Woodward’s fear focuses on Trump’s character flaws, ignores his successes

Published 6:53 am Thursday, October 18, 2018


Contributing Writer

Bob Woodward, of Watergate fame, wrote a book about Donald Trump’s White House titled “Fear.” The theme of the book is Trump manages his staff by fear, unpredictability and chaos.  Hence, the staff has the unenviable task of saving the president from his worst impulses.

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The persistent thread throughout the book is Trump is a world class “habitual liar.” If this is not Woodward’s personal bias speaking, then it reflects the judgment of those anonymous sources interviewed for the book.

The book is very well written and is an engaging read; I had trouble putting it down. If the book is not fact, it is very good fiction. I followed Donald Trump’s career in the press since the early 80s, so I am not surprised he would be, as a friend describes him, a horrible boss.

President Trump was not interviewed for the book.

The problem with a book based entirely on anonymous sources is you never know who is speaking or what their motivations might be. If you’ve been trolled, you understand how petty and destructive it gets. For example, on multiple occasions the text deals with conversations between Trump and one of his personal attorneys. Since Trump was not interviewed, a lawyer retelling privileged conversation would be disbarred; hence, we have no idea who is providing such gossip.

The source must be a third party who was not there for the actual conversation. As experienced as Woodward is, I know he would recognize such testimony as anonymous hearsay and inherently unfair. It would be little more than rumor. What rules did he have for reporting stories from anonymous speakers?

At no point does Woodward consider what president Trump has accomplished. An honest account would acknowledge the remarkable first two years of the Trump presidency. The decline in unemployment, particularly minority unemployment; the rise in the labor force participation rate; decline in food stamps; increase in wages/salaries; increase in the GDP growth rate, increase in investment; deregulation; tax cuts; and appointment of judges all deserve acknowledgment.

These things were not achieved in a vacuum. Trump is well on his way to fulfilling his promises in the first term. His supporters are aware of that fact. How was all of this achieved if the staff was totally consumed with keeping Donald from bumping into the furniture?

The failure to consider the accomplishments leads to the most significant shortcoming in the book. Woodward’s treatment of international trade is the best example. He describes a White House staff who are “free traders” and are horrified by Trump’s obsession with tariffs. Hence, they spend their time undercutting the president on that issue. If that is truth, how did Trump get a new trade agreement with Mexico, Canada, South Korea, and the EU? Does China know tariffs are not the end game? If China knows, and they do, how could the staff not know?

The threat of tariffs is a strategy to motivate trading partners to renegotiate unfair trade pacts that have been in place for too long. Trump is bringing us much closer to free trade than we have ever been before. It is clearly a dangerous strategy and China is the most dangerous opponent. China might call the bluff.

Woodward reveals another part of the Democrat mindset. He is fixated on what the president says and ignores what he does. This reflects a belief that we are what we say and how we say it, rather than what we do and how we do it. This is how Hillary Clinton lost the election. Most of the country, particularly in the fly-over states, are much more pragmatic than that. Mainstream voters are fed up with politicians who make a hash out of everything but look good doing it.  They want leaders who keep their promises and keep things on track.

President Trump ran for office as the “Great Disruptor.” Why are people so horrified when he disrupts every sacred cow he finds? He promised he would do this and that’s what he does. He criticized NATO and when he got the EU’s attention, he convinced them to pay their fair share for NATO’s support. He convinced South Korea and Japan to spend more for their own defense and when they came through, he rolled over the historical US/North Korea relationship until Kim stopped testing nukes and ICBMs, Then, he flipped his posture and started seeking peace, although we have a long way to go yet.

The president has demonstrated the value of being unpredictable. Alas, I’m suffering a little “unpredictability fatigue,” so I would be happy to see him consolidate a few of these changes for a while. I hope he doesn’t start on Iran or the UN until after we fix our own broken republic.   

Overall, I like the book. Woodward is telling us something important about the president’s character.  Unfortunately, his character is not a pretty sight. Will his character bring him down? I hope not for our sake.

Bob Martin is the Emeritus Professor of Economics at Centre College.