Fear by Bob Woodward – Book

Bob Woodward (of Watergate fame) recently published his exposé of the chaos in the early days of the Trump White House called simply, Fear: Trump in the White House.If you have been paying attention to the news (not Fox) then what you are reading in this book is hardly surprising. You see Steve Bannon come and go. The James Comey drama is in there. You see the contributions of people who played a role in those early days but are now gone, like Hope Hicks and Rob Porter. Tillerson and Trump disagree about foreign policy and Tillerson is replaced by Pompeo. Some of Trump’s fears about the Mueller investigation are covered.

There was a recent article in the NYT’s written by an anonymous source who told us that Trump’s West Wing staff are so worried about Trump’s orders telling them to design documents that will solidify bad policies, orders to place those documents on his desk to be signed, that they delay producing the papers and even remove the documents if they appear on Trump’s desk. They know that Trump’s mind jumps around from one idea to the next and that if the policy document is not placed in front of him he will forget about it (for a while). This is all covered in Woodward’s book. Woodward was there so it helps us feel like we are actually in the Oval Office, flies on the wall, experiencing staff fears in real time.

One of the greatest of all the fears is the one that shows us that someone who formed his policy ideas in some earlier decade, someone as inflexible as Trump, someone unwilling to learn about in-depth intelligence and to apply it to his fondly-held theories, someone unwilling to evolve, to revise old dogma, to encompass new data controls the nuclear codes. People in former administrations did not lightly make nuclear threats in hopes that going nuclear will turn enemies into friends. We don’t usually brag that our nuclear capabilities are greater than those of our enemies although we believe that it is basically understood. Nuclear boasting might backfire and the consequences could be devastating. Sometimes threatening documents, once produced, were removed from presidential proximity before he could sign them, but the fear that surrounds any casual treatment of nuclear weapons is always there.

Bob Woodward is not just making us aware that Trump’s staff lives in fear of Trump inadequacies and belligerent nature; he is telling us that we need to be fearful of a man who is filling a position he does not understand. We need to know that he is running America on ego, calcified opinions, and praise elicited by implied threats (fear). We need to follow Bob Woodward into those rooms in our nation’s White House and watch the slapdash way that business is now conducted daily in America. His account is very readable and the actual meat of the book ends well before the pages do. What follows is a section of photos, some pretty useful end notes, and a detailed index. If you have been paying attention to an in-depth news station like MSNBC it will all be very familiar. What will be different is that this time you are “in the room where it happens”.

The children in this Rainbow Room video offer revealing and very brief reviews of Bob Woodward’s book, reviews that sum things up very well.


Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – Washington Times

History Stutters

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Post World War II

Europe has been dominated by the post-World War II division of the spoils of war for the past 70 years. Nations in Eastern Europe disappeared behind “The Iron Curtain” and the Berlin Wall. Nations that were not controlled by Communism and the USSR, and which were not firmly organized as Democracies, were wooed, rather persistently by the US and the NATO allies to resist Communism (the dark side) and turn to the (light), Democracy and Capitalism. (With Communism you got two for the price of one; government and business were different aspects of the same entity.)

America put Air Force and Army bases all over Europe, but especially in countries that seemed to teeter between the two ideologies. Nations, in the great project to rebuild Europe, got gifts of technology, private enterprise, and even new leaders that they did not always even want. The stories that came from behind the Iron Curtain, of purges, and Five-Year Plans, and hunger, and gulags where dissidents were gagged, should have been quite enough to discourage the spread of Communism, but the idealistic expression of that ideology still had popular appeal in a number of nations, and the unsubtle interventions of America were not always helpful in advancing Democracy.

Europe maintained this basic postwar pattern even with the dissolution of the USSR and the fall of the Berlin Wall. But almost as soon as Capitalism seemed to gain a foothold in Russia and the nations newly released from Russian hegemony, forces were at work to try to put the USSR together again. This movement which we see now in the actions of Putin seems akin to the national pride movements that brought Hitler to power in Germany. This appeal to national pride perhaps helps keep a rather frightening Putin in power in Russia. History stutters. The Cold War is slowly creeping back. Authoritarian rule is apparently all the fashion.

Post 9/11

Of course, what happened in Eastern Europe has not stayed in Eastern Europe. For a while Democracy and Communism continued to perform the old political push-pull. Western Europe became the European Union for economic solidarity and strength. America became the dramatic focus of a show of awful force by a new player – radical terrorism modeled on Islam. The twin symbols of Capitalism were toppled on 9/11. America reeled. Wars of retribution did not put an end to the influx of frightened Muslims into a basically Judeo-Christian Europe. As religion got added to the mix of the already contested spheres of government, economics, and race, history is stuttering again.

