• Ben Henschel

FEAR: key point analysis and takeaway

Updated: Jan 11

When I picked this book up, I knew what I wanted to read — or rather, what I thought I'd most likely read. I wasn't searching for more anti-Trump material, or bashful opinions, or another reason why I should dislike the president. I wanted facts, facts that I didn't see in headlines.


I wanted anecdotes and mannerisms and the reason why there are almost no Trump cabinet members still present that were there from the start. Fear was a great, self-given Christmas present that gave me almost everything that I wanted.


I'm not going to give a review. More qualified readers than myself have provided their opinions of the tell-all in abundance. I'm going to tell you what made me ear-fold somewhere around 75 pages. I did so every time Bob Woodward made me put the book down and think: holy sh*t, I thought stuff like this happened — but I never thought I'd hear about it.


Because that's what we're dealing with Donald J. Trump. You'd (or at least I would) assume he makes some awful or unimaginable moves as president, but reading them, or even repeating them out loud like I did, makes you question what the White House even represents anymore.



pg. 31.) "Trump issued a brief statement to the Post: 'This was locker-room banter, a private conversation that took place many years ago. Bill Clinton has said far worse to me on the golf course — not even close. I apologize if anyone was offended.'


Less than half an hour later, at 4:30 p.m., WikiLeaks capped the day's news by dumping thousands of emails hacked from Clinton Campaign chairman John Podesta's personal account online. They revealed excerpts of Hillary Clinton's paid speeches to Wall Street financiers, which she had refused to release, Podesta's emails with campaign staff and corespondence between the Clinton campaign and DNC chair Donna Brazile regarding questions and topics to be raised at upcoming debates and events."


I'd heard plenty about Access Hollywood, and I practically have Trump's locker room talk/slander with Billy Bush memorized. It was telling, to say the least, on his character.


What I failed to remember was what WikiLeaks did in wake of Trump's statement to the Washington Post. Coincidence? I didn't think so. Woodward lays out the events, and nothing more, though, imploring the reader to decide.


pg. 145.) "During a meeting in Priebus's corner office Bannon and Ivanka got into an altercation.


'You're a goddamn staffer!' Bannon finally screamed at Ivanka. 'You're nothing but a fucking staffer!' She had to work through the chief of staff like everyone else, he said. There needed to be some order. 'You walk around this place and act like you're in charge, and you're not. You're on staff!'


'I'm not a staffer!' she shouted. 'I'll never be a staffer. I'm the first daughter' — she really used the title — "and I'm never going to be a staffer!'


The rift widened.


Several takeaways here. You have Steve Bannon, ubiquitously-known hothead, facing off with Ivanka Trump, the forefront of Trump's strange and misplaced nepotism, and one that holds a widely regarded holier-than-thou demeanor.


The descriptions I had before reading this quote only strengthened after repeating it to myself. Bannon, the hothead, yelling at his boss's daughter — Ivanka, her role in government given to her by her father, responding with a strong and self-righteous sense of entitlement.


This was one of those moments in the book, and there were a lot, that gave concrete examples of the things you'd expect, but still tripped you up. I sat there thinking, what else is new? But I still couldn't believe it.


pg. 158.) "'I can stop this,' Cohn said to Porter. 'I'll just take the paper off his desk before I leave.' And he later took it. 'If he's going to sign it, he's going to need another piece of paper.'


'We'll slow-walk that one too," Porter promised.


Cohn knew, of course, that the president could easily order another copy, but if the paper was not sitting in front of him, he'd likely forget it. If it was out of sight, it was out of mind.


Porter agreed. Trump's memory needed a trigger — something on his desk or something he read in the newspaper or saw on television. Or Peter Navarro sneaking into the Oval Office again. Without something or someone activating him, it might be hours or days or even weeks before he would think, Wait, we're going to withdraw from that, why didn't we do that? Without a trigger, it conceivably might never happen."


This occurrence was what actually made me pick up the book at Barnes & Noble. The thought that the people around the president would simply take documents — documents that dealt directly with key national security and trade operations — off of his desk, which Trump would promptly forget about, was hitherto undreamt of for me. This just doesn't and shouldn't happen with U.S. presidents.


National Economic Council Chairman Gary Cohn and Staff Secretary Rob Porter were stopping a "180-day notification letter to be signed by Trump that the United States would withdraw from NAFTA." They'd both given countless presentations to the president about why ending NAFTA would be detrimental to national security and the overall economy — Woodward describes the meetings like the movie "Groundhog Day": they went the same way each time, and ended in Trump refusing the facts presented.


He stuck closely to one economist, Peter Navarro, only because he was the only person in the country with an established or respected reputation that agreed with Trump's "America first" policies. Navarro was soon shunned by the majority of Trump's more righteous cabinet members (those who stopped him from doing stupid things, essentially).


