The question Bob Woodward's book doesn't answer

Bob Woodward's "Fear: Trump in the White House" is a runaway hit. The book has captured many of the Washingt...

Posted: Sep 14, 2018 10:30 AM
Updated: Sep 14, 2018 10:30 AM

Bob Woodward's "Fear: Trump in the White House" is a runaway hit. The book has captured many of the Washington headlines since parts of it leaked out last week, and on Tuesday, its first day on sale, it sold more than 750,000 copies.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter offers juicy nuggets about what life is like in the Oval Office. Even with a President who shocks the nation in real time throughout the 24-hour news cycle, Woodward managed to discover some jaw-droppers, such as Gary Cohn, former director of the White House National Economic Council, literally stealing a document from Trump's desk to protect the nation from what he viewed as potential danger.

Bob Woodward

Donald Trump

Elections and campaigns

Government and public administration

Government bodies and offices

Political Figures - US

Political organizations

Politics

US federal government

US political parties

US Republican Party

Voters and voting

White House

But does Woodward's book really capture what is so remarkable about this presidency? In some ways, for all of its detail and anonymous sources, the book is utterly predictable. Like Michael Wolff's "Fire and Fury," Woodward's book, with much more precision, takes a deep dive into the parlor politics of Trump Land. But in doing so, he misses the big story.

Like so much of the news coverage that continually has its lens focused on political insiders, Woodward doesn't really address why it is that a highly unstable President, whose agenda revolves around white nationalism and "America First," can dominate US politics in 2018. Fifty years after the civil rights movement transformed the country by pushing it in a progressive direction on matters of social justice, we seem to have taken a massive step backward.

Why is this happening? The answers have less to do with the President than with everything that surrounds him. These are questions that demand the historian's interest in context rather than the reporter's thirst for detail. The questions need to start with the Republican Party, which has provided a safe home for the reactionary brand of politics that Donald Trump champions.

As has been well-documented, despite every offensive or false statement and tweet that comes from this White House, and shocking policies such as family separation at the border, Republicans in Congress essentially do nothing.

When serious questions have been raised about the ethical practices of the commander in chief or about how much he will do to protect our election processes, congressional Republicans haven't acted to constrain Trump. Even as the President mounts an all-out assault on the free press, some Republicans on the Hill yell and scream but undertake no real oversight.

Partisan loyalty too often trumps political courage in an age of intense polarization. More and more Republicans have been willing and eager to have the President's endorsement in the primaries. And so, the story of Trump has raised as many questions about the state of the GOP as it has about him.

The Trump presidency also raises serious questions about our cherished system of checks and balances. Just how much can we count on the checks to restrain an out-of-control president? Hollywood filmmakers have imagined scenarios where we end up with leaders willing to do dangerous things. But audiences tend to believe this couldn't happen in real life.

If the most shocking stories in the Woodward book are true, and if the revelations in The New York Times anonymous op-ed about a two-track presidency are honest, then these screeds combined with everything else we have seen since January 2017 suggest there are big gaps in the mechanisms that we depend on to restrain the President.

The faith that somehow "the system" will save us in a dangerous situation might be misplaced. It is time to ask why doesn't our constitutional system provide better safeguards? Why should we have to depend on White House officials hiding papers from the President? What has gone wrong that the stories in Woodward's book can be true?

And what about the electorate? While it is true a large portion of the nation strongly disapproves of Trump and would rather have someone else in office, we have collectively allowed our democracy to deteriorate to the point where this kind of presidency was possible and where a leader such as him would not have to change course.

As Yoni Appelbaum argues in The Atlantic, Trump succeeded by capitalizing on the fact that American political participation and voluntary association has continued to decline since the 19th century, leaving people less experienced with democratic institutions and open to the disdain he loves to sell.

Fifty years after it seemed that George Wallace's brand of politics was banished forever, his legacy lives on in the White House. Our political processes were so broken that a political novice with a checkered business history and claim to fame from reality television rode his way to the presidency.