Europe and America, in the midst of an economic downturn fueled by the rise of Asian economies, was now being flooded by people from antique states along the Eastern shores of the Mediterranean  and in Northern Africa who were relieved of, or escaping from, authoritarian leaders. Conflagrations in Egypt, Libya, Iraq, Syria seemed to catch the entire area on fire. Europe and America became targets of anger as old established “regimes” fell and people, caught-up in chaos and fear, attacked nations that seemed to them to have been driven to depravity by money and power. However guilty the “West” feels about having abused its power, sitting still for bombs in public places, mass shootings and death by modes of transportation (turning our own technology against us) is not something people want to do.

Before World War II we find a propensity towards “strong men”. We find it, not in whole nations to begin with, but as a minority groundswell. Even in nations like England and America there were those who perked up at the call to “nationalism” – to national pride and strength. There were those who grew suspicious of “the other”, who spoke a different language, or against Jewish people who seem inordinately good at conducting business and making money. Charles Lindbergh was quite famous for this in his day and he was a popular guy.

Hitler was, arguably, the worst strong man ever, a twisted madman who would perform any scientific atrocity to create his “master race” and rid the world of people he hated (Jews, gypsies). Mussolini, the Italian Fascist, may have looked like a pale copy, but he did quite enough damage; damage that lingers in Italy to this day. We (Americans and our allies) swore that we would never let a Hitler happen to the world again. We swore that we would never allow a government that exercised control over its people through fear and media mind control, like Soviet Union, to operate in the “free West”.

Well history does stutter and here we are again with strong men peppered around the world. (Turkey, Russia, Hungary, the Philippines, China, North Korea, Honduras, Iraq, various thugs in African nations, and more). Here we are, where thuggery and jack bootery are making authoritarianism, even in smaller nations, as in South America and Africa, a constant horror to honest citizens. Here we have heartless, vicious men who send their own people, or their own neighbors scattering away from them, to what the refugees hope will be a new safe space in more stable and humanitarian nations, only to be turned back as the Jewish people were, or isolated by those who feel their nation is being taken over by these “others”. Here we have men so “strong”, so selfish, so greedy that they will rule over an empty nation in order to get their way. (Bashir Assad, drug cartels)

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America, 2018

Here we have, once, again fear of the other, attempts to use threats and media mind control to consolidate the power of an authoritarian personality. This time one of these “strong” men is here, in the heart of America, trampling all over our traditions and unwritten rules. Here we have a man, in full knowledge of what happened the last time someone built a wall to keep nations separate, insisting that what America needs is a wall to keep out our neighbors. He perhaps does not remember, or never knew, what Russia had to do to keep West and East Berlin apart even with a wall. There is something about a wall that makes people determined to get over it or around it. There had to be legal papers, and intelligence officers, snarling dogs, and checkpoints and guards willing to shoot those desperate enough to try to get to the other side. Already we are using the threat of separating parents from their children, of putting their children in foster care, or in “shelters”, to deter people from trying to cross a wall that does not yet even exist in some places. This threat does not seem to discourage all who want refugee status. Will we have to allow the guards at the checkpoints to shoot to kill? Will we place the heads of those who are killed on pikes and display them along the wall? How far will we let our “strong” man go to keep people out of America?

And once again, as before, there are people who are attracted to the idea of the “strong” man, and who do not seem to mind that he will destroy what he seems to be defending – that strong man means authoritarian rule by a dictator. It is not just semantics. History stutters. Are we doomed to repeat this pattern again and again?

Refugee Reality Check

We keep thinking about what might happen if we do accept
Syrian refugees. But perhaps we need to think about what will happen if we
don’t accept Syrian refugees.
If we do accept refugees from Syria we are nervous that
terrorists may make it to America. I am a true chicken. I understand fear. It
feels scary to host people who could harbor hate against us. We are assured
that we screen refugees with such care that it is highly unlikely anyone could
get through the process but we remember Boston and those Tsarnaev brothers who
came in as refugees and were radicalized once they were here. Our fears are not
baseless but we must admit that the number of refugees that might become bad
actors will be very small. We live almost daily with shootings. These threats
hardly seem different from the many mass shootings we have experienced. As for
enabling an enormous influx of rabid terrorists – only a full scale invasion
could do that and I don’t think our enemies have that capability yet.
The reasons, beyond the humanitarian ones, in favor of
accepting Syrian refugees are much more compelling. First, we cannot afford to
let the Republicans, who want to get elected in 2016, play us. If they make us
frightened enough and then offer to save us with their toughness they believe
this fear will drive us to put a Republican in the White House. Please prove to
the GOP that you are not that easily manipulated.
An even greater reason why we have to fight our fears and
accept Syrian refugees is because we owe it to our allies in Europe and
elsewhere. We have hung back in two world wars because they did not begin in
America, but we eventually fought with our allies when we understood that if
our friends lost we would only have enemies left.
This time the “war” began with us, very dramatically, on 9/11.
This attack was a game changer and our old friends stood with us once more. Now
we must not try to isolate ourselves even though our fears may prove real
(although, I suspect, not on the scale GOP candidates warn of). We must stand
with the friends we have forged as we have battled to keep the free world free.
We must even accept old opponents as allies for as long as they prove true to
our common goals. We cannot expect Europe to deal all alone with people fleeing
terrorists. Even though there is a big ocean between us we cannot afford to use
this geographical advantage to remain relatively safe and aloof. I doubt it
will work for long and, in the end, we will wish we had stuck with our
More selfishly, flooding Europe with refugees could put
Europe’s economy in jeopardy. Our economic fates are tied together and are just
one aspect of the ways in which our individual existences as powerful political
entities are closely connected.
We are Americans. We need to suck it up and stand with our

Note: (According to the NYT of 11/25/15 the Tsarnaev brothers were not refugees. They came seeking political asylum.)

