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Cesar Chelala

Trump Against the Ropes 

An old indictment doesn’t end when a new one appears. Soon after an anonymous source published a scathing article against Donald Trump in the New York Times, it now appears a book «Fear: Trump in the White House», written by one of America’s most prestigious journalists: Bob Woodward, one of Watergate’s heroes. And the portrait he presents of President Trump and his work is not exactly commendable.  

The reaction to the book by the American president was entirely predictable. «It’s a work of fiction,» he said. To which he added, «It’s another bad book, written by someone with a huge credibility problem.» Woodward said he based his book on hundreds of recorded interviews, many of which were totally «off the record.» When he tried to interview Trump, he, through his advisers, flatly refused to collaborate.  

According to Woodward’s book, the investigation into a possible agreement between the Trump administration and the Russian government is a source of constant anxiety for the American president. When Trump said he would meet with Robert S. Mueller III, in charge of that investigation, his advisors, knowing his total unpredictability, were terrified of that prospect, and practically begged him not to do so. One of his main lawyers put it clearly: «I’m not going to sit around and let him look like an idiot,» he said.

One of the revelations of Woodward’s book is Trump’s ignorance and lack of interest in matters of great importance for world peace. In this regard, Woodward describes several meetings with the principal officers of the Department of Defense of the United States. On one occasion, with its characteristic insouciance, President Trump asked, «When are we going to start winning some wars?» On another occasion, at the end of discussing the situation in Afghanistan, Rex W. Tillerson, the then Secretary of State said: «We are dealing with a moron.»

In January 2018, during a meeting of the National Security Council, Trump asked why he was spending so much time on what was happening in the Korean Peninsula. Jim Mattis, the Secretary of Defense, replied that they were trying to prevent World War III. When Trump left the meeting place, Mattis told his advisers that he thought Trump understood the problem as if he were a fifth or sixth grade boy.

An episode that reveals the concern about the impulsive nature of the president is when Gary D. Cohn, who was the head of President Trump’s economic advisors, snatched from his desk a document that Trump had decided to sign. In that document, the United States was withdrawing from a commercial agreement with South Korea. Later, Cohn told a colleague that he had taken that extreme step to «protect the country.» Trump, of course, did not even realize that the document had disappeared from his desk.

Another important contribution of Woodward’s book is a summary of a meeting in July of 2017, written by a senior official of the White House, who spoke with several of the participants and concluded: «It is clear that many of the advisors of the President, particularly those in the national security group, are extremely concerned about Trump’s erratic nature, his relative ignorance, and his inability to learn, as well as what they consider his particularly dangerous views.»

Woodward’s book comes out after two other books that paint a daunting picture of the White House’s main occupant: the book «Fire and Fury» by Michael Wolff, and the latest one from Omarosa Manigault Newman: «Unhinged». Omarosa was recently fired from her White House job, but kept hundreds of transcripts of conversations and videos of important events and meetings in the White House. These three books are a ruthless critique of President Trump, and a serious warning to the world about the dangers to world peace of his continuity in power.

FEAR: Trump in the White House

By Bob Woodward

Simon & Schuster. 420 pages. $ 30

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