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Fear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward

Published in September of 2018.

Some books get so much press coverage that reading them seems redundant. Why invest hours in reading a book if you can just get the highlights?

Other books seem to be about things that we pretty much already know. We ask ourselves if we are going to learn something new by taking the time to invest in a book-length treatment.

In the case of Bob Woodward's new book Fear: Trump in the White House, I urge you to set aside both concerns. Yes, there has been lots of press coverage of Fear. But after reading the book, I suspect that at least some of those stories were written by people who did not. There is much more in this book than in most of the reporting about the book.

Most of us probably think we have Trump's number. That there is little need to fill in the details of the slow-motion car crash that is the Trump presidency.

Read the book. Much might surprise you.

Surprise #1 - Trump Does Not Come Across as Crazy:

Most of the reporting about Fear has been about how the book makes Trump look bad. I'm not so sure that it does. Mostly, president Trump comes across as trying to do precisely what he said he would do as candidate Trump.

Trump said that he would get the US out of international organizations and trade deals. Much of the action of Fear chronicles Trump's efforts to get the US out of environmental, trade, and security deals. On some he is successful, and some time will tell.

Yes, Trump comes across as mercurial, hot-tempered, incurious, and ill-informed. In Woodward's telling, he also is someone who will make decisions and challenge the conventional wisdom. His ideas may be disconnected from history and logic, but he has ideas.

Surprise #2 - Trump Really Doesn't Understand Economics:

Woodward does an excellent job of delving into the relationship between Trump and his first Director of the National Economic Council, Gary Cohn. Through the dynamics of this relationship, we learn about Trump's ideas about trade and the degree that those ideas will end up hurting Trump's base. Woodward lets Cohn make the economic case for free trade. This argument is eventually lost, and Cohn leaves.

Of all the disturbing aspects of this presidency, Trump's utter lack of understanding of basics economics is perhaps the most frightening. He does not seem to understand the negative impact that tariffs will have on employment and prices.

Surprise #3 - Most of Trump's Advisors Come Across as Sympathetic, Dedicated, and Devoted to the Country:

Fear makes working for Trump seem like the worst possible job that anyone could have. A job that you would not wish on your worst enemy. Trump continually loses his temper and belittles those around him. If you believe Woodward's reporting, and I do, the reason that many remain is that they are genuinely trying to do what is best for the country.

Surprise #4 - Trump Is Likely to Survive Mueller:

Anyone who thinks that Trump is likely to be impeached should read Fear. Let us know if you still believe that will happen after finishing the book. If Trump listens to his lawyers - I know a big if - then he should escape the Mueller special counsel investigation relatively unscathed.

Surprise #5 - Trump May Be Stronger Than Many Imagine in 2020:

My final surprise from reading Fear was that I came away more worried, not less, about 2020. Trump benefits from the economic inequality and concentration of wealth that his policies promote. The more he does to damage the economic isolation of non-college educators works, the more his brand of politics appeals.

The danger is that Trump truly believes that his policies will benefit working Americans. He is very good at connecting with those who feel left out by the knowledge economy. That connection with his base will not be easily broken.

What are you reading?

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