the country they would be deported to except as infants, possibly didn’t even speak the language of that country. Why Such nasty intensity? Given Bannon’s reputation it doesn’t seem unfair to conclude something along the line of the nazi desire to maintain racial purity. That and the hysterical desire to un-do anything Obama.
Bannon, in a talk with Attorney General Sessions, is quoted as anxious to get agreement from Sessions, which he got, that the election showed the hand of god intervening for tRump. Many of the people swirling around the president, who come and go with abandon, seem intent on playing him, currying for favor but bumping up against an impetuous, insulting, dismissive, inconsistent guy who won’t prepare or plan, who thinks his “instincts” are infallible and just goes with them. The factions work to push him their way on issues like immigration, the wall, Iran, Syria, Russia, China. Secretary of State Tillerson, after a frustrating tRumpt meeting with Pentagon brass, burst out the opinion, “The man is a moron!” Said moron spends 6-8 hours a day watching television, the news shows, and has frequent volatile twitter-reactions based on what he sees there. Of course his preference is for Fox facts.
The title Fear comes from a statement tRump made, “Real power is fear.” Not clear to me what that means. Is fear what power produces? Is fear a synonym for power? Are powerful people afraid? Is this a significant statement? Maybe tRump wisdom is so thin that Woodward had to settle for this ambiguous bit. Dysfunction might have been a better title.
Reading in The Nation (2/25/19) an article about drone attacks in Somalia I realize that the book doesn’t go into that issue at all. Under Obama there were plenty of wedding parties etc; murderously disrupted but the restrictions to protect innocents (however ineffective) have been pretty much completely lifted under tRump. Curious that the war-game aspect of the presidency didn’t come up. Nor the illegal meddling in Venezuela. The tariff and free-trade issue gets attention, staff arguing but the president rejecting their “facts.’ I put facts in quotes because the pro-free trade and anti-tariff “facts” come from the 1% point of view, not environmental nor labor issues. And the tag-team tRump/Mueller gets coverage, a lot of inconclusive back and forth. If you depended on this book for your take on that issue you’d probably come away thinking there’s not much there (as opposed to reading Collusion or House of Trump, books I hope Mueller has read). Trump’s lawyer, John Dowd, resigned when tRump decided, against Dowd’s advice, to cooperate with an FBI interview. Dowd felt that a compulsive liar going into an FBI interview was jeopardy he couldn’t condone. Ultimately it was agreed that written questions would be submitted. Dowd’s strategy, surprisingly, was complete cooperation, no stonewalling, all document requests honored. The lawyer apparently accepted from someone he deemed a compulsive liar, assurances that he was innocent as charged. We shall see (maybe).
Image credit: the Donald Trump illustration - F...act was created by the author © Tom Ferguson.