Book notes: Rage by Bob Woodward

Rage by Bob Woodward book summary review and key ideas.

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Rage by Bob Woodward

Synopsis:

Bob Woodward’s new book, Rage, is an unprecedented and intimate tour de force of new reporting on the Trump presidency facing a global pandemic, economic disaster and racial unrest.

Woodward, the number one international best-selling author of Fear: Trump in the White House, has uncovered the precise moment the president was warned that the Covid-19 epidemic would be the biggest national security threat to his presidency. In dramatic detail, Woodward takes listeners into the Oval Office as Trump’s head pops up when he is told in January 2020 that the pandemic could reach the scale of the 1918 Spanish Flu that killed 675,000 Americans. 

In 17 on-the-record interviews with Woodward over seven volatile months – an utterly vivid window into Trump’s mind – the president provides a self-portrait that is part denial and part combative interchange mixed with surprising moments of doubt as he glimpses the perils in the presidency and what he calls the “dynamite behind every door.” 

At key decision points, Rage shows how Trump’s responses to the crises of 2020 were rooted in the instincts, habits and style he developed during his first three years as president. Revisiting the earliest days of the Trump presidency, Rage reveals how Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats struggled to keep the country safe as the president dismantled any semblance of collegial national security decision making. Rage draws from hundreds of hours of interviews with firsthand witnesses as well as participants’ notes, emails, diaries, calendars and confidential documents. 

Woodward obtained 25 never-seen personal letters exchanged between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who describes the bond between the two leaders as out of a “fantasy film.” Trump insists to Woodward he will triumph over Covid-19 and the economic calamity. “Don’t worry about it, Bob. Okay?” Trump told the author in July. “Don’t worry about it. We’ll get to do another book. You’ll find I was right.”” -Audible


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Nutshell:

Bob Woodward reveals the behind-the-scenes of the Trump presidency during the first several months of 2020 facing a global pandemic, economic disaster, and racial unrest. He also reveals the instincts, habits and leadership style Trump developed during the first 3 years based on direct interviews with him and perspectives from subordinates who tried to protect the country from his actions.


Opening thoughts:

This book just came out recently and I’ve been watching coverage about it in the news and on Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah’s shows. Donald Trump doesn’t like this book so there must be some truth about it. I like reading these political memoir-type books come out in the moment because of the time relevancy. It is interesting to read about something current from another perspective that we might not know about. I imagine this will just paint Trump in the same light that we already know him for, but maybe just some behind the scenes information.


Key notes:

  • Trump knew about the severity of the coronavirus from his intelligence advisors but purposely downplayed it
  • His intelligence advisor told Trump that the pandemic would be the greatest national security threat he would face in his presidency

Chapter 1

  • “Mad dog” Mattis, as Trump called him, agreed to work for him
    • Mattis stated he doesn’t necessarily work for the president, he works for the Constitution 

Chapter 2

  • Tillerson, Exxon Mobil CEO, agreed to be nominated as his Secretary of State under the conditions that he could choose his own people, his nomination wouldn’t be withdrawn under scrutiny, and that any disputes would be private between them

Chapter 3

  • Both Tillerson and Mattis got confirmed and felt like they could develop a good working relationship

Chapter 4 

  • Coats accepted the position as Director of National Intelligence (DNI) but was having trouble dealing with Trump as he had many bad days where he wouldn’t listen to facts and had his own opinions

Chapter 5 

  • Mattis did not agree with trumps Muslim travel ban. Trump used Mattis’s swearing in ceremony to also sign executive order, which many combat veterans were furious about
  • Trump stated in the cabinet meeting that he wanted to experiment with putting a tariff on steel, to which cabinet members argued passionately against playing with the American economy

Chapter 6

  • Trumps strategy for North Korea was to put more pressure on the country

Chapter 7

  • Trump wanted to get rid of Comey because he wouldn’t publicly say Trump wasn’t under investigation, but his team had to find a legitimate other reason to fire Comey
    • Rosenstein used the handling of Clinton’s email investigation as justification when writing the memo to firing Comey

Chapter 8

  • Rosenstein appointed Mueller as special counsel to investigate Russian interference in 2016 election. This was to restore public trust in the investigation, get McCabe out of the investigation, and put the investigation in the hands of someone trustworthy
  • Trump was constantly worried and took out his rage about the Russia investigation out on everyone around him

