book reviews, politicians, politics, Trump

Reviewing Bob Woodward’s Fear: Trump in the White House…

I finally got around to reading Washington Post reporter, Bob Woodward’s 2018 book, Fear: Trump in the White House, even though I bought the book when it was first published. I still have a bunch of other books about former U.S. president Donald Trump that I haven’t gotten around to reading yet. I have a bad habit of buying books and letting them stack up, sometimes waiting to be read for years. But I also find reading about Donald Trump particularly difficult, mainly because I find him disturbing and depressing to read about, even if he is also kind of fascinating. I mean, it saddens me that so many people think he’s so great, but it also fascinates me that people don’t see what I can see so plainly.

This morning, after a concerted effort, I finished reading Fear, and I have Woodward’s follow up book, Rage, waiting to be read. I think I finally read Fear because there has been so much press about Woodward’s more recent book, Peril, which was published last month and is about the transition of Trump’s administration to Biden’s. I haven’t purchased Peril yet, but the reviews made it sound like a compelling read. I figured I should read the previous books before I get to that one. I did start reading a new book this morning, but it’s not about politics. I need to take a break after reading Fear. I guess the title was appropriately chosen.

So… on with my review…

Bob Woodward is an award willing journalist and associate editor who has worked for The Washington Post for 50 years. So far, he’s written at least 20 books that have been national bestsellers, and he’s shared in two Pulitzer Prizes. The man has quite an impressive pedigree as an author, as fourteen of his books have been on The New York Times bestseller list. Having just read Fear, I can attest to Woodward’s ability to write. Fear was easy to read and understand, and I never found myself skimming, as I did when I read John Bolton’s book, The Room Where it Happened. Bolton came off as kind of pompous, writing for himself and, more pointedly, his ego. Woodward, on the other hand, writes for his readers. That’s the kind of writing that is a pleasure for me to read.

Fear tackles the beginning of the Trump era. It’s mainly about Trump’s staff, and the lengths they went to try to “handle” him– harnessing the tremendous power Trump suddenly and surprisingly got when he was elected president. Woodward explains how staff members were chosen to work with Trump, as well as the difficulties Trump’s staff faced as they tried to deal with Trump’s overwhelming personality. Many of the people who worked in Trump’s White House were experienced professionals, particularly within the military. On the other some staffers were people who got jobs because of how they looked, or because they were friends of Trump’s… or because they were his relatives.

Steve Bannon gets a lot of coverage in this book, although Woodward was probably kinder to Bannon than he should have been. I always got the sense that Steve Bannon was a bit of a manipulative snake, but Woodward makes him seem more professional than he ever appeared to me in this news.

In straightforward, clear prose, Woodward uses his investigative journalist skills to uncover Trump’s early days in power. Woodward clearly tried to be impartial and often gives Trump more credit than he probably deserves. I can appreciate the attempt at trying to be fair and impartial, especially given the fact that Trump is the most polarizing president I have seen in my lifetime. It could not have been easy for Woodward to maintain such decorum.

I think Fear is a well-written and researched book, and I learned new things by reading it. However, I agree with some of the reviewers who mention that there’s nothing particularly “earth shattering” or deliciously juicy about Fear. The trouble is, Trump was so heavily covered in the press that a lot of what’s in Woodward’s book, while easy to read and digest, is stuff that was already in the news.

I probably waited too long to read Fear. If I had read it when it was first published, I might have gotten a lot more from it. I might enjoy Peril more, simply because it covers the end (hopefully) of Trump’s political career, when things really got weird. But, as I mentioned earlier in this review, I felt like I should read the first book of Woodward’s highly touted trilogy. I did learn some new things, and there were some entertaining passages about some of the interactions Trump had with some of his staff. I particularly enjoyed reading about Trump’s long suffering lawyers, who did their best to get Trump to take their advice rather than simply acting on impulse. Many of Trump’s staffers were the “adults in the room”, but they could never seem to get him to settle down and get to work. Most of them were always “putting out fires” and dealing with Trump’s tantrums.

Anyway, according to Amazon, most people thought this was a good book. Some people thought it sucked. I didn’t think Fear: Trump in the White House was bad at all, but it could have been better. I did feel like the end of the book was a bit abrupt. I was reading about Trump’s lawyer, John Dowd, deciding to resign from Trump’s service. Then, suddenly, the book ended, and I was knee deep in footnotes and sources. I do think Fear is a good reference for those who want to read more about Trump. There’s plenty of associated reading to be explored.

