Bob Woodward’s new book, “Fear,” depicts what life is like inside Trump’s White House. One of the many people Woodward interviewed was former Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, who gave insight on what working for the president was really like.
Trump was a guy who “never went to class. Never got the syllabus. Never took a note. Never went to a lecture,” Bannon said. “The night before the final, he comes in at midnight from the fraternity house, puts on a pot of coffee, takes your notes, memorizes as much as he can, walks in at 8 in the morning and gets a C.”
Woodward’s meticulous ‘inside scoop’ is told in narrative format with dialogue tags from the major players inside the White House. Woodward also provides thoughts, imagery and action, some of which are confirmed through interviews, the rest left to Woodward’s word. These details flesh out the political world in a way that news articles often don’t. It makes the daily activities of the presidency feel much more real and lifelike.
The reader is able to see and understand how the decision making process is currently working in the White House right now — and it is terrifying.
The accuracy of Trump’s portrayal as a college student is almost comical. We see this when Trump’s cabinet members trip over themselves while trying to explain to people who are unfamiliar with Trump how they should interact with him. In one instance, Bannon explains to a candidate for the national security adviser position that he shouldn’t “lecture Trump” because he “doesn’t like intellectuals.” Bannon leaves McMaster with one more piece of advice: “Show up in your uniform.”
McMaster showed up in a suit. In addition, he went on for 20 minutes explaining his different theories of the world. At the end of the interview, Woodward said one of the first things that came out of Trump’s mouth was: “I thought you told me he was in the Army.” When it is confirmed to Trump that the candidate is in the army, Trump said, “He’s dressed like a beer salesman.”
We see another bleak example of Trump’s preparedness for presidency when Woodward recounts discussions surrounding the dynamics of our economy. Chief Economic Advisor Gary Cohn was trying to explain basic principles about the American economic system, and Trump’s answer for many problems was to simply “print money.”
Woodward doesn’t try to characterize Trump. Instead, he simply lays out Trump’s interactions for us to read and interpret for ourselves. For college students reading, Trump’s decision-making process might feel alarmingly similar to when one has to explain during a test a complex topic with only surface level knowledge. Sometimes it works out, but more often than not it doesn’t.
“They were trying to make policy on a string of one sentence cliches,” Woodward said regarding Trump and Bannon.
It is clear that those in Trump’s inner circle are often not taking his orders; they even go so far — as in Cohn’s case — to steal letters off of Trump’s desk in the name of national security. John Kelly, Trump’s current chief of staff, said in one of the the more popular quotes from the book:
“It’s pointless to try to convince [Trump] of anything. He’s gone off the rails. We’re in crazytown. I don’t even know why any of us are here. This is the worst job I’ve ever had.”
But, the book also sheds light on the president’s more relatable aspects, and reminds us that he is just another person. For example, Woodward recounts a time when Trump spoke with the family members about their son who died during combat.
“‘I’ve got the record here,’ Trump said. ‘There are reports here that say how much he was loved. He was a great leader.’”
While there were copies of the service reports that explained what generals thought of the fallen soldier, Trump didn’t have them. He was simply making these statements up. “He knew what the families wanted to hear,” Woodward writes.
Woodward gives a refreshing look at Trump through a broadened scope. His writing attempts to capture all aspects of the president by looking at him through a multidimensional lens.
It is clear how thoroughly documented the book is by the detail-oriented way that Woodward writes throughout it — and in the 28 pages of source notes at the end. “Fear” feels like a nonpartisan account of Trump’s white house, and instead of characterizing the man himself, Woodward let’s the words of Trump’s peers speak for themselves.