Of the new sources, Bob Woodward’s Fear (http://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Fear/Bob-Woodward/9781501175510) is the most illuminating.
1.Trump is incompetent: Woodward’s book, coupled with the anonymous New York Times op-ed, “I am part of the resistance…” (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/05/opinion/trump-white-house-anonymous-resistance.html ), and Omarosa Manigault’s tell all Unhinged (https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/trump-omarosa-book-summary-review-latest-tweets-white-house-unhinged-a8493286.html ) paint a chilling picture of Trump’s mental state.
It’s fashionable to declaim Trump’s demeanor: the lies, bluster, and unrelenting narcissism. As a result, it’s often difficult to separate Trump, the media figure, from Trump, the erstwhile chief executive of the United States of America. Nonetheless, it’s possible for Trump to be totally obnoxious, as an individual, and still competent as a CEO.
But Trump’s far from competent. Woodward’s book paints a detailed portrait of Trump as unable to function as President. The anonymous New York Times oped notes, “there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would start a complex process for removing the president.” (The 25th amendment permits removal when the President “suffers from an impairment that prevents him from fulfilling his duty.”)
It’s unclear whether Trump has a neurological or psychological impairment — Omarosa believes Trump suffers from senile dementia. What is clear is that Trump is not an effective leader. When there is an important decision to be made, he doesn’t read his briefing material, so he doesn’t come to the decision meeting prepared. At the meeting, Trump doesn’t focus; he doesn’t lead meetings, in the normal sense, he (metaphorically) wanders in and out of them. As a result, meetings often conclude without a clear decision or, worse yet, with a decision that Trump promptly forgets. Woodward notes, “Trump seemed not to remember his own decision because he did not ask about it. He had no list — in his mind or anywhere else — of tasks to complete.”
Most damming is evidence of Trump’s inflexibility; his inability to process new information and and adapt to novel situations.
2. The Republican Leadership uses Trump: The relationship between Trump and top Republican leaders is mysterious. Some say McConnell and Ryan and other GOP leaders go along with Trump’s whims because they are afraid of alienating his base — despite Trump’s impairment, his base continues to support him .
When we look at Trump’s record in office, it’s clear that he’s become a puppet. Most of the time, the GOP leadership uses Trump to accomplish their objectives. Trump kept his campaign promise of cutting taxes because the GOP leadership supported this. In the 600 days since the inauguration, there’s been a tug-of-war between Trump and the Republican leaders. On the major issues, McConnell and Ryan won. For example, they supported strong sanctions against Russia and Trump didn’t; these sanction passed Congress with a veto-proof majority.
If you’re familiar with the family dynamics involved in living with an abuser, the Trump-GOP leadership interactions seem familiar. McConnell and Ryan, and the other Republican leaders, placate Trump so he won’t come unhinged, and then manipulate him to keep the “family” semi-functional.
3. There’s no governing ideology: Beyond cutting taxes and regulations, there’s no discernible ideology of the Trump Administration. “Make America Great Again” hasn’t translated into coherent policy.
This is most apparent in the Trump Administration’s foreign policy. Trump isn’t governed by an overarching philosophy such as “make the world safe for Democracy” or “Isolate America from the barbarian hordes.” Instead the Trump Administration is driven by Trump’s fears and grudges.
Woodward’s book indicates that Trump’s foreign policy derives from his sense that Obama, and previous presidents, cut lousy deals with the country in question: lousy trade and security deals, where the US ends up footing too much of the bill. According to Woodward, Gary Cohn (at the time, Trump’s economic adviser) quietly saved the South Korea-U.S. trade agreement, known as Korus, when in 2017 he removed a “letter off Trump’s desk” that the president planned to sign that would have ordered a U.S. withdrawal. Despite the national security implications, and against the advice of his top advisers, Trump planned to scuttle Korus because he was convinced the South Koreans were screwing the US.
4. Trade policy divides the GOP. Woodward makes it clear that while Trump and the GOP leaders agree on many issues — tax cuts, repeal of Obamacare, restrictive immigration — they don’t agree on trade. From the onset of his presidency, Trump has wanted to abrogate trade agreements. After an extended meeting, where Trump’s advisers tried to keep him from cancelling NAFTA and other trade agreements, Woodward reports that (former Secretary of State) Rex Tillerson muttered, ” [Trump]’s a fucking moron.”
After the meeting, a senior aide noted: “It seems clear that many of the president’s senior advisers, especially those in the national security realm, are extremely concerned with his erratic nature, his relative ignorance, his inability to learn, as well as what they consider his dangerous views.”
5. Trump is deteriorating, Omarosa writes, “I seriously began to suspect that the president was delusional or had a mental condition, that made him forget from one day to the next. Was Donald like Ronald Reagan, impaired while everyone around him ran the show and covered up for him?” She recalls Trump speaking “gibberish” and careening from subject to subject.
Woodward reports a disturbing pattern: “[Trump] won’t face what’s real…[when confronted with a disturbing fact, Trump replies] I don’t want to hear it…he will say, ‘I’ve had [these ideas] for 30 years, they’re right and if you disagree, you’re wrong.'”
The Woodward book makes clear that Trump is running from demons. He’s fearful of the Mueller investigation and grouses about it every day. As a result of the recent tell-all books he’s become less trusting of his staff. He has few friends in the White House. He’s tormented.
Woodward quotes one of Trump’s ex-aides: “This was no longer a presidency. This is no longer a White House. This is a man being who he is.”