Bob Woodward Turns His Mighty Pen on Trump and the Presidency

James Fozard

 

Rage

Bob Woodward

452 pages

Simon and Schuster

 

Journalist Bob Woodward’s new book, Rage, centers mostly around 17 recorded interviews between President Trump and Woodward between January and July 2020, although over half of the book reviews major events in the first three and a half years of Trump’s presidency. 

 

Woodward’s conclusion that the president was not suited for his job is not surprising – based on his analysis of issues plaguing Trump’s presidency, ranging from Russian interference in the 2016 election to the president’s leadership in the country’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

 

Why did the president consent to the interviews that would be reported in a book published in the year of his re-election campaign?  He had publically lashed out against Woodward’s previous book, Fear.

 

 

 

One partial answer is that Trump had been advised to consent to the book because of Woodward’s coverage of previous presidents all the way back to Richard Nixon and Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s major role in exposing Watergate. Another reason is that Trump perhaps hoped that a book based on interviews with the famous reporter would result in a more favorable view of the president’s actions and policies than conveyed in the many published books critical of him by former aides, such as John Bolton. Another is that Trump enjoyed the opportunity to discuss his actions and reasons for them with an audience of one.

 

Woodward’s description of the interviews was one of frustration with Trump’s evasiveness, mostly by changing topics when responding to Woodward’s questions in the middle of the interview. The interviews themselves were often conducted at night or on weekends and often by phone. In frustration, Woodward gave Trump a list of 14 topics he wanted to cover. It didn’t change the processes of the interviews materially.

 

Trump’s history of contradictions, and ignoring or refuting advice is a major theme of the book.

 

 

Trump’s first major appointees included Rex Tillerson at the State Department, James Mattis at Defense, and Donald Coates as director of national intelligence. All experienced great difficulty in both briefing and advising the president. During briefings, Trump frequently lost interest, changed topics, and dismissed information, especially in the area of intelligence.

 

During the course of advising Trump, all three found their recommendations denied or contradicted in later public statements or tweets. The intelligence agencies were widely and publicly assailed by Trump, most famously in his comments about his private meeting with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, in which he seemed to publicly accept Putin’s denial of election interference and his distrust of his own intelligence services. 

 

The Secretary of State was was repeatedly sidelined in relations with China, the Middle East, and during the Israel-Palestine negotiations and negotiations with North Korea. Trump had assigned most of these activities to his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Tillerson was eventually fired by the president.  As a result, the president’s actions with respect to criticizing or withdrawing from previous alliances, e.g., with Iran, made the U.S. defense system more difficult to maintain.

 

 

More than half of the book is devoted to the major events, including the controversy with the FBI, the Robert Mueller investigation, the convoluted relations with North Korea, and Trump’s impeachment.

 

Trump believed that his personal relationships with other world leaders would solve longtime controversies.  These were mostly unsuccessful, and Woodward identifies many who believed that Trump was played by Putin, King Jong-un, Xi Ping, and Benjamin Netanyahu in his personal diplomacy efforts.  Flattery and praise of Trump by these leaders seldom resulted in productive results.

 

A main focus of Rage is the president’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. Denials of its importance, ignoring of public health advisories, attributions of blame to China and the WHO, misleading and incorrect statements about vaccines and treatments, and frequent contradictory statements—all have resulted in an unfocused approach to national efforts to contain the pandemic.

 

For this analysis alone, the book is well worth reading.

 

Author Bio:

 

James Fozard, a Highbrow Magazine contributor, is an academic, scientist, and writer, who has written extensively for a number of scientific journals and other publications.

 

For Highbrow Magazine

 

 

Image Sources:

 

--Shelah Craighead (Whitehouse.gov, Creative Commons)

 

--Shelah Craighead (Whitehouse.gov, Wikimedia.org, Creative Commons)

 

--Simon and Schuster

 

--Jim Wallace (Smithsonian Institution, Wikimedia.org, Creative Commons)

 

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