When you have a president that sticks to his gut on everything, no matter the obvious truth in front of him, it doesn't help to even have one economist on his side. Perhaps if Navarro didn't present himself to the government in the first place, Cohn and Porter's efforts would have come to complete fruition.


But Navarro persisted, and later was able to enact the "America first" agenda in legislation behind the entire cabinet's (including Chief of Staff John Kelly's) backs. In the meantime, hiding legislation papers would have to do.


pg. 175.) "Trump gave some private advice to a friend who had acknowledged some bad behavior toward women. Real power is fear. It's all about strength. Never show weakness. You've always got to be strong. Don't be bullied. There is no choice.


'You've got to deny, deny, deny and push back on these women,' he said. 'If you admit to anything and any culpability, then you're dead. That was a big mistake you made. You didn't come out guns blazing and just challenge them. You showed weakness. You've got to be strong. You've got to be aggressive. You've got to push back hard. You've got to deny anything that's said about you. Never admit.'"


This guy's sitting in the Oval Office right now. Look what you did, America. Well, not you, you voted Hillary Clinton in — I should say the Electoral College.


Regardless, this quote, like many in the book, makes me feel for any young boy or girl who aspire to government jobs one day, like I did. You shouldn't have to hold a man like this in high regard, and I'm not sure if I'd have the respect I do for U.S. government if I'd grown up with Mr. Trump in office.


This quote makes you question most of what Mr. Trump's said, what he's saying, and what he has yet to say — and I'll continue to reference it when people ask me why I'm not a supporter. You feel a bit sick, don't you?


pg. 208.) "Coming back from the G20 summit, Trump was editing an upcoming speech with Porter. Scribbling his thoughts in neat, clean penmanship, the president wrote, "TRADE IS BAD."


Though he never said it in a speech, he had finally found the summarizing phrase and truest expression of his protectionism, isolationism and fervent American nationalism."


This one makes me laugh a little. If I'd been given access his mind, even if only for a few minutes, the first thing I'd search for is his reasoning on "America first" trade policies.


If you don't know what that means, I'll translate: No trade with foreign countries if there's a deficit, it means we're being stolen from (economist consensus says this is blasphemous). We should buy our products, place tariffs on foreign countries to boost our economy (this would just raise prices, driving GDP downwards, allowing for even less economic success in the first place).


TRADE IS BAD (hopefully you get the gist by now).


pg. 234-235.) "Priebus had submitted his resignation the night before. He was fed up and knew he had lost his usefulness to Trump.


Trump wondered who would be a good replacement and said he had talked to John Kelly, the secretary of homeland security and retired Marine four-star general. What do you think of Kelly? Trump asked.


General Kelly would be great, Priebus said.


Trump agreed and said he thought Kelly would be just right, but said he had not offered Kelly the job.


Priebus was concerned about the optics of his departure. We can do it this weekend, he said, or we can do a press release. Or do it Monday. Whatever you wanted to do. 'I'm ready to do it how you want to do it.'


'Maybe we'll do it this weekend,' Trump said. What are you going to do?


Priebus hoped to rejoin his old law firm.


Trump gave him a big hug. 'We'll figure it out,' he said. 'You're the man.'


Air Force One landed. Priebus walked off down the ramp. Rain dotted his black SUV, where Stephen Miller and Dan Scavino were waiting for him. He felt as good about the situation as possible.


He got an alert for a presidential tweet. He looked down at the latest from @realdonaldtrump: 'I am pleased to inform you that I have just named General/Secretary John F Kelly as White House Chief of Staff. He is a Great American...'


'Unbelievable!' thought Priebus. 'Is this serious?'


He had just talked to Trump about waiting.


No one had expected Trump's tweet. When Miller and Scavino saw it, they hopped out of Priebus's SUV to get into another car, leaving the former chief of staff alone.


As he shut the car door, Priebus wondered if maybe Trump had drafted a tweet and sent it accidentally. No, that had not happened. The conversation in the cabin was just one more lie."


Whew, thanks for bearing with me through that long quote. But what the hell, right? Not much more to be said, just another telling and depressing anecdote on the nature of the President of the United States.


By the end of the book, most of the departed members of the presidential staff concluded on one thing: Donald J. Trump is a "professional liar."


pg. 244. Note — the following comes in wake of Trump's widely celebrated statement condemning racist groups directly, instead of saying it came from "both sides" after the Charlottesville disaster.)

"The suggestion that he had admitted doing wrong and was unsteady infuriated the president. 'That was the biggest fucking mistake I've made,' the president told Porter. 'You never make those concessions. You never apologize. I didn't do anything wrong in the first place. Why look weak?'