I think if I were giving this a rating between one and five stars, I’d give it a 3.5. I found it easy to read and mostly interesting, but I wasn’t too shocked or surprised by much of what I read. If I had read this in 2018, I probably would have had a slightly more favorable reaction to Fear: Trump in the White House. But in September 2018, I was about to move and had a lot of other stuff going on… and frankly, I remember not being able to bring myself to read a book about Trump, because I found him rather terrifying. I still do, to be honest.

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book reviews, politics

Grateful to have left “The Room Where it Happened” by John Bolton…

In about three weeks, Donald Trump will (hopefully) leave the White House, and Washington, DC, for good. I also hope that will mean fewer political posts on my blog, since political posts invite commentary that I often find irritating. I don’t enjoy being annoyed, and yet I can’t help but opine about Trump’s egregious abuse of power. That means my posts get read by his supporters, who feel compelled to “set me straight” about my opinions.

I have felt compelled to write about Mr. Trump, probably because Bill and I have had some unfortunate and extensive dealings with much lower level narcissists. We’ve learned a lot from being exposed to narcissists, and that makes us able to spot them quite easily. Donald Trump is the Grand Poobah of narcissists, so I find his behavior very triggering. When I get triggered, I want to write. But, to tell you all the truth, I don’t actually find politics or politicians that interesting, except when they are engaged in specific topics for which I have an interest. And usually, it’s only the topics I care about, not the politician. Trump is different, though, because he’s a walking billboard for narcissistic personality disorder. It distresses me that so many people still don’t see him for what he is and don’t realize the damage he’s done– and NOT because he’s supposedly a Republican (not really), but because he’s a vile, self-obsessed, money grubbing, maniacal asshole who has been enabled by people like John Bolton, one of Trump’s many ex flunkies turned author.

I expect I will still occasionally write about politics once the orange walrus has waddled off into the sunset, but I hope it won’t be as often. And I hope I will write about a wider variety of people rather than just Trump. I am truly troubled by the number of people who continue to support Trump. But, after reading John Bolton’s book, The Room Where it Happened, I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised. If someone like John Bolton can be taken in by Donald Trump, I suppose anyone can.

Who is John Bolton, you ask?

I know I would ask that question, in any other presidential administration. And mustachioed John Bolton has worked in a few of them. Wikipedia says he’s an “attorney, diplomat, Republican consultant and political commentator who served as the 25th United States Ambassador to the United Nations from 2005 to 2006 and as the 27th United States National Security Advisor from 2018 to 2019.” Bolton truly has an impressive resume, having been educated at Yale University and spent his working life rubbing elbows with Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and yes, Trump. Bolton is also a military veteran, having served a total of six years in the Army, Army Reserve, and the Maryland Army National Guard. He’s been a Republican heavy hitter since the early 1980s. If you read my post yesterday, you know how very long ago that was. 😉

When Mr. Bolton’s book was first published last June, I initially resisted downloading it. I still have several Trump related books to read and, again, I’m not actually that interested in the nuts and bolts of politics. I think I changed my mind after I read Michael Cohen’s book about being Trump’s lawyer. I thought Cohen’s book was rather illuminating and kind of tragic in some ways. I thought maybe Bolton’s book would be similar, with juicy, yet readable, stories about what it’s like to work with Trump as U.S. President. Well, I’m here to tell you, it wasn’t.

I finally finished Bolton’s book late last night. I’ve been chipping away at it for weeks. And, I have to say, I don’t feel I came away with much new knowledge after plowing through all 578 pages of The Room Where It Happened. John Bolton comes off as overly impressed with himself, unrelatable, and pompous. I’m sure he’s very competent as an attorney and political advisor. He’s clearly an intelligent man. But he does not have a gift for writing. There is not much engaging about his book. Reading it, for me, was like sitting through a very long-winded lecture while I also had an urgent need to pee. I was quite “antsy” to finish it. I’m glad I finally did.

There were a couple of times when I thought about abandoning my efforts to read Bolton’s lengthy tome; it was so dry. But I like to finish what I start, especially when it comes to books. If there is one thing I learned when I used to write book reviews for Epinions.com, it’s that it’s not really fair to review a book I haven’t read… and not finishing a book is akin to not reading it. However, I’m not going to sugar coat it, folks. This was rough going for me. Parts of this book were about as interesting as watching flies fuck.

