Fear - Trump in the White House
Bob Woodward

by contributor

Sharon Fleming

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Themes
Themes are described as ideas that dominate a particular piece of literature. In almost all cases, pieces of literature will be centered a theme or a number of them.
Circumventing the President

A recurrent theme in the book is that the closest aides of President Donald Trump have been forced to take extraordinary measures in the White House to try to stop what, according to them, are the president’s most dangerous impulses. One of these entails bypassing the President. Early in the book, the author documents a dramatic scene in which Gary Cohn, the former Chief Economic advisor, saw a draft letter which according to him was dangerous to national security on the Oval Office desk. The letter would have resulted in the withdrawal of the United States from a critical trade agreement with South Korea, with the fallout jeopardizing a top-secret security program.

The author writes that Cohn was “appalled” that Trump might sign the letter. Being aware of the potential consequences of this action, he “stole it off his desk." He told an associate that he “wouldn't let him see it. He's never going to see that document. Got to protect the country" (Woodward 13).

According to Woodward, Cohn was not alone. Rob Porter, the former Staff Secretary, also worked with Cohn and utilized the same tactic on numerous occasions. On top of literally stealing or even hiding documents from the President’s desk, the two sought to stall as well as delay decisions or even distract Trump from orders they felt would put the security of the country in jeopardy. According to Woodward, the repeated attempts to bypass Trump are “no less than an administrative coup d’état” (Woodward 13).

Disregard for National security concerns

Another theme is Trump’s disregard for national security concerns. This is evident in the book as the readers are taken inside top-secret meetings. One of these was a meeting whose goal was to try to educate the President on the importance of allies and diplomacy. The President’s philosophy on diplomacy was based around personal feelings, hence his inner circle was worried about the “The Big Problem” - the President’s lack of understanding that imposing tariffs could endanger global security. The meeting did not go as planned since Trump began to angrily confront his generals and began telling them that they should just be killing people. He also questioned the wisdom of the US military presence in South Korea (Herb et al.).

The book suggests that Trump seemingly disregards national security concerns because of his obsession with money – trade deficits and the cost of troops overseas (Herb et al.). In meeting after meeting, the President questions why the United States has to pay for the large presence of US troops in South Korea. Mattis bluntly explained to him that the reason for doing this was to “prevent World War III,” which prompted Mattis to later tell his close associates that Trump’s understanding is that of a “fifth or sixth grader” (Woodward 255).

Woodward reports that Trump was not convinced and went ahead to state in a later meeting that “we could be rich if we were not stupid,” arguing that the United States was being played as “suckers” (255).

Trump’s insults and humiliations

Throughout the book, the President is portrayed as an individual who is obsessed with his standing in the media as well as with his core supporters. He appears to not only be lonely but also increasingly paranoid, watching television for several hours in the White House residence (Herb et al.).

The President’s top aides described him as a person who always erupts in rage and profanity and who appears to enjoy humiliating others. He said of Sessions, “This guy is mentally retarded, he is this dumb Southerner.” Trump was also quoted saying that Priebus is "like a little rat. He just scurries around" (Woodward 185).

Trump also demeaned Rudy Giuliani, the former New York Mayor, to his face, when Giuliani was the only campaign surrogate who was willing to defend the then-candidate Trump on TV after a bomb-shell videotape of him sexually assaulting women emerged. He said to him, "I've never seen a worse defense of me in my life. They took your diaper off right there. You're like a little baby that needed to be changed. When are you going to be a man?" (Woodward 45).

Trumps predecessors are not spared either. Woodward reports that Trump called former president Barack Obama a “weak dick” (Woodward 135) for failing to act in Syria.

In addition to Trump’s insults and humiliations, the book is also “a zoo without walls.” It is filled with slights, insults as well as takedowns from both family and staff members that speak to the chaos, drama as well as infighting that the President allows to fester around him.

Trump’s infatuation with Twitter

The President’s tweets, along with his infatuation with Twitter are a theme throughout Woodward’s book. The author reveals that Trump ordered printouts of his tweets. He then studied them in an attempt to identify the ones that were most popular. He writes, “The most effective tweets were often the most shocking” (Woodward 178).

Twitter was also a major source of great dismay for top national security leaders, who were afraid and even warned the President that Twitter could get the country into war. Trump’s aides were shocked by some of his more outrageous posts, leading them to try and form a Twitter “committee” to vet his tweets, an attempt that was in vain.

The author describes another instance to portray Trump’s obsession with Twitter. Priebus, the former White House Chief of Staff, who was blindsided after the President announced his firing on Twitter, described Trump’s bedroom as “the devil’s workshop.” He also referred to the early morning hours as well as Sunday night – a time when Trump’s numerous news-breaking tweets are most likely to appear– as “the witching hour” (Woodward 168).

There is something to fear

Throughout the book, the author suggests that there are reasons for us to fear. There is a fear inspired by what it takes to get elected appears to have no bearing on what it takes to run the country, and this is an extremely dangerous precedent for the future.

A great illustration of this is the sheer lack of the faculties required to carry out the job that are on display in the President’s totally ignorant views on trade and defense. Trump’s constant discussions about the costs of having foreign bases and trade agreements, and his failure to understand the value of these two, make him truly dangerous. For instance, his failure to understand that the US troops in areas such as South Korea are for the countries benefits and not that of the host country, causes a complete disconnect between cost and value for him. This eventually makes it impossible for him to be able to make a rational decision.

There is also fear that President Trump is not knowledgeable and is also not teachable. He does not know and is unwilling to listen as well as learn from the people who do know and have relevant experience. At approximately two-thirds through the book, the image of the President’s character come into a clearer focus. Trump operates based on his instincts and lacks the discipline to listen to other people and weigh their opinions – even people with a more extensive knowledge and experience, as it is evident in the meeting held at the Tank. In the book, the author quotes an unnamed White House official who offered an extremely dire assessment of the meeting, saying it appears to be clear that senior advisors of the president, notably the ones in the national security realm, “are extremely concerned with his erratic nature, his relative ignorance, his inability to learn, as well as what they consider his dangerous views" (Woodward 194).

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