Darkness engulfs the White House

Darkness engulfs the White House
Fear: Trump in the White House

by Bob Woodward (Simon and Schuster,  €19.99)



Fear, the revealing account of Trump’s time in the White House to date, Woodward’s 19th book since All the President’s Men, describes an “emotionally overwrought, mercurial, and unpredictable leader” and his chaotic administration, in which Woodward has excellent contacts. His book rests firmly on their first-hand accounts.

He reminds us that Trump started badly in that he failed to prepare for office. Never expecting to win the election in November – some would say never wanting to win it – he suddenly found himself with 4,000 jobs to fill, and two months in which to fill them.

The president can’t impose order on the administration he has cobbled together: he is a surprisingly docile and ineffectual man, for all his bluster. “I always get overruled,” he complains.


An indolent creature, he once asked an expert with whom he was due to discuss cyber attacks to watch the Masters with him instead. He is not “a detail guy”, and dislikes “homework” and documents running more than a page. Trump is not however – and Woodward would hasten to make this point – an empty vessel. He has what he calls certain ‘bedrock’ beliefs. He maintains for example, that higher tariffs would protect and stimulate American industry. There’s no point in telling him that a trade deficit is not always a bad thing, or that the auto industry is in good shape and has not moved to Mexico, or that NAFTA has been good for American farmers.

Trump has become notorious for his ill-considered tweets and remarks. This tweet on the subject of North Korea shook the White House and the diplomatic community: “North Korean leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the nuclear button is on his desk at all times…I too have a nuclear button, but it is a much bigger and more powerful one than his, and my button works!”

Equally shocking was his suggestion that there was a moral equivalence between the racist extremists and protesters who clashed at Charlottesville.

It seems that Trump’s people have had enough of his impetuousity and are trying to rein him in or guide him in certain directions. Woodward instances the day an official stealthily removed a document from the president’s desk out of fear that the paper might encourage some precipitate action by Trump. His staff’s concern to keep Trump out of trouble may explain why Woodward was unable to talk to him for the book. When he finally did get a word with him last August, he referred to his (eight) requests for an interview: “I never got a call. I never got a message,” Trump told him. “They don’t tell me,” he says of his staff generally.

Woodward does not judge. He simply sets out what he has learned. In doing so he humanises Trump.

He tells us that the president’s concern for the Americans left behind by globalisation is genuine, not electorally-motivated. Trump is a congenial fellow, who acutely feels the loneliness of high office. He has a solid, affectionate relationship with Melania; both are protective of their son Barron.

Woodward offers a balanced depiction of a man who may be around for some time to come if he can manage to fend off Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Russian meddling during the 2016 election,  and keep the economy ticking over.