GELFAND’S WORLD--Besides the usual finding that Donald Trump lies the way other people breathe, the new Woodward book underscores one other issue with Trump’s personality, something that we might have been focusing on from the beginning.
Here is a citation from one of the Washington Post stories that just came out:
“For this latest book, Trump encouraged others to speak with Woodward and would often mention the journalist in conversations with other advisers, suggesting that he might call him again. Some of the conversations between the two men, a White House official said, were precipitated by Trump — who thought Woodward was more receptive to a favorable narrative about his presidency.”
So why did Trump push for direct conversations with a reporter who has been known since the days of Watergate for dishing the dirt on sitting presidents? If you read through the Post story cited above, you will discover one other thing. When Woodward came out with an anti-Trump book a year ago (Fear, Trump in the White House), Trump was angry, but not for the standard reasons that the rest of us would have been:
“Trump advisers said that the president reacted with fury after Woodward’s last book, blaming former counselor Kellyanne Conway and other advisers for not bringing Woodward in for interviews.”
In other words, Trump actually thought that he would get a better deal if he spoke to Woodward directly.
It’s analogous to the way Trump thinks about his relationship with the North Korean dictator, or Vladimir Putin, or any number of other dictators and world leaders. Trump always claims that he has a great relationship.
We have a president who believes that all he has to do is look somebody in the eye, turn on the charm, and that’s all it will take to win the day, seal the deal, and make his place in history. There are lots of terms that go towards describing this condition. Perhaps the simplest is egotistical. Others like to refer to Trump’s narcissism. Whatever the proper word, Trump’s mind works differently from yours or mine – he really seems to think that he has the power to persuade people as if he were some character from a comic book. He thinks he has the power to cloud men’s minds.
What’s been missing from Trump’s direct diplomacy with the dictators of the world (and with our allies) is that he doesn’t seem to notice that it doesn’t work. He goes blithely onward, always imagining that he will pull the rabbit out of the next hat.
I suspect that most presidents, if once burned by a Bob Woodward book, would simply keep their distance and hope the guy finds something else to write about next time. Trump, on the other hand, is self-deluded enough to have total faith in his personal persuasive abilities. So he bugged the staff to get Woodward into the presidential inner circle. The result isn’t a surprise to the rest of us, but it seems to have taken Trump a while to figure out that this book isn’t going to get him reelected.
Last year’s Woodward book was titled “Fear.” This time it’s “Rage.” That previous title should have been a pretty good hint at Woodward’s working style. But Trump bought into the interview series (and even allowed the taping) because he thought he would do better if only he could turn his magnificent personality on this mere reporter.
Everything Trump says is bragging
And I do mean everything. When Trump told Woodward early in February that the corona virus was really dangerous, it was typical Trump talk. Listen to the tape (all over the internet) and hear the tone of voice. It’s the one Trump uses when he wants to impress you with the fact that he is privy to big important secrets. Note that the real content isn’t so much the character of the virus, but the fact that Trump is important. He gets to know things that other people don’t. The way he lets you know he holds those big important secrets is to give them away. That isn’t the mind of a good poker player. It’s the mind of a superficial braggart.
Trump’s predilection for talking out of school is nothing new. He inadvertently gave away an important military secret when he tweeted a photo taken by one of our surveillance satellites. This error is indicative of another of Trump’s weaknesses: He never thought to wonder whether releasing a top secret photo to the world had any other implications besides the fact that we had it. The fact that the photo by itself allows somebody with knowledge of optics to reverse-engineer the specifications of our military satellites is something that might not be obvious even to a competent president, but it is the sort of thing that competent staff would have been able to understand, and a competent president would have asked and been warned.
The story of the satellite photo reconfirms that Trump isn’t very smart and certainly isn’t very curious, and he must be wandering around in an intellectual fog when it comes to many of the more complex issues.
But Trump needs to brag, hence the satellite photo story and then the Feb 7 discussion with Bob Woodward. A more thoughtful (and smart) president would have understood that revealing the corona virus story to a Washington Post reporter had ramifications. An honest president might very well have told Woodward the story, but would have behaved differently than Trump afterwards.
Because what did Trump then do? As one of my colleagues points out, Trump then went on the campaign trail and referred to the whole Covid-19 story as overplayed, and as a Democratic Party hoax.
There’s that other favorite Trump word: hoax.
Just like “fake news.”
What’s slightly interesting about this story is that it should be a firestorm but instead it’s just revelation 997 about Trump’s character, lack of insight, and basically dishonest nature.
Some pundits and columnists are jumping feet first into the argument that here, finally, Trump has admitted openly that he lied to the American people about the level of risk associated with Covid-19. They should have known better. Trump obviously got together with his advisers and cooked up the pathetic excuse that he didn’t want to incite a panic. That in itself would be a confession of lack of leadership ability, were Trump the sort who could think things through to that level.
The one likely outcome of this latest “bombshell” is that Trump is on the defensive for a few days, and is likely to face at least one question in the upcoming presidential debates going to his admission.
One final word. The editor of CityWatch pointed out to me that Jimmy Carter halted his campaigning in response to the Iranian hostage crisis. Here was a president who put the welfare of his countrymen above his political aspirations in a time of crisis. What a concept.
(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)