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VIBERT: The relentless drumbeat of Fear

Jim Vibert
Jim Vibert - SaltWire Network

The individual incidents aren’t alarming. Unsettling, certainly, but separately they are by now unsurprising, even expected. It’s the relentless drumbeat of impetuous, erratic behaviour, much of it with dire global implications, that brings home the title of Bob Woodward’s book, Fear - Trump in the White House.

Fear stares into a place where the faint of heart shouldn’t look, but everyone should know about – the rarely or barely controlled mayhem of Donald Trump’s administration and the peril it casts across the world.

Fear is both the title and, at some point during the protracted inventory of Trump’s fantasy-inspired, manic decision-making, the primal response evoked by the Washington Post editor and Pulitzer Prize winning reporter’s dispassionate examination of President Donald Trump, a man Woodward’s reporting confirms is wholly unsuited for the office he holds.

Woodward has authored 18 books, and is best known for reporting, with Carl Bernstein, the Watergate scandal that pushed the Nixon presidency to the abyss. 

This latest presidential account would have a similar effect if it found what seems to no longer exist – an audience of objective, clear-headed Americans in the majority across the land or in Congress, who are prepared to act in the national and international best interest.

But, Woodward’s reporting of the chaos inside the Trump White House will likely fall into place beside a long list of other books that sounded the alarm too many Americans refuse to hear.

It shouldn’t. This book is different from the rest of the long catalogue of Trumpian tomes and tell-alls in its attention to detail, the absence of an agenda beyond relating the facts as Woodward uncovered them, and the chilling but inescapable conclusion that the world is patently unsafe for the duration of the Trump Presidency.

It’s no surprise that Americans elected a chief executive with no understanding of how government works, or of the appropriate use of the powers of the American President. 

Nor is it a surprise that Trump has no patience for the mountain of detail prepared daily to help guide the decisions and policy of his administration.

But, his almost whimsical dismissal of evidence in favour of his fatally-flawed instincts and deep-seated prejudices threatens – with lethal regularity – the economy and the peace far beyond the United States.

Woodward recounts in detail too rich to dismiss as “fiction” – the label the Trump administration has chosen for this book – that Trump is determined to exact full payment from South Korea for America’s military presence on the peninsula or, failing that, he would remove that presence.

The efforts of his military advisors to educate him to the vital mission there fails to penetrate Trump’s belief that America’s allies are robbing it for their protection and economic gain.

America’s presence in South Korea allows it to detect and lock-on to a ballistic missile aimed at America seven seconds after it is fired from North Korea. With that capability gone, the next nearest missile defence is Alaska which won’t detect the missile until it is half-way through its 38-minute flight to the American mainland. The difference between the two is probable success in averting a direct nuclear hit on an American city or almost certain failure.

But Trump only sees American dollars spent on defences outside the United States. The value of the installation in terms of America’s national security is somehow lost on him.

It is that insular myopia that jeopardizes the global architecture that brought security, stability and prosperity to much of the planet since the Second World War. Trump neither understands that edifice nor its benefit to America, in the only terms he cares about – dollars and cents.

Woodward effectively dispels the theory that Trump knowingly panders to his base support by trading in their favoured fantasies and conspiracies. The President isn’t playing to the misinformed crowd. He leads it and shares its broad delusions.

And, in those frequent circumstances when he is confronted with facts contrary to his self-interest, the 45th President of the United States simply lies to obscure or attempt to alter the facts. That pathological lying may be his ultimate undoing and is the greatest fear of his lawyers, should he testify before Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump organizations’ labyrinthine dealings with Russia.

The title for Woodward’s book is drawn from Trump’s own definition of power. “Real power,” he says, “is fear.”  As long as Trump occupies the White House, Americans and America’s allies worldwide have much to fear, whether they know it or not.

Jim Vibert, a journalist and writer for longer than he cares to admit, consulted or worked for five Nova Scotia governments. He now keeps a close and critical eye on provincial and regional powers.

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