For all the furor it has created, Bob Woodward’s new book, Fear: Trump in the White House, just might serve as an exhibit in the president’s defense.
That’s not because the portrait of Donald Trump that emerges from its pages is flattering.
The Trump who stalks and snarls through Fear is undisciplined, uncouth and ineffective. He has no emotional maturity to speak of and a mean streak as wide as the Mississippi River at its broadest point. He cannot focus on even the most important matters for more than a moment and seems to have no conception of owing a duty to anything, including this country, larger than himself.
His notions of serving as president do not include any comprehensive vision. Rather, his presidency is animated more by a series of irritations, one temper tantrum after another, than it is by any concrete plan for the nation and its future.
Even worse, he has surrounded himself with second-, third- or fourth-tier talents, few of whom seem to like him or agree with him. Instead, everyone who works with or for this president seems to have his or her own agenda to advance, which they all do behind Trump’s back.
He seems not to notice.
This is not exactly news.
Anyone who hasn’t noticed that Donald Trump isn’t a hands-on president or that his White House is about as collaborative as a demolition derby hasn’t been paying attention.
We’ve seen this story before.
We just haven’t seen it told in the overwhelming – in fact, in the nearly numbing – detail this book provides.
The book is typical Bob Woodward, fact piled on fact, scene stacked upon scene, with little regard for the importance of any one individual incident. Anecdotes about Trump raging that he wants to assassinate Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad are offered up in the same flat fashion as accounts of squabbles over which Trump staffer rides in which car.
Woodward’s vast strengths as a meticulous reporter have won him just fame, but another quirk of his undercuts that gift. Few writers can drain the life out of English prose as fast as he can.
Reading Fear is a bit like watching Hamlet performed not by a talented cast, but instead by one bored person reading the entire play, including the stage directions, in an unvarying monotone. No matter how compelling the drama, it’s still a slog.
The president and his amen chorus have whined, loud, long and without let-up, that Woodward relied on anonymous sources to tell the tale.
It’s a bogus argument.
Anyone with eyes and a brain who reads the book can tell which figures in and around Donald Trump talked with the author. Any of Woodward’s sources who believed that his promises of confidentiality cloaked his or her identity is indulging in self-delusion.
Many of those closest to the president clearly were eager to offer up dirt on their chief. If the Trump White House were a ship, it would be leaking worse than the Titanic.
But the sheer dysfunction of the Trump administration almost creates a defense for this president.
The charges that Trump seems most obsessed by – that he colluded with Russia in the 2016 election and that he since has obstructed justice – seem to be beyond him.
Both collusion and obstruction imply some sort of conspiracy, which in turn requires a degree of organization.
The Donald Trump who walks through the pages of Fear may intend to do awful things, but he’s incapable of following through. He seems unable to get even those who are indebted to him to go along with his plans, such as they are. He and his team can’t seem to agree that day is light, and night is dark, much less what makes sense for America.
Thus, Bob Woodward’s book puts Trump in the position of updating Richard Nixon’s defense as the Watergate debacle unspooled itself.
“I am not a crook,” Trump seems be saying, echoing Tricky Dick.
“I’m just really, really incompetent.”
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.