Chapter 9

  • Trump was manipulated by a fabricated tape against Palestinian Authority president Abbas and subsequently cut off aid and support to Palestinian refugees

Chapter 10

  • Coats was trying his best to create balance in his life again, both health-wise and also to balance his responsibilities within the administration

Chapter 11

  • Defense secretary Mattis was always on alert around the president and his spontaneous orders and whims. The North Korean nuclear threat was the biggest issue 
  • Mattis believed war cannot be divorced from moral responsibility
    • He was constantly worried about having to use nuclear force and wanted to prevent that at all cost
  • Mattis notes that Trump, unlike other effective leaders, had no ability to be tough and keep the peace
    • He has no mental framework or mode for these things
    • Reading, listening, debating, and having a process for weighing alternatives and determining policy were essential
    • He was trying to impose reason over impulse for Trump, but it’s clear the times he wasn’t able to as Trump’s tweets would get out 
  • Mattis believed that the tragedy of trumps leadership was that he didn’t see the importance of nurturing and protecting relationships with their allies in NATO, Europe, the Middle East, south Korea, and Japan
    • A person and a country always needed allies

Chapter 12

  • Trump was in South Korea to make a speech but also tried to go to the DMV. However, he couldn’t due to weather concerns

Chapter 13

  • Trump fired Tillerson via tweet for no apparent reason
  • Trump didn’t keep 2 of his 3 promises which was to never argue in public and to allow him to pick his own staff

Chapter 14

  • Lindsey Graham vouched for Robert Mueller and told the president that as long as he didn’t do it, he’ll be fine because Mueller wouldn’t lie about the truth
  • Lindsey Graham said he believed Trump when Trump said he didn’t work with the Russians because Graham thought Trump couldn’t even work with his own government 

Chapter 15

  • Trump met with Kim Jong Un and touted it as a great peace deal when in reality it did very little

Chapter 16

  • Intelligence investigation showed that there was indeed Russian malware in certain states and voting systems
  • Trumps couldn’t comprehend the idea that Coats was charge of the intelligence side of the FBI, not the criminal/ investigation side of the FBI and couldn’t help him out or alleviate his fears about the Russia investigation

Chapter 17

  • Mattis was trying his best to develop a strong relationship with China and his Chinese counterpart

Chapter 18

  • Mattis realized he and Trump were not hitting it off
    • But he still felt he was winning more than losing because behind-the-scenes because he was making gains with military budget, readiness, and training, and focused inwardly on his relationships with Pompeo, Coats, and CIA director
    • Trumps problems extended further, to his failure to build a smooth working team, to listen, gather various informed opinions, debate, identify options, debate some more, and bring everyone onboard with a decision 
  • It was important to address the issue of succession
    • Every large organization or business had a responsibility to make sure there was a process for finding the very best
    • In 2018, Mattis believed the commander in chief had failed and let the country down

Chapter 19

  • Mattis later described how discussions with the president were difficult because Trump would go off on whatever was on his mind
  • After Mattis made a commitment to help our allies against ISIS in Syria and the Middle East, Trump made an announcement via twitter that we won the war and were bringing troops home without consulting or running it by his Secretary of Defense
  • Mattis resigned because Trump failed to see the importance of completely winning the war in Iraq and not pulling out too early like Obama
    • He also didn’t see the importance of maintaining relationships with allies
    • Later on, Trump would change his public opinion and say he fired Mattis because he did nothing in Iraq and was an “overrated general”

Chapter 20

  • Jared Kushner knew how to handle Trump. Essentially, you could get a quick and easy decision from Trump if you limit his information
    • But once the opponents of that decision find their way to Trump, he’ll reverse his decision
  • Trump’s mindset of making a deal and then being able to change and shift your mind later had to be understood
    • To hedge this, you have to manage up by making sure he has all of the information upfront and staff him correctly

Chapter 21

  • Coats drafted his resignation letter because he didn’t want to go down like Jeff Sessions by public ridicule
  • Trump and Pence convinced Coats to stay on longer and resign “the right way” at a better time, since the Russia investigation was still underway

Chapter 22

  • The Mueller report said there was no evidence of collusion with Russia, but it also didn’t conclude nor exonerate him from obstruction of justice
  • The reason Mueller didn’t make a traditional prosecutory judgement was because of the Justice Department’s policy against charging a sitting president with a federal crime

Chapter 23

  • Coats confided with Mattis over the issues he had having dealing with Trump’s presidency
    • Coats realized none of the Republican senators were bailing on Trump not out of conviction but political survival
    • They weren’t gonna stand up to Trump, but rather they all opted to just wait it out until the Nov 3 election

Reader’s note: Wow. These politicians are self-serving cowards.

