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Fear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward

December 15, 2018


This is world-renowned journalist Bob Woodward’s first foray into speculative fiction. In this dystopian satire, the United States has elected a narcissistic, incompetent, intellectually dim reality TV star to the Presidency. The new President, believing his new office grants him the same powers as the dictators and other despots he openly admires, conducts himself like a playground bully.

Everything stems from the new President’s massive, uncontrollable ego. He obsesses over what the press says about him, watching hours of news coverage every day, often fuming when the pundits criticize him. He communicates widely via Twitter, attacking his critics, government institutions and other world leaders. He often tweets out important policy decisions on a whim, frequently catching his staff with their pants down. He rewards loyalty above all else and staffs his cabinet with supporters, giving some of the most important posts to complete nimrods, turning the White House into a clown car.

The main character is the perfect trifecta of arrogance, incompetence and moral indifference. This could result in a book that is predictable, and much of it is with such a cartoonish stock villain. But Woodward does a good job of making the character more interesting than your average evil antagonist. In fact, I would say he portrays the President as less evil, and more just the first two parts of the trifecta—arrogance and incompetence.

Much of the novel is first-person testimony of inside sources close to the President. These men and women become interesting characters in their own right as they march up the hill, either by hubris or a sense of duty believing they can change what cannot be changed. As new appointees head to the White House, they often pass their cast-off predecessor on the way out, carrying boxes and mumbling angrily about the futility of the task they have just failed. Yet these new appointees tilt toward the windmill nonetheless, men and women willing to risk their reputations and put their souls at hazard for the fool’s errand of keeping the President in check.

There are a few moments that stretch the bounds of credulity. Even accepting the premise that Americans would elect this moron to office, would seasoned professionals really speak so poorly of the President of the United States? One calls him “a fucking moron,” another “a fucking liar.” His lawyer repeatedly removes papers from the President’s desk to stop him from pulling the country out of trade deals. Everyone notes how the President doesn’t want to read memos beyond a page, doesn’t pay attention in security briefings, gets most of his information from the morning news talk shows. But beyond the dimness of the President, he creates an environment of fear and pettiness, a house of scorpions. It is like Machiavelli, if Machiavelli were completely inept. Or the final scene of a Tarantino film, where all the main characters stand with guns drawn and pointed at each other. Only they’re all aiming at each other’s crotches.

Anyway, an interesting read, though it leaves one with a lingering sense of empty dread and the need for a shower. I hope Woodward goes back to writing nonfiction about real presidents soon.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Victor LaPorte permalink
    December 16, 2018 11:58 am

    One of your bests.

  2. L.Peninger permalink
    December 16, 2018 10:48 pm

    This is just the type of book that causes divisiveness and polarization of politicians and political parties. Hardcore liberals love this book and love to hate Trump.

    • December 17, 2018 6:38 am

      Thanks for the comment. I actually think this book will do little but affirm the opinions of people who dislike Trump already. It would be a better eye-opener (perhaps) for his supporters. It’s much more important for those people to read this.

      • L.Peninger permalink
        December 17, 2018 7:11 am

        I still support the Republican Part but am starting to loose faith in Trump. But calling him incompetent and intellectually dim is stooping a little low. Besides all the name calling and bickering everything else is going on the right direction. I like lower taxes a strong defense and just conservative values.

  3. December 17, 2018 2:33 pm

    Well, I respectfully disagree. I think there’s enough evidence to make the case that the man is incurious, inarticulate and largely failing as a leader. But you don’t have to agree with me.

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