By Nancy Brisson

Psychoanalyzing America

It seems that 9/11 changed America forever. Not really
surprising. I will never forget watching the Today show and watching those
planes and that ash and smoke and the hopelessness of it all; how could people
survive it? Our national mourning was profound and it had anger mixed with it.
We looked for survivors; we looked for remains; we licked our wounds, thanked
our heroes, grieved with the families and friends. No planes flew in the skies.
The silence told us better than anything that America had been brought to a
temporary standstill. We were a nation in deep shock.
When we learned that America had been infiltrated by
foreign haters who probably came here on visas, perhaps pretending they would
attend college here we felt betrayed and thus began our fears and doubts about
strangers. This could be the very place where an idea like the “Red Wedding” in
George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones
comes from. Once you have broken bread with a guest and offered salt they are
supposed to be safe in your household. Once we offered our hospitality in the
form of a visa we felt a sort of bargain had been struck. We expected these
foreign guests to treat America with respect. Instead they acted like the hosts
at the Red Wedding and we, America, lost our innocence forever.
We loved welcoming foreign guests and temporary residents
from other lands. We liked sharing our comfort and our warmth and our
treasures. No more. We have learned suspicion and distrust. We are no longer
the conquering heroes we were or thought we were at the end of World War II. We
have spent some of the currency we earned in that war. There are people who
hate us now and some believe they have valid reasons. I don’t believe hate gets
anyone anything good, but no one is consulting me about this.
So America has learned fear. We refuse to be vulnerable. If
we stay alert and develop the best intelligence system in the world (which we
don’t quite have the hang of yet, apparently) to keep eyes on our enemies at
home and around the world that will be part of our safety strategy. If we guard
every entrance to America, all the planes and buses and planes that will be
part of our safety strategy. If we take the war to the countries where our
enemies live (even if we have to lie to do it), if we are preemptive that will
help keep us safe. If we get a grip on our visa system (which we have not done)
so that we know when someone overstays a visa that might help keep us safe.
Time and tide have seen us relaxing these protections. Time
heals all wounds and the tides are going out, those tides of high threat levels
and our fears are ebbing. In a way these safety precautions sort of turn us into prisoners. But not everyone agrees that we should lower those
threat levels. Now that we know the rules of hospitality no longer apply, some
people support a position which says that it is wrong to relax our safety rules
and take the police locks off the doors. They feel naked without troops on the
ground in those nations full of fanatics who see us as enemies, and whose
religion, like ours, requires conversions. These Americans fear that we will
relax our alertness and then – Armageddon.
These Americans fear those coming over our Southern border,
they say, because they believe our enemies hide among them. Or are they playing
on our fears again as they did to get us in Iraq, in order to get their way on
immigration. We do know that they want to halt all flow across our Southern
borders; build walls high and higher, station more troops until no one without
papers can cross. No one even knows if this is possible. No one even knows if
their fears are real or pretend, but we can see that America has left its
adolescence and no longer feels invincible.
Perhaps these fear-mongers are paranoid; their fears could
be exaggerated or just politically expedient. Perhaps their assessment is
accurate. We are people who put our Japanese neighbors into camps during World
War II because of fear. Did those camps protect us? We will never know. Once
you choose one path you can’t usually go down the other. It didn’t do much for our national pride. Does safety trump pride?
Is this situation with these children telling us that we
have let our fear of being attacked again on our own soil get the better of us,
is this just prudent caution, or is it politics? Can we close the doors to America
and keep everyone out. Will that keep us safe? With two-thirds of the world
trying to find itself can we really lock America up like a stronghold and keep
all the “others” out? Will our own internal problems tear us apart regardless
of what we do about allowing immigrants in? Is this why we have lost our caring
spirit – all this fear and loss of innocence? Is this why we say put them back
on the bus and send them home – because we have lost our nerve? Is it
overpopulation and not wanting America to be overrun by hungry hoards that is
motivating us to harden our hearts?

Has America lost its ability to assimilate immigrants and
turn them into proud Americans? Will we ever set aside the less savory effects
of 9/11 to regain the brash optimism that once defined us? Have we learned to
temper that brashness with a bit of maturity gained through strife and loss?
There are always more questions than answers, but some answers must indeed be selected,
answers we all hope will prove right in the end. If only we had wise people in Washington instead of this Congress we have now.
By Nancy Brisson