Review of “The Divider: Trump in the White House, 2017-2021” by Peter Baker and Susan Glasser

The authors set out to document, as they put it, “the inexorable culmination of a sustained four-year war on the institutions and traditions of American democracy.”

Of Donald Trump, they write:

He did not know that Puerto Rico was part of the United States, did not know whether Colombia was in North America or South America, thought Finland was part of Russia, and mixed up the Baltics with the Balkans.  He got confused about how World War I started, did not understand the basics of America’s vast nuclear arsenal, did not grasp the concept of constitutional separation of powers, did not understand how courts worked.  ‘How do I declare war?’ He asked at one point, to the alarm of his staff, who realized he was unaware that the Constitution prescribes that role for Congress.  He seemed genuinely surprised to learn that Abraham Lincoln had been a member of the Republican Party.  ‘He knew nothing about most things,’ observed one top aid.  Advisers soon realized they had to tutor him on the basics of how government worked.”

…and yet, he became the 45th President of the United States!

As President, he was always concerned more about appearance than substance.  He loved the trappings of office, and never passed up a good photo-op. He made many appointments to key positions based on how well the candidate would look on television rather than on their qualifications.  He even spent “exhaustive amounts of time each morning combing and twisting the long strands of his awkwardly colored hair.”

Watching television took up an inordinate amount of Trump’s time.  He passed many hours watching his favorite network, Fox, and often made decisions based on how they would play with his ratings.  Although his family and friends had relatively easy access to him, key members of his administration frequently had trouble gaining his attention.  Newt Gingrich even said “The two most effective ways of communicating with Trump are ‘Fox and Friends’ and ‘Hannity.’”

But television wasn’t the only media outlet he wanted to dominate. He used Twitter as an outlet for outrage and a means for self-praise, and “fact-checking was never part of the process.”

His foreign policy, if he can be said to have had one, revolved around his “conviction that the country had been taken for a ride by foreign allies and adversaries alike.” Everything was about transactions with Trump, and all transactions were about “winning,” which to Trump generally meant getting money or favors. He alienated traditional allies and courted enemies and adversaries.

He sought constant adulation and was much more interested in appearing in rallies than in governing.  He surrounded himself with sycophants and yes-men, and fired aides who dared to challenge his whims.  He turned most conversations into some way of bragging and exaggerating about his supposed “accomplishments.” He lied constantly: the Washington Post fact checker counted 30,573 false or misleading public statements he made while president!

Baker and Glasser follow Trump’s chaotic presidency in carefully researched detail from his false claims of the biggest inauguration crowd in history to his aborted effort to overturn his loss in the 2020 presidential election. It was, in their words:

. . . an unimaginable period in our history when the United States had a leader for the first time who neither knew nor subscribed to many of the fundamental tenets of the Constitution and even actively worked to undermine them.”

Evaluation: This book is an excellent, almost day by day, summary of the Trump presidency.  Every chapter outlines reasons for enlightened citizens who love the United States to be angry.

Rating: 5/5

Published by Doubleday, 2022

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One Response

  1. “He did not know that Puerto Rico was part of the United States, did not know whether Colombia was in North America or South America, thought Finland was part of Russia, and mixed up the Baltics with the Balkans. He got confused about how World War I started, did not understand the basics of America’s vast nuclear arsenal, did not grasp the concept of constitutional separation of powers, did not understand how courts worked. ‘How do I declare war?’ He asked at one point, to the alarm of his staff, who realized he was unaware that the Constitution prescribes that role for Congress. He seemed genuinely surprised to learn that Abraham Lincoln had been a member of the Republican Party. ‘He knew nothing about most things,’ observed one top aid. Advisers soon realized they had to tutor him on the basics of how government worked.”

    I dare say that same lack of knowledge is probably shared by a frightening number of Americans.

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