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Artillery Row Books

“I am a total act” (but a second act?)

John Bowers reviews A Very Stable Genius, by Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig

When Washington Post managers (most being journalists) were asked whether Donald Trump could possibly be elected President in 2016, 99 said no but one said yes. The one who thought he could gain the White House was the manager of the Post’s Print Room. He mixed with blue collar folk who got it that Trump was not to be “read literally”. It was those people who delivered victory to him in crucial swing states.

Since he was elected, there has been a whole genre of books about Trump showing his inanities and his extraordinary way of working (three hours of the day are carved out to watch tributes to him on Fox TV). These have included Michael Woolf, Anonymous and Jon Sopel.

The President takes theories of chaos management to another level. The “Adults in the Room” (Kelly, McMaster, Tillerson, Mattis) have long ago left his side and many administration offices are unfilled or with Acting occupants.

A Very Stable Genius by Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig is written by two Washington Post journalists who have had ringside seats at this particular circus. The title of course comes from Trump’s self description. Just so you know the more fully developed version in a Saturday morning tweet in July 2019 reads “What you have now, so great looking and smart, a true Stable Genius” but he has used the adverb “very” a few times too.

Trump told General Kelly (then his Chief of Staff) when Kelly proposed a subject briefing for him: “I don’t want to talk to anyone. I know more than they do; I know better than anyone else”. He reads little; he knows no history.

The authors have clearly had access to people who have not spoken to authors before (I suspect some of the Adults and definitely not Ivanka and Jared who do not come out well). Rucker and Leonnig provide a racy chronological guide. You feel you are there in “the room where it happened”; where the aides are pressured to dissemble and the staff have to clean up the mess. Trump never blames himself, he never says sorry. In his world loyalty is a one-way street. Strength is everything; ratings are key; family have access. Everything is a deal, an ongoing negotiation.

Much of his methodology can be seen in his oeuvre The Art of the Deal. This is someone who has written more books than he has read.

The book dissects the Mueller Report in detail (you cry out enough already). As a lawyer myself, I find Mueller’s approach curious. He spent years (and millions of dollars) investigating the President for obstruction of justice yet had already decided at the outset that a sitting President could not be indicted. The book poses the question of whether Mueller was sufficiently hands on in the inquiry.

Trump’s curious reverence for dictators (Putin, Kim Jong un) is also chronicled at length. Perhaps he fancies himself on a throne; who could forget that cringe-worthy Cabinet meeting when each member praised the Commander-in-Chief. The tone was set by Reince Priebus his Chief of Staff who prostrated himself thus: “We thank you for the opportunity and the blessing to serve your agenda”. The fact that he met Putin without note-takers is shocking.

He rails against the elite yet he was born into membership of it.

Trump has presided over a decline in the standing of the US in the world. He has called Nazis decent people. He includes in many speeches dog whistles for racists. His reaction to covid has been lamentable. He has no class, picking fights with McCain, Obama and now George W Bush. He rails against the elite yet he was born into membership of it. Like Millwall football fans he says in effect “everyone hates us but we don’t care”. The dangerous part (and what may cause lasting damage) is the delegitimization of the free press.

The authors quote a telling conversation between Anthony Scaramuci who, you may recall, lasted about a week as his Communications Director, and Trump. The Mooch said to the President “aren’t you an act?”. Trump replied “I am a total act and I don’t understand why people don’t get it”. Is the act playing for a four or eight year period?

Could this man really be re-elected? Well they said it could not happen the first time round. And if he is re-elected, he will certainly not have to worry about what people think.

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