A Review by Dwight A. Moody
Has this ever happened before? Somebody tell me.
A person on the president’s own White House staff, a member of his the Republican Party, writes a tell-all book about the dysfunction and danger of our national leadership, and publishes it anonymously.
Tell me: has this ever happened before?
I don’t know, but I do know this: this book describes a frightening reality at the center of power in the United States, one that is paranoid, incompetent, deceitful, unprincipled, and unregulated.
This book started out as an opinion piece published in the New York Times on September 5, 2018; and we all remember the consternation expressed by the president as he initiated efforts to discover the identity of the anonymous author. But no luck. And now that same person, still anonymous, has published an entire book, 259 pages, without notes, or index, or bibliography, or acknowledgements (but with a New York publisher with the interesting name—Hachette Book Group).
The thesis of both the article and this book: “The president still lacks the guiding principles needed to govern our nation and fails to display the rudimentary qualities of leadership we should expect of any commander in chief” (5). The book is, therefore, one long, extended rationale for removing Donald J. Trump from office through the normal process of election. “This may be our last chance to act to hold the man accountable” (7).
Among the more discouraging descriptions in the book is the way Trump names career government employees: Deep State, implying (and often stating) that such people are corrupt, incompetent, and incapable of acting in the best interests of the country. Anonymous counters with the description of this cohort of citizens as the Steady State, then describes what he calls the “collapse of the Steady State” as experienced government workers were pushed out and those competent people first employed by the new administration were discovered to be not quite the “yes men” desired by the new president. Thus, so many of those first tapped for leadership were gone within months (and here, the names of such would demand the rest of my review space!). Throughout this dismantling process, Anonymous describes the practice of those around the president as discussing surreptitiously how to manage “the president’s inattentiveness and his impulsiveness” (29). A summary: “He does not know how the executive branch works. As a consequence, he doesn’t know how to lead it” (35).
Anonymous devotes an entire chapter to the role of character, quoting a list of Founding Fathers of the Republic as well as the Greats of the ancient Greek and Roman republics. He then describes Trump as lacking curiosity, ignoring books and papers, preferring malice to mercy, inciting fury, addicted to crudeness, and generating chaos everywhere. It is a back-stage description that is consistent with the front-stage performance we witness day by day.
An entire chapter is devoted to how Trump has abandoned the convictions of the Republican Party: limited government, balanced budgets, free trade, and a haven for refugees. “Not only is he not a conservative, he represents a long-term threat to the Republican Party and what it purports to stand for. He is redefining us to a degree that makes our platform incoherent” (115).
Then this: “The president has transformed the long arm of government into a wrecking ball to go after something else much more fundamental than the GOP agenda. Every American, regardless of political affiliation, should pay attention” (116). He calls it an “assault on democracy” and devotes an entire chapter to the threat—chapter four, pages 117-150—and describes what Trump is doing to civil servants, the intelligence professionals, the justice department, and the entire Congress. None of us needs the examples given by Anonymous because the president himself offers fresh evidence every day of his determination to undermine our institutions and distort their legal and legitimate functions in our national life.
“The net effect of the president’s war on democratic institutions is that he has turned the government of the United States into one of his companies: a badly managed enterprise defined by a sociopathic personality in the c-suite, rife with infighting, embroiled in lawsuits, falling deeper into debt, allergic to internal and external criticism, open to shady side deals, operating with limited oversight, and servicing its self-absorbed owner at the expense of its customers” (150).
On foreign affairs, Anonymous gives a good description of Trump’s love for strong men around the globe, quoting “a top national security aide” who pulled him aside and said, “The president sees in these guys what he wishes he had: total power, no term limits, enforced popularity, and the ability to silence critics for good.” (171) He quotes approvingly the warning written by Ulysses S. Grant, one of the great generals of American history and later a president: “If we are to have another contest in the near future of our national existence I predict that the dividing line will not be Mason and Dixon’s, but between patriotism and intelligence on the one side, and superstition, ambition, and ignorance on the other” (183). And his first piece of evidence is none other than Trump’s inaugural address in January of 2017, in which Trump described the “American carnage” in words that were “resentful and foreboding”, sounding more like “a two-bit bartender at a run-down barrelhouse than a president” (188f).
The conclusion? “Donald Trump deserves to be fired” (233). Rejecting the few non-electoral options, such as impeachment or the removal by the cabinet, Anonymous issues a strong call for Americans to vote out of office the man who now runs the country. He concludes this sustained and sensible diatribe against his own boss by recounting the story of Todd Beamer and flight 93 on September 11, 2001. His last words are now enshrined in the American lexicon of courage: “Let’s Roll”. Anonymous invokes that phrase to call us to do our duty at the ballot box this fall.
I will say, upon reflection and responding to my own primary interest, what is oddly omitted from this insiders account is anything—anything—about religion: not the rhetoric Trump uses, not his circle of spiritual advisors, not his support in the White Evangelical community, nothing—interesting: not necessarily a failure, just odd, don’t you think?