Though Porter had not written the original draft, he had spent almost four hours editing it with Trump, providing the accommodating language. But strangely Trump did not direct his rage at Porter. 'I can't believe I got forced to do that,' Trump said, apparently still not blaming Porter but venting directly to him. 'That's the worst speech I've ever given. I'm never going to do anything like that again.' He continued to stew about what he had said and how it was a huge mistake."


This one gives me that sickening feeling. You know, the one you get when you read something so disgusting about a person that it makes you want to get violent (by violent, I mean hit the pillow next to you).


The speech he gave that he hated so much was the best one he gave in his entire presidency — to me, and to many others like Gary Cohn, with even the likes of Fox correspondent Kevin Corke saying, 'Some 48 hours into the biggest domestic challenge of his young presidency, Mr. Trump has made a course correction.'


Too bad he's too stubborn, and obviously bigoted, to notice.


pg. 246.) "He reverted to his earlier argument: 'There is blame on both sides...you also had people that were very fine people on both sides. You had a lot of bad people in the other group too...there are two sides to a story.'


David Duke, the well-known former Ku Klux Klan leader, tweeted, 'Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville.'"


Sick feeling again. But I'm not surprised, and I remembered this one.


Just a few days after condemning the hateful racists involved in Charlottesville, he claims there were problems on both sides. I love what Woodward includes later, from a Stephen Colbert bit.


"It's just like D-Day. Remember D-Day, two sides, Allies and the Nazis? There was a lot of violence on both sides. Ruined a beautiful beach. And it could have been a golf course."


We're dealing with a very special case in this president.


pg. 265.) "Four days later, on September 5, Cohn, Porter and the others went to the Oval Office. Trump had in his hands a draft letter giving notice of the required 180 days that the United States was withdrawing from KORUS. Porter had not written it and he was never sure who had, probably Navarro or Ross, but he never found out for sure.


'I've got a draft,' Trump said. 'We're going to withdraw from this. I just need to wordsmith this and we're going to get it on official stationery and send this off. We need to do it today.'


McMaster made the national security arguments. Cohn and Porter made the trade and economic arguments.


'Until I actually take some action to demonstrate my threats are real and need to be taken seriously,' Trump said, 'then we're going to have less leverage in these things.' He then left the Oval Office.


Now that the president had gone outside of the staff secretary process that Porter controlled to get a new draft letter, Cohn was really worried. He removed it from the president's desk."


Honestly, it's like they're baby-proofing the White House. Let's make sure we don't let the president hurt himself.


Problem is, it's not about hurting himself. Cohn and Porter both knew, undoubtedly, that if they didn't step up, it'd be the country that was left with a gash.


pg. 286.) "'I'm the only thing protecting the president from the press,' Kelly said at one meeting. 'The press is out to get him. They want to destroy him. And I'm determined to stand in the way, taking the bullets and taking the arrows. Everyone's out to get us.


'The press hates him. They hate us. They're never going to give us a break on anything. It's active hostilities. And so that's why we're taking all this incoming. They're also turning on me because I'm the one guy standing in front of the president trying to protect him.'


In a small group meeting in his office one day, Kelly said of the president, 'He's an idiot. It's pointless to try to convince him of anything. He's gone off the rails. We're in crazytown.


'I don't even know why any of us are here. This is the worst job I've ever had.'"


General John Kelly, the Chief of Staff for Trump after Reince Priebus's departure, left his office on Monday, Dec. 31. Keep in mind, he said this pretty early in his tenure.


This was most likely his stance on the president all the way up until he left the Oval Office — and that idea, that a president's chief of staff thought his president was an "idiot," seems strange and unprecedented and even ridiculous. That idea is probably all of those things, and Kelly brought this idea to life for the majority of his time in the White House.


pg. 290-291. Note — the following took place during Gary Cohn's development of his tax plan, which he was asked to complete before leaving the White House due to his many problems with President Trump.)

"Mnuchin, Cohn and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said there needed to be analysis, study and discussion on the impact on revenue, the deficit and the relation to expected federal spending.


'I want to know what the numbers are going to be,' Trump said, throwing out numbers again. 'I think they ought to be 10, 20 and 25.'


He dismissed any effort to crunch the numbers. A small change in rates could have a surprising impact on taxes collected by the U.S. Treasury.


'I don't care about any of that,' Trump said. Solid, round numbers were key. 'That's what people can understand,' he said. 'That's how I'm going to sell it.'


Ah, the art of the dealmaker at work.


It's a great example shown throughout the book of how Mr. Trump sides almost always with what sounds good, or what he knows is true — by what he knows, I mean what only he knows. It doesn't have to be backed up with any sort of justifiable fact, it just has to align with his gut.


