Bob Woodward’s new book “Fear: Trump in the White House” was finally released on Tuesday, and while many of the more colorful and interesting revelations within were already published by those who got early copies, many interesting impressions have yet to be fully discussed. Woodward’s method, which he and Carl Bernstein pioneered in their reporting on the Watergate scandal, is to reconstruct events from interviews with numerous sources, many of them on deep background. In the case of this latest book, as with their classic work “All the President’s Men,” the story provides new details but in the end really just pulls an abundance of earlier reporting into a coherent narrative. The Trump administration is the most transparent of any presidency in my recollection, due to the daily gusher of leaks to dozens of different White House reporters — while the president tweets virtually every passing thought — so “Fear” isn’t quite a shocking as it might be.
This article was originally published at Salon
Still, it’s disconcerting to read a Woodward book that reveals a presidency just as malignant and dysfunctional as the Nixon administration, although in different ways. I confess that I didn’t expect to see two presidents with such monumental character flaws twice in my lifetime. If I didn’t know better I would think there’s something wrong with the Republican Party that it keeps electing these people.
There are many differences between the two men, starting with Trump’s frightening lack of preparation, intellect and general knowledge by comparison with Nixon. But on a character level, they show similar flaws. Trump lacks Nixon’s sometimes maudlin sentimentality and Nixon didn’t manifest the grandiose self-regard that Trump uses to mask his insecurities. But both presidents have a petty, mean vindictive streak and a fetish for never showing “weakness.” And both will be remembered for a total lack of normal human empathy.
Nixon’s flaws in that regard are well-known. The man mastered politics and policy but he was a cold fish. The fact that he climbed as high as he did with such a prickly personality was a testament to his perseverance and ambition. But Donald Trump is something else again. His inability to care about anything but himself is so glaring and obvious that it’s pathological.
Woodward’s book is full of examples of Trump being unable to compromise, apologize, change course or otherwise behave like a mature adult because he sees anything less than total dominance as weakness. And since he is so often a failure, and cannot admit it, he simply lies and says that he actually won.
Yesterday, he demonstrated that in living color:
Trump on lessons learned from last year’s hurricane in Puerto Rico, where the federal govt initially drastically undercounted the death toll of nearly 3,000 people: “I think Puerto Rico was incredibly successful…I actually think it was 1 of the best jobs that’s ever been done.” pic.twitter.com/kNLO3qYWvU
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) September 11, 2018
He spared not a thought for the people who died or those who were left homeless for months. He simply doesn’t have it in him. The mayor of San Juan spoke for most people with this tweet:
Success? Federal response according to Trump in Puerto Rico a success? If he thinks the death of 3,000 people os a success God help us all.
— Carmen Yulín Cruz (@CarmenYulinCruz) September 11, 2018