Reviewed in the United States on November 19, 2019
An amazing and very effective book, critiquing the whole of the Trump administration, by one who claims to be a high official within it.
The Introduction states, “The Donald J. Trump administration will be remembered as among the most tumultuous in American history. Future historians will record the volatility of the president’s decision-making, as well as the internal struggles of a government forced to grapple with it. They will write that his advisors came to find him unfit for the job. He couldn’t focus on governing, and he was prone to abuses of power, from ill-conceived schemes to punish his political rivals to a propensity for undermining vital American institutions. They will document how officials considered drastic---some might say desperate---measures to warn the American people… less than halfway into the Trump administration… top advisors and cabinet-level officials contemplated what might be called a midnight self-massacre, resigning en masse to call attention to Trump’s misconduct and erratic leadership. The idea was abandoned out of fear it would make a bad situation worse. It got worse anyway. Full awareness of the deteriorating state of affairs dawned on me late one evening, when the loss of a good man revealed the true nature of a troubled one. It was the evening that ultimately led to the writing of this book.” (Pg. 1-2)
When Trump refused to lower White Hose flags at half-staff after Sen. John McCain’s death, “By then Americans had grown accustomed to the president’s pettiness, and they were numb to the endless controversies. Most probably tried to look the other way. But I couldn’t. I’d spent enough time watching one pointless indignity after another. This one, targeting a veteran and POW, was the last straw. What did it say about out president? What did it tell us about his values, virtues, and motives? Someone in the administration needed to say something, anything. There was silence. So the next morning I started drafting an op-ed about Donald Trump’s lack of a moral compass and about the efforts of a group of administration officials trying to keep the government afloat amidst the madness. ‘I would know,’ I wrote of those of those officials. ‘I am one of them.’” (Pg. 2-3)
He continues, “Since that opinion piece was published in the New York Times … the instability within the Trump administration has intensified. One element has remained constant, however. The president still lacks the guiding principles needed to govern our nation and fails to display the rudimentary qualities of leadership we should expect of any commander in chief.” (Pg. 3) He adds, “President Trump.. should be worried… that those reasonable professionals are vanishing. He has targeted and removed many of these officials, from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to Chief of Staff John Kelly… Others have grown tired of the charade and left of their own accord. With every dismissal or departure of a level-headed senior leader, the risks to the country grow, and the president is validated by a shrinking cadre of advisors who abet or encourage his bad behavior… [The] public servants who push back against ill-considered or reckless decisions… are not traitors or mutineers…” (Pg. 6)
He notes, “there is a chance that Donald Trump, despite his extraordinary flaws and the threat of impeachment in Congress, will be reelected in 2020. By then the guardrails will be gone entirely, and freed from the threat of defeat, this president will feel emboldened to double down on his worst impulses. This may be our last chance to hold the man accountable.” (Pg. 7)
He explains, “I agreed to serve in the administration with the hope that President Trump would be successful and remembered for the right reasons, even if many of us had serious misgivings about signing on… overall that hope was dashed---and our misgivings validated---by hard experience… In these pages, I will underscore what Americans should actually be concerned about when it comes to Trump and his administration, diagnose the problems, and propose how we can move forward.” (Pg. 7-8) He continues, “I have not written this to settle scores… I have deliberately limited my descriptions of fellow senior officials… My motive is decidedly NOT financial. When I was told I could earn a seven-figure monetary advance for writing this work, I refused to even consider it… If there are royalties from the sale of this book, I plan on donating them substantially to non-profit organizations that focus on government accountability.” (Pg. 12-14
Of Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, “Not only was the decision reckless, but administration officials had been testifying under oath that ISIS was NOT yet eliminated… Now the president was falsely declaring ISIS to be finished, because he just decided it was true one day.” (Pg. 21) He notes, “These mini crises didn’t happen once or twice at the administration’s outset. They became the norm, a semi-regular occurrence with aftershocks that could be felt for days.” (Pg. 33) He adds, “The White House, quite simply, is broken. Policies are rarely coordinated or thoroughly considered. Major issues are neglected until a crisis develops.” (Pg. 36)
He says, “Trump avoids directly firing people, contrary to his television image. Instead he takes the cowardly way out and cuts them loose by way of social media… he got rid of his first chief of staff… with a tweet.” (Pg. 45) He observes, “The high rate of turnover was a direct result of the president’s leadership. He ejected people who were willing to stand up to him. He got bored with officials who weren’t dynamic enough or didn’t defend him on television.” (Pg. 49) And “He spends a lot of time talking to staff about perceived injustices. Trump will complain about his coverage, his critics, and anything else that he believes is unfair. Then he will send White House aides on an endless quest to ‘fix it.’” (Pg. 68) He suggests, “As president, the inappropriate comments about women haven’t abated. I’ve sat and listened in uncomfortable silence as he talks about a woman’s appearance… Indeed, Donald Trump is like the Fred Flintstone of the ‘Me Too’ era.” (Pg. 80-81)
After Trump’s comments after the Charlottesville rally turned deadly, he states, “I knew deep down… that the truth wasn’t good. He didn’t want to admit it because the violent group was a pro-MAGA crowd.” (Pg. 84) He adds, “We felt the president’s reaction revealed an uglier side of his nature: the shallow and demagogic politician, prone to self-inflicted disaster.” (Pg. 86)
He points out, “In his first three years, Bill Clinton issued 90 executive orders. Barack Obama issued 110, Donald Trump issued 120 before his third year was over. The Trump administration is not a rewarding place for a fiscal conservative to work. Our attempts to get the president to care have mostly failed. Saving money is usually boring to him.” (Pg. 102)
He says, “The most illustrative example of Trump-maligned government employees is the US intelligence community. These agencies, such as the [CIA] and [NSA], have some of the most important jobs in America.” (Pg. 126) He notes, “After the Mueller Report dropped, hundreds of former federal prosecutors signed a letter stating that Trump's efforts to derail the investigation constituted obstruction of justice. He would have faced ‘multiple felony charges’ if he weren’t president of the United States.” (Pg. 140) He concludes, “The result is that millions of Americans now have an excuse to doubt the conclusions of the nation’s premier law enforcement agency.” (Pg. 141) He laments, “The president’s denial-turned-apathy to Moscow’s actions is why America responded with the diplomatic equivalent of a whimper to one of the biggest ever foreign affronts to our democracy. Of all the failures of Trump’s foreign policy, letting Russia of the hook is perhaps the most frustrating.” (Pg. 164) And “We have effectively given up on trying to block the president’s criticisms of our friends. It can’t be helped. He wants to say whatever he wants to say, as he does on any other issue.” (Pg. 176)
He concludes, “It’s bigger than a presidential election… The task at hand is to judge someone far more important than the commander in chief… The time has come to assess the civic fault lines spreading across our republic… America can restore the soul of its political system. We can once again illuminate a pathway for others onto the vaunted plazas of open society. If, however, we shrink from the task, our names will be recorded by history as those who didn’t pass the test… This is my warning… Our charge is to …bend the arc of the moral universe toward the value that is the real sinew of civic life: freedom.” (Pg. 248, 258-259)
The book’s anonymity will be an easy way for critics to dismiss this book, but it is a clearly-argued and patriotic voice that should be heard by Americans across party lines.