A Rogue President In A Rogue Presidency

Peter Baker and Susan Glasser, who, as well as being among DC’s best journalists, are married, could have called their Trump book Unprecedented but Thomas Lake called his 2016 book about the Trump-Clinton election that and Martha Brockenbrough called her 2018 book Unpresidented. And The Divider works just fine. In his review in the NY Times yesterday, A Sober Look at the ‘Cartoonishly Chaotic’ Trump White House, David Greenberg seems to admire the fact that Baker and Glaser were able to “keep their cool” while chronicling “the outrageous conduct and ugly infighting that marked a presidency like no other.” We lived through it— but, like several other journalists, they have the several pieces of the story about a “White House in a mode of perpetual damage control we never saw, while “[s]queezing the tumultuous events of the long national fever dream that was the Donald Trump presidency between two covers… But those with strong stomachs will find a lot they didn’t know, and a lot more that they once learned but maybe, amid the daily barrage of breaking-news banner headlines, managed to forget.”

Greenberg pointed out that “the authors are persuasive in arguing that in this White House, ‘impulse and instinct ruled.’ Given the sheer number of crises and conflicts that erupted on Trump’s watch, herding them all into a narrative isn’t easy. To impose order on the chaos, the authors center each chapter on its own topic or story line— Trump’s rocky relationship with foreign allies, for example, or the 2018 budget battle over the Mexico wall. Other chapters focus on key supporting players, who are rendered with deft portraits, such as Jared Kushner, Trump’s widely reviled but fireproof son-in-law, or the president’s antagonist-turned-sycophant, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina… Because everyone had different ideas about where to restrain and where to encourage Trump, the White House became a den of ‘ongoing tribal warfare,’ they write— an Apprentice-style reality-TV show in which the parties vied to win Trump’s favor and outlast their rivals, even while at times sabotaging the president’s agenda as they saw fit.”

The backbiting—and the sub rosa efforts to thwart their own president— led to constant personnel turnover, a dreary parade of firings, resignations and defenestrations. Trump would cashier one aide in favor of someone presumably more compliant, only for the new guy to find that Trump was even more willful and heedless of rules than he had dreamed. Time and again, staffers debate whether to stay put in hopes of mitigating Trump’s basest impulses or to run screaming from the room. Even more stunning is the number of onetime loyalists who, after their tours of duty, emerged as among the president’s most strident critics.
Many Trump aides— even some like National Security Advisor John Bolton or Attorney General William Barr, who might deserve harsh criticism on other grounds— did intervene valiantly at times to keep Trump in check. Without their small acts of resistance, things could have gone even worse. Yet Baker and Glasser seem to endorse the view of the Democratic congressman Adam Schiff, who, during the first impeachment, warned Republicans, “You will not change him, you cannot constrain him.”
They write: “So many had told themselves that they could manage the unmanageable president, that they could keep him from going too far, that they could steer him in the direction of responsible governance… They had justified their service to him or their alliances with him or their deference to him on the grounds that they could ultimately control him. And what Schiff was saying is that three years had shown that was not possible.”
In this instance, Schiff was talking specifically about Trump’s plans to “compromise our elections,” and his words proved tragically prescient. “The Divider” concludes with a riveting few chapters on Trump’s mad scheming to hold onto power after his November 2020 defeat— resulting in the deadly Jan. 6, 2021, storming of the Capitol.
In the book’s final passages, we see Trump lurking in exile in Mar-a-Lago like a movie villain, having escaped Washington by the skin of his teeth, defeated but not altogether vanquished. In Hollywood, such endings serve to leave the door open to another installment. But as good as this book is, let’s hope Baker and Glasser won’t be writing a sequel.

Bah! I’d love a sequel— the treason trial, the pathetic appeals filed by 4th rate attorneys like Rudy Giuliani, John Eastman, Sidney Powell, Jeffrey Clark, Christina Bobb, his delusional days in prison leading up to his televised execution by firing squad.

Martin Pengelly reviewed the book for The Guardian this morning: Trump chief of staff used book on president’s mental health as White House guide, focusing on John Kelly, then chief of staff, secretly buying “a book [Brandy Lee’s The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump] in which 27 mental health professionals warned that the president was psychologically unfit for the job, then used it as a guide in his attempts to cope with Trump’s irrational behavior.”

Kelly’s “struggles to impose order on Trump and his underlings and his virulent falling out with the president have been extensively documented. According to Baker and Glasser, who interviewed Kelly, the retired Marine Corps general bought a copy of The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump as he ‘sought help to understand the president’s particular psychoses and consulted it while he was running the White House, which he was known to refer to as Crazytown. Kelly told others that the book was a helpful guide to a president he came to consider a pathological liar whose inflated ego was in fact the sign of a deeply insecure person.’ The authors report that Kelly’s view was shared by unnamed senior officials, quoting one as saying: ‘I think there’s something wrong with [Trump]. He doesn’t listen to anybody, and he feels like he shouldn’t. He just doesn’t care what other people say and think. I’ve never seen anything like it.’ The 25th amendment, which provides for the replacement of a president unable to meet the demands of the job, was seriously discussed at the end of Trump’s presidency, after the Capitol attack he incited.”

Trump regularly dismissed claims about his mental health and his staff’s worries about it. In January 2018, after the publication of Michael Wolff’s tell-all book Fire and Fury, Trump memorably told reporters he was “a very stable genius.
Kelly has regularly attacked Trump. In October 2020, CNN reported that Kelly told friends Trump’s dishonesty was “astounding … more pathetic than anything else” and called Trump “the most flawed person” he had ever met.

We’ll probably get lots of bon mots like these between today and next Tuesday when the book is officially released, but Axios was first this morning. Lindsey Graham called Trump “a lying motherfucker” but “a lot of fun to hang out with.” … Melania told Chris Christie that she had warned her husband about his COVID response: “You're blowing this.” And back to Kelly— how did Pengelly miss this one?— who “was so furious when Trump refused to lower the flag after Sen. John McCain died that he told the president: ‘If you don't support John McCain's funeral, when you die, the public will come to your grave and piss on it.’ Trump gave in.”

I drove down to Yorba Linda to piss on Richard Nixon’s grave but it was too crowded so I spit on it instead. Roland ran away. Call me a radical but I think Trump’s grave would need something more radical than urine.