The Room Where it Happened: A White House Memoir promises scathing details and damning evidence of Donald Trump’s corruption as “45”. And maybe, somewhere buried in the many pages of complex and clumsily constructed text, there’s an exciting tale to be told. Alas, this book was not well-edited, so it’s easy to get knocked off course by minutiae and random asides. I found it a frustrating experience trying to read Bolton’s complicated accounts of what supposedly went on while he was serving as Trump’s security advisor. Nothing was particularly exciting about this book, and every time I sat down to read more of it, I felt like a masochist.

So what did I learn from reading The Room Where it Happened? Not that much, actually. The most interesting part of this book, for me, is probably the title, which was reportedly “borrowed” from the popular musical, Hamilton. Bolton mostly writes about his work with an air of being “above” the job.

One thing I have observed, though, is that Washington, DC is full of narcissists who are convinced that they can reform the biggest narcissist of all, Donald Trump. Think about it. It takes a special kind of arrogance for someone to look at a guy like Trump– who might as well have a flashing neon sign over his head with the word “narcissist” on it– and think that he can be reformed or guided in any way. Even though I know, just by the sheer number of YouTube channels and self-help books out there about narcissistic personality disorder, that many people have narcissists in their lives, it seems that a lot of folks still haven’t been clued in by what Trump is and what that means.

Even after four years of watching this very selfish man do everything in his power to destroy democracy and use his time as POTUS as a way to line his pockets and reward his cronies, rather than serve the people, many folks still champion him and think he’s the only one who can “save America”. Well, my friends, that is utter bullshit. In fact, there’s a whole slew of people who can do a better job at making America a better place, simply because they have a conscience, a functioning brain, and a heart.

Another thing I’ve learned, which was reinforced by reading Bolton’s book, is that you can be very intelligent, experienced, politically savvy, and highly accomplished, and still be suckered by someone like Trump. John Bolton, like other Trump flunkies, thought he could advise Donald Trump. He was mistaken. Trump doesn’t answer to anyone but himself. The only way to survive working with him is to agree with everything he says and does and kiss his ass, even as you helplessly watch him destroy everything. He fires or forces to resign anyone who isn’t willing to pucker up for him. Once he’s done using a person, they will be discarded. This is what ALL narcissists do to some extent, although some narcissists are more narcissistic than others are. I suspect John Bolton has a healthy level of narcissism himself. Many politicians do, due to the nature of their work. But he wasn’t a match for Trump. No one in Trump’s administration has been.

I think Bolton would like to think he made a difference, hence his decision to write this book… which shows a frank lack of consideration to his readers. He could have easily shaved at least 100 pages from this volume, which would have spared his readers some time and saved a few trees (for those reading the print version). He could have enlisted the help of a talented writer and/or an editor, to make his story more concise and engaging. Instead, he decided to take us into “the room where it happened” all by himself. Once again, he’s grossly overestimated his abilities, but at least he does give us a few interesting photos at the end of the book.

It was a colossal chore to read The Room Where it Happened, but great God almighty, I’m free at last. And now, I feel like the world’s most disastrous dinner date has finally ended. I suspect I’ll feel similarly on January 20th, 2021.

John Bolton talks about his thick skin.
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music, musings, silliness

The dark days of winter…

I decided to take a “mental health day” yesterday. It was cold and rainy, and I just didn’t feel like doing much of anything. I spent a few minutes fiddling with my guitar, but didn’t do any lessons.

I watched two mindless made for TV movies from the 1990s– Saved By The Bell Hawaiian Style and Saved By The Bell Wedding in Vegas. I had seen both films before and didn’t really like either of them, but since I’ve been hearing so much about the Saved By The Bell reboot on Peacock, I decided I should have the complete set from the original series. I never actually watched that show when it was current, as I was a bit old for it during its original run. I got hooked on it in college, thanks to some of my male friends who thought Tiffani Thiessen was “hot”. I can’t watch Peacock unless I use a VPN, but I’m sure it will eventually be made available. What can I say? I like lowbrow television shows.

One thing I noticed as I watched both crappy movies is that most sitcoms probably shouldn’t be turned into movies. The Saved By The Bell movies were especially bad. When you’re watching a show that is filmed on a soundstage and has a laugh track, it’s easy to suspend disbelief and just go along with the goofy shit. Dustin Diamond’s “Screech” dorkiness was especially irritating when presented on location. His schtick really needs a laugh track because he’s not actually very funny. Without it, he just looks asinine, and not in a funny way. But then, I suppose that would be true for almost everyone on that show.

