"Fear: Trump in the White House" by Bob Woodward (2018)
"'Mr. President, can I show this to you?' Cohn fanned out the pages of data in front of the president. 'See, the biggest leavers of jobs - people leaving voluntarily - was from manufacturing.'
"'I don't get it,' Trump said."
Bob Woodward is the famous "Woodward and Bernstein" Woodward. He remains an assistant editor at The Washington Post, and his career in journalism stretches back decades. His bibliography extends from Nixon to the present day.
In Fear Woodward attempts to cast light on the secretive goings-on within Trump's White House. He begins with the final days of Trump's candidacy, and the book ends - somewhat anticlimactically - with Trump's legal troubles and the FBI inquiry into Russian electoral meddling.
I learned about this book through American news reports, and based upon both the glowing and scathing reviews figured it would be nothing if not interesting. To my discredit I didn't vote in the last election, and like many people I've been in a state of perpetual dismay ever since.
I can't say that I've cultivated any serious dislike for Trump. I can't stand to hear the man give speeches, and he seems woefully under-qualified for the job, but I generally find him to be a much less threatening, far more comical figure than Hillary Clinton. Prior to Trump's surprise win, Clinton brought thoughts of a New World Order to mind, whereas Trump was always someone I have trouble taking seriously. No, I don't want him to have access to the nuclear codes - or Twitter, for that matter - but Clinton seemed to portend invasive laws, and other nations continuing to infringe upon U.S. sovereignty.
So is the book good? I don't know, I found it a little disappointing. It's not as weighty as I was expecting. I was hoping for a more in-depth look at the Trump administration, but what I got instead was a breezy few hundred pages on how members of his cabinet continually try (and fail) to prevent Trump from making a fool of himself. It does make for entertaining reading, and I did learn a few things, but on the whole it feels like this book needed more detail, and perhaps - in a larger sense - the author was just too close to the events he's describing.
Living as I do in Taiwan, I'd have to say that the Trump presidency hasn't been all that bad so far. Arms sales have increased and the U.S. has distanced itself from China, but it's hard to say whether this state of affairs is traceable to the Commander in Chief or not. Some of it may have to do with larger geopolitical goals and military leadership in the region. I will say, however, that the details of Trump's relationship with the Chinese were very enlightening, and one wonders how much of the current "trade war" is really Trump's doing, or if he's only taking credit for things he had little to do with.
I doubt Fear will be the defining book of the Trump presidency. If nothing else this presidency isn't over yet, and gaining a fuller picture of it will await future developments. Fear is a good book, but I doubt it will change anyone's mind in terms of whether they're for or against Trump. It simply lacks the evidence to do so, and the account it offers comes off as largely anecdotal in nature. I'd recommend it if you are, like me, fairly clueless as to what's going on with the U.S. right now, but it's definitely not as insightful as some are claiming it to be.
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