Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

Opinion: Woodward does Trump


The most shocking and unbelievable aspect of Bob Woodward’s new book about the inner workings of the Trump administration is how little of it is shocking and unbelievable.

It ought to be shocking that staff members confess to stripping documents from the president’s desk to keep him from signing them and thus inflicting huge damage on the country. It ought  to be surprising that his top staff treats Trump as a moron who is incapable of learning anything, who has to be constantly watched lest he do something that might blow up the world.

We ought to be stunned by the fact that the president of the United States is the antithesis is the “very stable genius” that he claims to be, that he is in fact given to deep, irrational rages and lacks the ability and patience to comprehend complex issues. We ought to be appalled by the level of bone-deep mutual disrespect between Trump’s staff and the president they serve.

“He’s an idiot,” Woodward quotes chief of staff John Kelly as saying in a staff meeting. “It’s pointless to try to convince him of anything. He’s gone off the rails. We’re in Crazytown. I don’t even know why any of us are here. This is the worst job I’ve ever had.”

These things and much more ought to be shocking. They simply aren’t.  The private, behind-closed-doors behavior that is described to Woodward by first-hand witnesses in the Trump White House meshes all too perfectly with the behavior we have all witnessed in public. The picture is entirely consistent.

Here’s another example:

According to Woodward, Trump called his remarks after the racial violence in Charlottesville “the biggest f...ing mistake I’ve made” and the “worst speech I’ve ever given.”  However, Trump wasn’t expressing regret about his controversial claim that there had been “very fine people on both sides” in that confrontation with neo-Nazis and white supremacists.

No, he was complaining about the speech he gave to try to clean up that controversy, the one in which he said this

“... we condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of bigotry, hatred, and violence. It has no place in America. And as I have said many times before, no matter the color of our skin, we all live under the same laws; we all salute the same great flag; and we are all made by the same almighty God. We must love each other, show affection for each other, and unite together in condemnation of hatred, bigotry, and violence.

“We must discover the bonds of love and loyalty that bring us together as Americans. Racism is evil, and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans. We are a nation founded on the truth that all of us are created equal. We are equal in the eyes of our creator, we are equal under the law, and we are equal under our constitution. Those who spread violence in the name of bigotry strike at the very core of America.”

In Trump’s mind, THAT was the biggest mistake he had made. THAT was the worst speech he had ever given, the one that he deeply regrets delivering. And no, it comes as no surprise that Trump felt that way. Anybody who watched him read those words knew at the time that he was doing it under duress, that he was acting like a resentful child forced to write “I am not a bigot” a hundred times on a blackboard.

The closest thing to a surprise in the Woodward revelations so far is the account of a practice session held by Trump’s legal team to see whether their client could survive an interview with special counsel Robert Mueller. The rehearsal went terribly, with Trump immediately retreating into lies and fantasy. In the opinion of Trump’s attorneys, letting him testify in real life before Mueller would guarantee that he ended up in an orange jumpsuit.

That’s no surprise.

Afterward, however, two of Trump’s top attorneys traveled to Mueller’s office, where they re-enacted the disastrous dress rehearsal for Mueller’s benefit, apparently by reading from a transcript. 

“I’m not going to sit there and let him look like an idiot,” Trump attorney John Dowd reportedly told Mueller after they finished. “And you publish that transcript, because everything leaks in Washington, and the guys overseas are going to say, ‘I told you he was an idiot. I told you he was a goddamn dumbbell. What are we dealing with this idiot for?’ ”

I admit: Even after all these months, I find that remarkable. It’s remarkable that it happened, it’s remarkable that one of Trump’s attorneys told Woodward that it happened, and it’s remarkable that this man is still serving as our president, still armed with all the awesome powers and responsibilities that position entails.

It’s remarkable that we have convinced ourselves it’s OK.


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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.