Chapter 24

  • Without warning, Trump made a tweet announcement that he was replacing Coats as DNI 

Chapter 25

  • Trump and Kim started to have almost romantic correspondence back-and-forth
  • Although they couldn’t make a deal about denuclearization, they both publicly proclaimed that they always wanted to stay friends
  • Trump and Kim met at the DMZ border, which was a historic event as no sitting president crossed into North Korean territory and had such a friendly relationship with North Korea
    • It was symbolic that both nations were willing to put aside the past and move forward towards the future. Though I didn’t have any immediate diplomatic outcome
  • Kim’s next letter reply was the longest as he implied the friendship had cooled because South Korean and American military exercises had not ceased

Chapter 26

  • Trump believes the job of the president is to keep the country safe and prosperous. However, he had no solid plan or strategy for the country

Chapter 27

  • Trump couldn’t understand why we were protecting South Korea and he felt that their existence dependent on us
    • He didn’t know why we should care about them
  • Trump mentioned how his four generals said the same thing, that they would rather fight terrorism overseas, but couldn’t explain how long they’ll be in the Middle East

Chapter 28

  • Trump persisted that he had a perfect phone call with Ukraine
    • Trump thinks it is acceptable that as a matter of policy, a president asking a foreign government for this type of favor against political opponents
    • Trump thinks it is the president’s job to investigate corruption against a political opponent 
  • Trump couldn’t comprehend that the transcript was the sword, and the whistleblower report wouldn’t have been as damaging if he didn’t release the transcripts
  • Trump knows he has a reputation of not apologizing, but he claims he would apologize if he’s wrong
    • However, he admits that he believes he’s never wrong

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

  • The outbreak of coronavirus started in Wuhan, and the CDC was trying to get information on the ground, but China was being proud and secretive, so they didn’t cooperate much
    • Investigators had to get information from reports, social media, and conversations with people there

Chapter 31

  • Trump likes doing well in polls, but he also doesn’t believe in polls
  • He also claimed that aside from religion, trade is a very dangerous thing in terms of international relationships
  • Trump thinks his relationships with other people and leaders are funny/interesting. He says the tougher and meaner they are, the better he gets along with them
    • He wanted someone to explain that to him someday
    • Bob thought it wouldn’t be very difficult to explain actually
  • Trump felt that only the impeachment got coverage, even though he thinks he’s made the US economy the greatest it’s ever been because of his trade deals
    • Bob corrected that it’s good but definitely nowhere near great
  • In January, several health experts told him to restrict travel from China. In a later interview in March, Trump told everyone that there was in fact a room of 21 experts and he was the only person who insisted on closing travel 

Chapter 32

  • In February, the Senate acquitted Trump of impeachment, and Mitt Romney was the only Republican who voted with the Democrats and only on the Abuse of Power count
  • 10 Republican senators said publicly that they didn’t approve of what the president did and thought it was wrong but they still voted in his favor
    • They felt that the American people should decide in the 2020 election 

Reader’s note: Again, wow. These politicians are truly self-serving cowards who are only interested in protecting themselves instead of doing the right thing.

