Bob Woodward's "Fear" is on a shelf containing the literature of crazy kings alongside Robert Grave's "I, Claudius" with the Roman Emperor Caligula and Ryszard Kapuściński's "The Emperor" during the last days in the courtyard of the Ethiopian Haile Selassie. These books are masterpieces of fictionalized history, while Fear is a remarkable reportage work that is conveyed in prose that can not be described as literary. But they are similar in their atmosphere to the Antic Dread – the claustrophobic, good-natured sense that power has completely disappeared from reality and no one in the palace is safe from the ruler's wild impulses. There is nothing like it in American journalism, except perhaps Woodward's "The Final Days," written with Carl Bernstein on the downfall of Richard Nixon. But even Nixon-drunk late at night and talking to paintings in the White House residence – seems relatively healthy and pitiful compared to Donald Trump. They expect Woodward's Trump to order the execution of the entire National Security Council, declare himself god on Twitter, and anoint his daughter as heir to the throne.
The title of the book comes from Trump's definition of "real power", be it in terms of political clout or the ability to harass a woman he harassed. But the fear for his presidency has nothing to do with his skillful use of intimidation and anything that has to do with the dangerous consequences of his unpredictable behavior. Trump's core is the need to always be strong, which of course makes him seem weak. In a number of scenes, one or another adviser is struggling to find the right flattering words that keep the president from starting a nuclear war.
Nobody has respect for Trump. In the course of the book, his chief of staff calls him "an idiot"; his foreign minister makes it a "damn idiot"; his secretary of defense compares him to an eleven-year-old; his top business advisor and personal attorney consider him "a professional liar" and "a damned liar." (Various denials have been published.) Gary Cohn, the economics consultant, tells the President on his face that he's "a son of a bitch," while Trump calls Cohn "a damned globalist." When Cohn tries to step down for the first time, Trump mocks him for it Being under the thumb of his wife, not to mention traitors. There is no end to the Cabinet members and generals who would like to offend Trump against their peers or fire the tweet. A gross and feckless malignancy is the operating procedure of his White House, and the poison spreads to everyone. Only snakes and salivary lice survive.
Maybe you already felt that, but you did not know it with such nauseating specificity. In the absence of an Oval Office taping system, as Nixon destroyed during Watergate, Woodward's interviews, performed under the blanket of a deep background, are a fairly comprehensive replacement. One of its most detailed, revealing scenes will take place in the summer of 2017 in the Panzer, the secure, windowless meeting room of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Cohn and Secretary of Defense James Mattis conspire to bring Trump across the river to the Pentagon to show him the importance of the US-led international order of security partnerships and trade agreements. Under Steve Bannon's complex questions, the presentation collapses quickly. Trump, who only cares about making a profit for allies, keeps repeating: "It's all nonsense!" He announces that he will tear up the defense contract with South Korea- "Take the damn thing out, I do not care" – and I'll leave soon.
South Korea – its trade surplus with the United States, the cost of American troops and defense systems there – is an obsession with Trump and perhaps the next thing in "fear" over an organizing narrative principle. The book begins with Cohn removing a one-paragraph letter waiting for Trump's signature on the Oval Office desk, ending the Korean-US trade agreement. Cohn anticipates the President's flickering awareness to make him forget the letter and the impulse to undermine an important ally. But Trump always demands a draft, because the destruction of alliances – in addition to the hatred of the press – his real, insatiable passion in politics. His stamina in tracking these demons is impressive. Every day in his White House has the decaying feeling of the last days, but the next day is the same, and history never stops.
Although Woodward rarely quotes people talking directly to him, it's not hard to spot some of his key sources in the White House: Cohn; Trump's first chief of staff, Reince Priebus; his assistant secretary Rob Porter. In Woodward's taciturn style, they act as civil servants who make personal sacrifices for the good of the country – in the same category as Anonymus, author of Times Op-Ed on the inner "resistance" against Trump. Cohn's excuses with the letter become an act of patriotism – he's one of the adults who has to stay in the room. Woodward's coverage may unintentionally expose what a hollow fancy this is.
Priebus, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, sees everything as a political advantage and encourages Trump's polarizing instinct to govern as president of his base. Cohn, the democrat in the group, decides not to give up on Trump's softness toward white nationalism in order to impose a hugely regressive tax code that will leave nearly $ 2 trillion in debt for the next generation. Customs, not neo-Nazis, finally persuade him to stop. Steve Mnuchin, the finance minister, reduces himself to crawling. "I'm with you," he assured Trump after the meeting in the tank. H. R. McMaster, the national security adviser, is treated with astonishing contempt. John Kelly, Priebu's volatile replacement as chief of staff, has an attention span shorter than Trump's. None of them has anything to say about Trump's corrosion of American democracy. If that's the resistance, we'll see it crushed. At the end of "Fear" Trump won in a defeat.
Woodward has written a kind of bookend for the Nixon story, and the spirit of the scandal that started his career follows the Trump White House. "All the President's Men," Woodward's first collaboration with Bernstein, was essentially a detective story, and the trail of evidence led the reporters into the Oval Office. We do not yet know the outcome of Robert Müller's investigation of collusion and obstruction of justice, but in a way it does not matter. The real crime is already in sight. ♦