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“Smart, rational people are breaking down when it comes to Trump,” Lindsey Graham told Bob Woodward and Washington Post reporter Robert Costa for their new book, Danger. “He makes you do things that are not good for you because you do not like him.” Graham, if any attempt to differentiate himself from Trump has been followed by a groveling, compensatory deterioration, should know. As Woodward and Costa portray it, Graham’s only notable value to his party at the moment is a “Trump whisper” tasked with assessing the former president’s state of mind (it doesn’t change much) and persuading him to let go of his incessant allegations of having been cheated for victory in the 2020 election, a company that has apparently been convicted.
But only this time I have to agree with Graham. My own relentless appetite for stories of Trump’s downfall — his weeks in the figurative bunker, surrounded by toads and cranks that run into increasingly whimsical theories of election fraud, while West Wing empties and Rudy Giuliani, his hair color drips down his face, leans poison in the ears – demonstrates Graham’s point. Danger is a more virtuous bowl of schadenfreude than Michael Wolff’s breeder Landslide, published earlier this year. Call it cornflakes for Wolff’s Cap’n Crunch. Either way, it’s not good for me, but it’s so hard to let go.
[Read: God Help Me, I Savored Every Word of Michael Wolff’s Trashy Book on Trump’s Final Year]
For Wolff, the period between the election and Joe Biden’s inauguration was a spectacular shit show, and little more than that. Landslide is a webcam inside a clown car. Trump’s incompetence as a leader made it nearly impossible – in the end, as he had displaced any employee with independent ability – to get much done in the way of governance, good or bad. As Woodward and Costa describe it, the last two months of Trump’s presidency were a period of veiled crisis in which the handful of sensible people left in the cabinet feared he could do something terrible.
The hero in this part of Danger‘s narrative is General Mark Milley, whose strenuous efforts to intervene between Trump’s sentiments and US foreign policy, as reported by the authors, have made headlines over the past few days. Books like this are shaped by their sources, and these sources always have their own agendas. Former State Attorney William Barr, for example, apparently gives lengthy interviews to anyone who writes a book-length account of Trump’s last year in office in a clear attempt to step down as one who moderated the president’s worst excesses. Trump’s aides who served as sources for Wolff, such as former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, emerge as voices of reason in Landslide, then come in Danger trying to say, hire nutcase conspirator Kash Patel to run the CIA.
As Danger tells it, Milley practically saved the republic by creating buffers between a furious president who, in Milley’s mind, had “gone into a severe mental decline” after the election, and the various military buttons the top executive had the power to push by virtue of his office. Trump could, Milley feared, set match for his own Reichstag fire and construct a defense situation as a grip on power, e.g. By starting a war with Iran or China. Knowing that the uprising in the Capitol building made some foreign powers nervous about the stability of the US government, he allegedly contacted Chinese military leaders to assure them that there was no US attack on them.
The stream of treacherous accusations and denials that have followed these revelations – not to mention Danger in itself – fails to provide evidence that such a plan even fell on Trump’s head. The only indication that Trump had thought for a moment other than overthrowing the election was a November 11 memo instructing acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller to withdraw all U.S. forces from both Somalia and Afghanistan before the end of Year. The resemblance between this document and a genuine, official national security note was so faint that it might as well have been written in crayon, yet Trump had signed it with one of his famous Sharpie markers – or had he? Months later, Axios reported that the junk note had been drafted by Trump’s favorite John McEntee, the president’s former bodyguard, who at the time “ran staff” along with a confused, newly-appointed senior adviser to Miller. Danger even implies that the signature could have been forged, as Milley first suspected. At any rate, if Trump had actually issued the directive, he would not have invested enough to pursue it.
All the evidence in this book and others about the transition between the two administrations indicates that Trump was completely preoccupied with his fantasies about election fraud and any piece of support he could find for them. He seemed unable to imagine that Mike Pence would fail to invalidate the January 6 election, or that the Supreme Court, which he had packed with “his” judges, would not overthrow it. Milley’s vigilance is appreciated by this and many other citizens, but the Reichstag fire scenario assumes that what Trump wanted was to continue to have the necessary funds, to continue to be president, when in fact that was what he really wanted. , and still wants, is to prove that he won. “I don’t care about my legacy,” he told Hope Hicks. “If I lose, it’s my legacy.” In his heartfelt psyche, his base has replaced the demanding father who drummed into his sons the necessity of being a “killer.” When someone urges him to be pragmatic, to go ahead and exercise the significant power he retains, he refuses and repeats this mantra: “They expect me to fight.”
[Read: I Read (Almost) Every Memoir by a Former Trump Official]
Unlike Trump’s mercury narcissism, Danger presents an almost ridiculously glowing portrait of Biden. Chapters on the confused Trump campaign and the White House disorder alternate with snapshots of Biden and his advisers resolutely drawing up plans to distribute vaccines. In the author’s narrative, the new president is humble and diligent and humane, a skilled senatorial negotiator, an attentive listener, a steadfast leader and yet ready to drop everything in the middle of a campaign to spend half an hour comforting the grieving family for a perennial supporter. Only twice do the authors give something in the way of personal criticism. Sometimes it seems that Biden is “testy.” Sometimes he talks wrong. But that’s what it’s about. At any point, I expected him to free a scorching virgin from the railroad tracks. While this is reassuring, it is also a bit boring. Which may actually be the point.
I can not judge the accuracy of the authors’ portrayal of Biden, but I have no doubt that Woodward himself has invested heavily in the political establishment. Danger depicts the political events of recent years as a battle between the evil of Trump’s self-serving chaos and the orderly virtue of the system he promised to blow up. The bid’s election represented a return to that system and its protocols, which is more or less why I and more than 81 million other Americans voted for him. Is it still really necessary to become quite as starry-eyed about business as usual? The old ways certainly look good compared to the last four years, but their shortcomings were one of the reasons Trump happened in the first place.
By Bob Woodward and Robert Costa. Simon & Schuster.