I also didn’t feel much like writing yesterday. There was nothing on my mind that was earth shattering enough to sit down and write. I thought that if I started writing something, it would be more of the same shit I’ve been writing for the past year. So I took a day off, and tried to wade through my latest book project, John Bolton’s The Room Where It Happened. I used to be able to breeze through books with ease, but it’s not so easy now that I’m older, especially when I’m not enjoying the reading material.

Bolton is a bit impressed with himself and I don’t find his writing that compelling. Consequently, although I’ve been reading for a couple of weeks, I’m only about 20% in… and I’m doing a lot of skimming. I confess that I’m also pretty tired of Donald Trump as a whole, and this may be the last book I read about him and his presidency for awhile. I am determined to finish it, though, because I don’t like to quit books I’ve started reading, even if they’re not good. I’ve only done that a few times in my life, and I often feel a tinge of regret whenever I do. Or, at least I’ve only done that with books I’ve had to read voluntarily… books for school are another matter. 😉

This morning, I had higher hopes for productivity, but I slept a bit later than usual. I am usually up at 5:30am, thanks to Bill, who is a chronic early bird and always wakes me up. Today, I slept until 6:20, which felt really late to me. I got up and cleaned the bathrooms, then had coffee and an egg. Since my mouse needed to recharge, I decided to change the strings on my Fender acoustic guitar. It’s probably been a couple of months since I last changed them, so they were definitely due. I play almost every day, though not for long periods of time.

Anyway, I managed to change string #6. String #5 ended up breaking just when it was at about the right pitch. I have extra strings for all of the other strings except #5. So I put that guitar aside and ordered two packs of new steel strings. Then I played with my classical guitar with nylon strings, which I don’t mess with as often. I need to change the strings on that guitar, too, but like I said, I rarely play it, and changing the strings is a pain in the ass.

After a few minutes spent fumbling with my classical guitar, I took the dogs for a walk. There was a guy out there with a leaf blower, which was freaking out Noyzi, so we went a different route. It was uneventful and the dogs were glad to get their stroll, since they didn’t get one yesterday.

Bill is teleworking this morning, but has to go into the office this afternoon. I decided the dogs would get their walk early so I would be home to collect all of the packages I’m expecting today, to include another guitar that I bought myself for Christmas. It’s a very expensive one, and I probably shouldn’t be fooling with it yet, but I couldn’t resist. And since we can’t travel, I had money to defray the big credit card charge. So I ordered myself a Fender Acoustasonic, only I didn’t go for the basic one… I bought one made with exotic wood, which supposedly is pretty hardcore and not expected to appeal to people like me.

I think the pandemic is getting to me, but what the hell. You only live once, and I’m probably at the right age for a mid life crisis. The acoustasonic can be played with or without an amp– it can be used as an electric instrument or an acoustic one. It’s basically an electric guitar with a hollow inside, although if you want to play for others, it’s probably best to plug it in. Today’s featured photo is of the guitar I ordered.

Bill is getting me an amp for Christmas. He will probably buy a new electric guitar for himself before too long. Last night, he showed me the one he wanted. It costs less than half of the one I just bought. Then he showed me one that was half of the price of the one he wants, which he says would be better for him because he’s not a good player yet. I laughed and told him he should just get the guitar he wants, as long as he can afford it. He’s 56 years old and has spent many years being deprived of the good things… and like I said, I am in support of indulging the good old fashioned mid life crisis, just as long as it doesn’t involve any sexually transmitted infections. I figure he could buy the cheaper guitar, but chances are good that he’d rather have the one he’s got his eye on and will eventually pull the trigger anyway. I did advise him to wait a bit, though, because he’s not been able to practice as much as I do and should probably gain a little bit more basic skill. But yeah– what matters most is wanting to play, and if a 1500 euro guitar speaks to him, who am I to disagree that he should have it?

I’m hoping the new guitar will give me something to focus on besides the news, particularly politics and COVID-19. I definitely need more practice in any case.

I’m also expecting about twelve bottles of wine to show up today. So it should be a fun afternoon, even if the morning got off on a bad note. Maybe tomorrow, I’ll be ready to write something more compelling than this.

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