Thursday 31 January 2019


In September 2018, Bob Woodward's account of the first eighteen months of the presidency of Donald Trump was published. Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward had been the Washington Post journalists who exposed the Watergate scandal that led to the resignation of Richard Nixon in 1974. Woodward knows his territory; he draws from hundreds of hours of interviews with first-hand sources and from meeting notes, personal diaries, files and paperwork. As the blurb says, here is an account 'in unprecedented detail (of) the harrowing life inside President Donald Trump's White House and precisely how he makes decisions on major foreign and domestic policies.'

I finished reading my birthday copy very recently - and felt compelled to share a summary of Woodward's account. He makes few judgements; he reports. The verdict on the President is left to the reader. I had already made my judgement before reading 'Fear'. That verdict is more than confirmed by 'Fear'. 

Here is a link to my thinking about Trump and the special relationship, so-called, between the USA and the UK, as expressed in a post in early 2017: press here to find out more. If you had been in Truro around that time as we faced the prospect of a state visit by the new American President, you would have heard me one evening - see photo below - expounding on the menace of a man whom I - and others - believe is mentally unfit to be the leader of the most powerful nation on our planet. My reasoning? He evidently had all the symptoms of a medical condition: narcissistic personality disorder

Rob Donovan on the wall in Lemon Quay, Truro, next to Steve Robinson aka Red Robbo - February 16, 2017

'The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump - 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President' by Bandy X. Lee & Robert Jay Lifton (2017) provides a compelling account of the reasons why there are medical grounds for doubting his fitness for office. These are the words of one of the 

contributors, Howard H. Covitz:

'When individuals do not accept others as subjects in their own right, they exhibit characteristics seen in people with personality disorders:

1.  Being unable to respond emotionally in empathic ways
2.  Seeing the world as binary: friend or foe
3.  Lacking in the need to evaluate whether their actions hurt others.
4.  Lack of development of respect for others' thinking, relationships, or efforts
5.  Inability to have focused, but nuanced thinking (inability to see more than one reasonable view)
6.  Limited ability to distinguish the real from the imagined or wished

Covitz argues that Trump displays all six of the above characteristics that mental health professionals associate with severe character pathology. He is uncomfortable diagnosing Trump from a distance but sees it as his duty to warn and advocate for the psychiatric examination of President Trump in order to test his fitness for office.

Menacing Liberty 

Why does Woodward call his book 'Fear'? The word is Trump's. Here is Trump speaking on 31 March 2016 in an interview while running for president of the United States:

'Real power is - I don't even want to use the word - fear'.

North Korea was and still is a problem. New Year's Day 2018, Kim Jong Un reminded the world of his country's nuclear capability. All of mainland United States was within range of a nuclear strike. Trump played the Fear card. He told one of his team within the White House that Kim was a bully and that he, Trump, was going to intimidate and outfox him. That evening, Trump tweeted that his Nuclear Button was much bigger and more powerful than Kim's - and his Button worked. He then seriously considered ordering all US military dependents out of South Korea - a move that North Korea would almost certainly read as a signal that the U.S was preparing for nuclear war.

Nuclear explosion - 1 megaton

Woodward's coverage of events covered does not extend as far as June 2018 when Kim and Trump had a face-to-face summit meeting in Singapore. Trump was triumphant: his hard-line had brought about a deal which meant the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula. Don't hold your breath! Kim had responded to Trump's direct threat of nuclear war - unprecedented in a liberal democracy - by securing a summit meeting that gave him a status and security he had never enjoyed before. There is little evidence of a unilateral decommissioning of nuclear weaponry in North Korea. Trump had revealed that his political gamesmanship extended as far as risking the annihilation of great swathes of his own species.

Hiroshima - 1945 - after the nuclear bomb was dropped -  It released the equivalent energy of 16 kilotons of TNT. The weapon was considered very inefficient, with only 1.7% of its material fissioning. The radius of total destruction was about 1 mile (1.6 km), with resulting fires across 4.4 square miles (11 km2).

What did Trump achieve in his first year in office - January to December 2017? Woodward concludes Chapter 35 with a single sentence:

'Tax reform was the only major legislation passed his first year.'

A senior Democratic senator said after the legislation passed:

'This will do damage. We will be undoing this for the next decade.'

Corporations and the wealthy gained the most. It was estimated the tax reform would add $1.5 trillion to the annual deficit over the next 10 years.

Woodward closes his Prologue in 'Fear' with a rare judgement on Trump: 'The reality was that the United States in 2017 was tethered to the words and actions of an emotionally overwrought, mercurial and unpredictable leader. Members of his staff had joined to purposefully block some of what they believed were the president's most dangerous impulses. It was a nervous breakdown of the executive power of the most powerful country in the world.' In the words of Gary Cohen, his top economic adviser in the White House: "It's not what we did for the country. It's what we saved him from doing."

In Part Two, next week, I will explore more of this extraordinary White House story that Bob Woodward's book reveals.



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