What he knows is true, even if it isn't.


pg. 320. Note — the following took place in a meeting in which Senator Lindsey Graham delineated his deal that would allow for Trump's border wall money. )

"Graham began walking through the plan, which included the money Trump had asked for on border security.


It was not enough, Trump said, condescending.


Graham said he was sure they could do more but this was where they had started. And he mentioned 25,000 visas from mostly African countries. He turned to the visas for places such as Haiti and El Salvador because of earthquakes, famine and violence.


'Haitians,' Trump said. 'We don't need more Haitians.' At that and the mention of immigrants from African countries, Trump said, 'Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?' He had just met with the prime minster of Norway. Why not more Norwegians? Or Asians who could help the economy?


Durbin was sickened. Graham was floored.


'Time out,' Graham said, signaling for a halt with his hands. 'I don't like where this is going.' America is an ideal, he said. 'I want merit-based immigration from every corner of the globe, not just Europeans. A lot of us come from shitholes.'


I was sickened, floored, and threw my damn pillow this time instead of hitting it when I read this.


Say what you will about the economy, and whatever else you have to defend Mr. Trump's presidency — this man does not belong in a position of respect. Anywhere.


pg. 322.) "He then repeated one of his favorite stories, a rhyming poem about a woman who took in a snake.


On her way to work one morning, down the path along the

lake,

a tender-hearted woman saw a poor, half-hearted frozen snake.

His pretty colored skin had been all frosted with the dew.

"Poor thing," she cried. "I'll take you in. And I'll take care of you."

"take me in, oh tender woman," sighed the vicious snake.

She wrapped him up all cozy in a comforter of silk,

and laid him by her fireside with some honey and some milk.

She hurried home from work that night, and as soon as she arrived,

she found that pretty snake she had taken in had been revived...

She stroked his pretty skin again, and kissed and held him tight.

But instead of saying thank you, that snake gave her a vicious bite...

"I saved you," cried the woman. "And you've bitten me, heavens why?"

"You know your bite is poisonous and now I'm going to die."

"Oh, shut up, silly woman," said the reptile with a grin.

"You knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in."


'And that's what we're doing with our country, folks,' Trump said. 'We're letting people in. And it is going to be a lot of trouble. It is only getting worse.'


Trump had just approved a two-year spending bill for $8.6 trillion that had no money — not one red cent — for the wall.


This hurts to read.


Firstly, he uses a woman as a symbol of ignorance and stupidity (as he often does in the book), which immediately and swiftly strikes my respect level for him even lower than it currently is. Secondly, he likens immigrants, those of which may be (and likely are) even more valuable than, dare I say it, he is, to a vicious snake who would kill those who took him/her in for shelter.


I hope every day that the country as a whole can set partisanism aside, and see that Mr. Trump transcends politics. It's not even about what side you're on — it's about if you're a respectable citizen with morals.


A respectable citizen with even the most basic set of morals would never claim any of this.


pg. 357. Note — the following reflect the thoughts and feelings of Trump's lawyer, John Dowd, who dealt mainly with the investigation carried out by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, and the situation Trump is left in regarding the investigation.)

"Some things were clear and many were not in such a complex, tangled investigation. There was no perfect X-ray, no tapes, no engineer's drawing. Dowd believed that the president had not colluded with Russia or obstructed justice.


But in the man and his presidency Dowd had seen the tragic flaw. In the political back-and-forth, the evasions, the denials, the tweeting, the obscuring, crying 'Fake News,' the indignation, Trump had one overriding problem that Dowd knew but could not bring himself to say to the president: "You're a fucking liar."


This is how Woodward ends the book. I couldn't not include it on this list.


This notion, that Trump is a "f*cking liar," was uttered or expressed or felt by many Trump staffers and cabinet members throughout the book. It's what might bring him down, but that's not even the important part. Sure, the Mueller investigation could result in a perjury charge (its best shot at impeachment).


But this book is more about who Mr. Trump is. And really, I see two main themes.


Woodward, in all stages of the book, uses Mr. Trump's favored quote — that "real power is fear." It's the title of the book, but it's also Mr. Trump's endgame in the distance. If I've got the advantage, if I strike fear in the hearts of those under and around me, I'm where I want to be.


And finally, that Mr. Trump's a "f*cking liar." This one we all knew. He lies about the simplest and most fact-checkable things, but we let him get away with it. Just a few days ago he declared victory over ISIS, claiming the U.S. extinguished them. That isn't the truth at all.


But what I take away is that people with outlets and the conviction to use them — even if it means simply speaking to those around you — ought to keep Mr. Trump in check. We can't stop fact-checking, we can't stop denouncing any ridiculous actions or policies he enforces. We can't be afraid.


If real power is indeed fear, I, after reading this book, intend to speak louder, stand taller and keep fear crushed under my boot.


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