  • A shrinking minority of Republicans genuinely supported Trump. The others made a political survival decision
    • To Republicans, to remove a president with such a strong base in their party was pretty much unthinkable 
  • Trump told the press several times that the virus will magically go away when there’s warmer weather
  • Trump has a tendency in public and private 101 settings to dodge hard questions and shift the subject to fines he wants to talk about
  • Trump mention he loves Twitter, which she calls social media, not that it made a difference
    • He feels like he’s number one on all platforms when in reality there are dozens of other accounts with more followers and engagement 
  • Trump kept putting out the message that everything was under control, and started to fire medical experts for telling people to prepare that this could have a severe impact on the US.
  • There was one reported deaths of coronavirus at the time, but Trump, Dr. Fauci, and some other experts told the public to go about their regular lives, though it could change

Chapter 33

  • Jared Kushner recommended four texts to read for someone to better understand his father-in-law. When you combine them, these texts paint President Trump as crazy, painless, stubborn, and manipulative
    • But he claims this will help people to understand the genius of him, and Jared was a devout supporter
  • Kushner summarized that the president has pushed the boundaries and not done the normal thing, but it was the right thing for the people
    • He says Trump has walked through many doors with dynamite and survived and has mastered the presidency like never before

Chapter 34

  • Jared says that Trumps strength is that he’s not fixed as people think of him, but fluid in his decisions and thinking
    • However, his staff were so unaware of his thoughts and decisions that they would only find out when he tweeted about it
    • Believing that every day the facts change is another version of Kellyanne Conway‘s “alternative facts” statement in 2017
  • Jared says that about 20% of the people working for Trump are trying to save the world from him
  • Jared says Trump is a genius because he baits the other side to text stupid positions and get stuck with them

Chapter 35

  • His campaign manager said that 100% of people his organization called said they would rather vote for someone who they didn’t like but agreed with his policies
  • Trump believed that his image and presence were the most important; how he looked when he gave a speech was more important rather than the actual speech itself 
  • Pascal, his campaign manager, said that the hole in trumps reelection campaign was coronavirus and it’s effect on jobs and income, not necessarily the stock market

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

  • Dr. Redfield admitted that we were in a race, or a marathon that would last 2 to 3 years to slow the spread until a vaccine could be developed
  • Just as the country started to slowly lock down, Trump publicly took credit for his outstanding leadership. He consistently blamed China and Obama but never took any responsibility for himself
  • Trump started to claim that he “always called it a pandemic before anyone else did,” though he earlier admitted he’s been downplaying it on purpose because he didn’t want to cause a panic
    • He even knew the severity, deadliness ,and mystery of it way back in January

Chapter 38

  • Trump didn’t question his own leadership and federal response to the pandemic. He felt like he was doing a great job, but would never get credit from the “fake news and Democrats”
  • Trump mentioned he hadn’t met with Bill Gates, who had spent billions of his own wealth into public health issues
    • In 2016 Gates advised Trump to prioritize a pandemic response, and in 2017 he advised the president against doing a study on the “bad effects of vaccines”

Chapter 39

  • Trump believes the authority of the president is total
    • The next day, he said the decision and timing of reopening would be in the hands of the governors
  • Trump wasn’t worried about contracting the virus despite how and how often he moves around, interacting with many people
  • Trump’s main focus was the reopening the country again, though his medical advisors told him they needed to do it the right war or else there will be a rebound

Chapter 40

  • By this time, Trump was more focused on how well he’s going to do leading up to the election not necessarily how well the country is doing
  • Jared Kushner worked below the waves from what anyone could see. He dedicated all of his time and focus to coordinating with the governors to increase their testing capacity
    • The problem was that many of the waves were caused by Trump himself 

Chapter 41

  • Trump was looking for someone to blame, and started to believe that China let the virus spread on purpose to hurt the U.S. because they were winning

Chapter 42

  • On May 25, a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on the neck of George Floyd for over eight minutes and killed him, which sparked outrage and protests across the globe
  • Trump ordered violent force against peaceful protesters in DC because he wanted to use the Bible and church as props for his own political purposes
  • Trump claimed that all of his speeches come from his own ideas and gets minimal help 
  • Trump made his May 29th movement to the bunker seem like it was just a simple 15 minute inspection and was very defensive about how the media portrayed him
  • Trump claims there are very little peaceful protesters and most of them are radical leftist thugs organized by Antifa
    • Bob clarified that Antifa is more of an ideology rather than an organized movement or organization

Chapter 43

  • Lindsey Graham was pushing Trump to get some points on the board and make some actual progress to shower and he can help move the country forward
    • He needed Trump to see that using his favorite club of “division” won’t work here as a reelection focus