While many people in the electorate were not happy with Trump or the system that produced him, and he actually lost the popular vote, the President was still able to win, thanks to the Electoral College. His victory was likely enabled by a combination of factors -- including growing inequality and the uneven recovery from the Great Recession, the rot in our campaign finance system, the failure of Congress to govern effectively, the flaws of his opponent, the growth of conservative news media, the use of social media by Russian hackers and the continued popular strength of reactionary social ideas in certain parts of the nation.

Trump's support among Republican voters is currently at 85%. The answer to the state of our electorate won't be found in the portraits of the insiders who rule the roost in the White House.

So Woodward has once again offered a fascinating account of parlor politics, this time in the Trump White House, but he has not provided an understanding about why this all happened and why it is allowed to continue.

While this is not the story that Woodward intended to tell, it can't be ignored since it is the only way to get to the bottom of what is going on in American politics today. We need to start looking more carefully at the big picture -- understanding the trends and dynamics that created the toxic political environment that allows the presidency depicted in Woodward's book to occur.

Until we have answers to these questions, we won't be able to have any assurance this will turn out OK, or that after Trump's presidency ends, his brand of politics won't outlast him.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 115763

Reported Deaths: 3263
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds7973177
DeSoto703979
Harrison522384
Jackson457884
Rankin394086
Madison383194
Lee357380
Forrest304678
Jones292484
Washington258399
Lafayette250443
Lauderdale2478135
Lamar225538
Oktibbeha202454
Bolivar201677
Neshoba1849111
Lowndes179962
Panola170040
Leflore167187
Sunflower162349
Warren154855
Monroe150673
Pontotoc147220
Marshall143129
Lincoln140157
Pike138456
Copiah137536
Scott125429
Coahoma124937
Grenada122638
Yazoo122234
Simpson121549
Union118825
Tate116839
Leake115041
Holmes114760
Itawamba113925
Pearl River113660
Adams108544
Prentiss106120
Wayne101722
Alcorn100112
George99218
Covington97527
Marion95042
Tippah90322
Newton86627
Chickasaw85526
Tallahatchie84526
Winston84121
Hancock84028
Tishomingo81241
Attala79426
Clarke75851
Clay69321
Jasper68717
Walthall63927
Calhoun62612
Noxubee59817
Smith59416
Montgomery54923
Yalobusha54514
Claiborne53716
Tunica53517
Lawrence51814
Perry49423
Carroll49312
Greene47818
Stone47514
Humphreys43816
Amite42513
Quitman4206
Jefferson Davis41011
Webster37613
Benton3416
Wilkinson33820
Kemper32615
Sharkey28514
Jefferson27610
Franklin2423
Choctaw2086
Issaquena1074
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 158701

Reported Deaths: 2680
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson23292377
Mobile16916315
Tuscaloosa10345140
Montgomery10250197
Madison935096
Shelby739063
Baldwin665869
Lee654665
Calhoun459961
Marshall439550
Etowah428551
Houston417034
Morgan416435
DeKalb342629
Elmore320853
St. Clair295542
Limestone287230
Walker279492
Talladega266435
Cullman248024
Lauderdale229442
Jackson215915
Autauga205931
Franklin205531
Colbert202132
Russell19493
Blount193225
Chilton188432
Dallas186627
Coffee177111
Dale176351
Covington174729
Escambia172730
Clarke135217
Chambers135044
Pike134113
Tallapoosa132987
Marion108129
Barbour10339
Marengo101922
Butler101140
Winston92913
Geneva9067
Lawrence85832
Pickens85218
Bibb84014
Randolph82716
Hale76830
Washington74912
Clay74412
Cherokee73814
Henry7176
Lowndes71328
Bullock64917
Monroe64610
Crenshaw60830
Perry5926
Fayette57713
Cleburne5698
Wilcox56812
Conecuh56113
Macon53620
Lamar4965
Sumter47221
Choctaw39212
Greene34216
Coosa2043
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Overcast
68° wxIcon
Hi: 67° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 68°
Columbus
Scattered Clouds
72° wxIcon
Hi: 73° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 72°
Oxford
Overcast
61° wxIcon
Hi: 63° Lo: 50°
Feels Like: 61°
Starkville
Overcast
64° wxIcon
Hi: 69° Lo: 52°
Feels Like: 64°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather