Review: Fear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Fear: Trump in the White House breaks absolutely zero new ground. Anybody who has been following the Trump trainwreck already knows everything they need to know about Donnie Small-Hands and then some (for instance, today's big news stories revolve around Stormy Daniels's allegations that Trump has a small mushroom-shaped dick, news that is also not very surprising in and of itself). Those who are part of the Resistance will find nothing fresh within these pages. Those who are Trump supporters will, of course, brush Bob Woodward's account off as little more than "fake news" and part of the on-going "witch hunt" within the media and the whole wide world at large.

Woodward's accounting, though, does lend further credibility to ousted White House staffers who have used their executive positions to pen their own tell-all novels, and further solidifies those stories published in legitimate mainstream press outlets (i.e. not Fox News). As half of the reporting team that took down Nixon, Woodward's reportage on the Trump administration is certainly welcome, as he is a credible voice, a reporter with a through-line of integrity that has been a member of the press for decades. His writing here gives us a fly-on-the-wall picture of life in Trump's Oval Office, quoting a number of administration officials such as Gary Cohn, Rob Porter, Lt. General Michael Flynn, Secretary of Defense James "Mad Dog" Mattis, Reince Preibus, and others. Woodward lets the words of these men tell the story, free of any colorful commentary or opinionated editorializing.

All of the principle players paint a strikingly similar portrait of Trump, and it's a familiar view, one that anybody who has been paying even the absolute most minimum amount of attention since the 2016 primaries would recognize. Trump is inarticulate, incurious, a compulsive liar, brash, addicted to Twitter, quick to anger, both wildly ignorant and profoundly stupid, unimaginative, and dead set in his ways. He's inflexible and unwilling to change his mind or opinions on anything, including his own deeply racist attitudes, as exhibited throughout his presidential campaign, again in the wake of the Charlottesville rioting, and yet again when discussing African nations, their inhabitants, and immigrants, as well as resolutely sexist. He has not a single shred of understanding of government, diplomacy, the military, or the economy. And, again, none of this news, nor is any of it surprising.

Because of the author's singular focus on the White House and its central players, Woodward forgoes any deeper examinations of Trump and his attitudes. Rather than an in-depth profile of the man who invented Birtherism conspiracy theories, we get the popular sketch version we see every day on the nightly news and live on Twitter. What we're told fits the common vernacular surrounding Trump, but there's never any attempt to dig deeper. Part of the sad thing (if one can ever manage to drum up anything resembling sympathy for such a rotten and disingenuous figure as Donald Trump), of course, is that any of Trump's own depth is merely skin-deep artifice. Simply put, there is nothing deeper to him. What you see is literally what you get. At the end of the day he's just another bitter, angry old man stuck in the past, sitting around watching Fox News and trying to convince everybody he's as great as he thinks he is, complaining about all the non-white men in the world. There's no question Trump thinks highly of himself, just as there's no question that his opinion is completely unfounded in fact. Facts, we know, are the one thing Trump hates perhaps more than anything, and his staffers routinely commiserate over how difficult it is to convince Trump of reality and how pointless it is for them to prepare daily briefings for him because he refuses to read anything .

So, is Fear worth reading? Honestly, I'm not entirely sure it is, particularly if you've already been following along since the oaf took his oath. It's a quick read, the writing breezy but plain, and Woodward certainly lives up to Christopher Hitchens's criticism of being little more than a stenographer to the stars. More than a year and a half into this national nightmare, Fear: Trump in the White House offers little in the way of actual news, and Trump's detractors will certainly find all of their worst suspicions and fears about the man confirmed. Trump's blind supporters, though, I suspect, aren't likely to ever bother reading this thing to begin with. The target audience, then, is simply the curious among us, those hoping to uncover revelations or maybe look back at the early days of this administration and chuckle knowingly to how things have played out since Jan. 2017. At one point, for instance, Trump is reported to have asked his staffers, responding to allegations in the Steele document, if he looks like a guy who needs prostitutes. I'm sure we all had our suspicions on that front, and, well, we definitively know the answer to that now, at least.

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Michael Patrick Hicks

Michael Patrick Hicks is the author of the science fiction novels Convergence, an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013 Quarter-Finalist, and Emergence. His work has appeared in several anthologies, and he has written for the websites Graphic Novel Reporter and Audiobook Reviewer. In between compulsively buying books and adding titles that he does not have time for to his Netflix queue, he is hard at work on his next story.

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