Chapter 44 

  • Trump started to undermine his own administration’s medical advice by focusing on trying to reopen the country without a clear plan
    • Dr. Fauci was so thrown off by how short of an attention span Trump had and how he tended to dominate and change the focus of all conversations and briefings
  • Trump completely denies the white male privilege that he and other people have and denies that his isolated perspective needs to be worked out of in order to understand the anger and pain of marginalized communities 
  • Trump strongly believes he’s done more for the black community than any other president perhaps besides Lincoln
    • He feels like he’s won the hearts of the black community prior to the plague coming in
    • But he’s also optimistic about how unemployment is going to go down and jobs will be on the rise by the third quarter

Chapter 45

  • Trump felt like he really understands the pain of Black people simply because he’s donated to classes and has passed some justice reform initiatives
  • After much prodding and pressing, Trump finally admitted that there is racism here in America and it exists 
  • He admits that Hillary Clinton was very smart and very devious, and that his 2016 win was one of the greatest of all times. But he says Joe is much weaker and he’s losing it mentally 

Chapter 46

  • Whenever he’s asked about the African-American plight in this country and if he is indeed trying to bring people together, he always reverts back to saying how he’s done more for the black community than any other president
    • Bob said that Lyndon B. Johnson arguably did a lot more. Bob also asked because his last two speeches we are very divisive and aggressive in nature
  • Jared Kushner’s reelection strategy for Trump wants to get his head out of governing and into campaigning
    • Bob’s thought this was incredulous as there was a global pandemic going on
  • Trump believes he always has a “flexible strategy” and it has worked really well for him up until this point
  • When asked what he learned by himself, Trump replied that he learned he can handle more than other people can handle
  • Trump shifted from a narrative of we got this under control too it’s going to get worse before it gets better and wear your masks all in the span of a few hours

Epilogue

  • Bob came to the conclusion that the dynamite behind every door that Trump was referring to back in February was actually Trump himself
    • The oversized personality
    • The failure to organize
    • The lack of discipline
    • The lack of trust in others he had picked, in experts
    • The undermining or attempt at undermining of so many American institutions
    • The failure to be a calming, healing voice
    • The unwillingness to acknowledge error
    • The failure to do his homework
    • To extend the olive branch
    • To listen carefully to others
    • To craft a plan
  • The top national security leaders, who were apolitical and not the deep state, thought the President of the United States was a danger to the country
  • There should be more consistent and courageous outspokenness. Leading is almost always risky
  • The interviews in this book show that the president vacillated, prevaricated, and at times dodged his role as leader of the country despite his “I alone can fix it” rhetoric 
  • In 50 years, Bob has interviewed all the presidents from Nixon to Trump, about 20% of the 45
  • Trump has enshrined personal impulse as a governing principle of his presidency
  • When his performance as president is taken in its entirety, he can only reach one conclusion: Trump is the wrong man for the job

Closing thoughts:

I can see why Bob is a legend and highly acclaimed in his field. He’s an amazing writer and journalist. He asks great questions and really gets at the heart of understanding someone’s thought process and breaking down their motivations. Not only that, but he pieces together information from different sources that it seems like such a seamless narrative that’s easily for the reader to follow.

As for the inside scoop regarding the trump presidency, I think in general, it’s not news. We can all see living through this period that Trump is a pathalogical liar who stands for nothing and thinks he can just say and do whatever he wants. He’s consistently motivated by his own ego and simply wants to look good. He doesn’t care about the general well-being of the country as a whole. He only cares about people who like and praise him. Essentially, he has the maturity of a toddler.

This book does a great job being another fact-checked reference point against all of the false claims Trump has made publically. It’s also good to hear from the perspectives of the people who worked for him and actually had integrity, such as Tillerson, Mattis, and Coats, and get their assessment with his leadership.

Overall, I highly recommend if you’re into these sort of political memoirs/biographies and current events.


One Takeaway / Putting into practice:

This one is easy:

  • Stay informed, get involved, VOTE, and encourage others to do the same

While Trump is simply a symptom and not the cause of our political system’s brokenness, his presidency is the perfect example of what can happen when people are apathetic about participating in politics. Politics are SO important because they affect all of the people in this country. And people who think politics don’t affect them need to understand that their perspective is only because they have the privilege to not be affected as much as the marginalized people in this country by bad policies and poor governing.


Similar books:


Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

3.5/5

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