Book review of The Divider: Trump in the White House, 2017-2021 by Peter Baker and Susan Glasser


This review incorrectly mentioned that the authors of “The Divider” held again revelations about Donald Trump earlier than the 2020 election for publication later in their e book. The textual content under has been corrected.

No president has ever been as obsessive about the media as Donald Trump. His high Twitter insult was “faux information,” which he by no means drained of directing at the “failing New York Times.” So consumed was he by his hatred of The Washington Post and its proprietor, Jeff Bezos, that he sought to disclaim Amazon federal contracts and entry to the U.S. Postal Service. Trump tried for months to kill a merger that concerned one other detested media firm, CNN, and even inspired Rupert Murdoch to purchase CNN’s father or mother firm (at the fire-sale worth his efforts had produced).

The obsession was mutual — and extremely worthwhile, for the targets of Trump’s ire and admiration alike. Trump threw invective at mainstream media retailers, however readers, subscribers, viewers and advertisers all threw dollars at them. Digital subscriptions to the Times and The Post soared throughout Trump’s presidency. The combined viewership of CNN, MSNBC and Fox greater than doubled between 2015 and 2020. The greatest beneficiary, of course, was Murdoch’s conservative media empire. While the backside feeders of right-wing media feasted on the detritus, Fox News became the closest thing to state TV the United States has ever had. In a single yr, Trump tweeted about tales on its reveals 657 occasions.

This final gem comes from “The Divider: Trump in the White House, 2017-2021” by Peter Baker and Susan Glasser (he of the Times, she of the New Yorker). Given Trump’s determination to stuff his post-presidency residence with classified documents, to not point out the potential for a 2024 run, the e book is exquisitely timed. A well-paced and engagingly written narrative, “The Divider” reveals off the finest of big-resource journalism in the Trump period. Yet it additionally makes vivid some of the shortcomings of the trade that Trump repeatedly exploited.

A brand new Trump book is price studying provided that its argument or its revelations break new floor. The thesis of Baker and Glasser’s e book is unoriginal, if correct: Trump posed a novel risk to American democracy. The risk was lessened by his ineptitude, the incompetence of many he relied on and the resistance of many others — some principled, some partisan, some self-preserving. But the risk was magnified by the anti-democratic swing of the GOP he exploited, the creakiness of the constitutional order he challenged and his rising mastery of the loyalty-test politics he excelled at.

Trump’s assault on American democracy was additionally assisted, allow us to be trustworthy, by the American media — and not simply the right-wing sources that glorified his presidency and radicalized his voters. Trump wouldn’t have gotten into the White House in any respect have been it not for the mainstream media routines that made categorised messages on Hillary Clinton’s non-public e-mail server the greatest character problem of the marketing campaign. (The irony is just too thick to chop.)

Even after Trump took energy, journalists struggled to restrain outdated instincts: to broadcast each tweet, to concentrate on political fluff reasonably than coverage substance, to present “each side” equal say. Only with time and elevated understanding of Trump’s intentions did we see meatier investigations of his funds, insurance policies and manipulations, and how they have been abetted by his more and more cultish occasion. Baker and Glasser evaluate Trump to the velociraptors in “Jurassic Park” that regularly work out learn how to nook their new human prey (the prey in this case being American democracy). The metaphor is apt for journalists as properly. Under unprecedented assault, these overlaying Trump needed to study whereas searching.

The Divider” is, in some ways, a marker of how a lot journalism has tailored. It shows some of the outdated instincts: Notwithstanding its greater than 650 pages of textual content, it has little to say about the insurance policies pursued by Trump and his fellow Republicans, or about the political organizations that backed or battled his occasion or lobbied Washington throughout his presidency (the National Rifle Association, for instance, is just not talked about as soon as). Many anecdotes and backstories appear to be there solely as a result of Baker and Glasser know them. Still, the e book is the most complete and detailed account of the Trump presidency but printed, and it could not have been attainable, as Baker and Glasser write in their acknowledgments, with out the diligence and fortitude of their colleagues in the press corps “who labored to cowl the Trump administration whereas being denigrated as ‘enemies of the folks.’”

To this wealthy factual context, Baker and Glasser add recent and ceaselessly alarming tales, primarily based in half on greater than 300 interviews they performed. If their argument treads acquainted Trump-book floor, “The Divider” delivers new revelations aplenty. The greatest of the scoops present vivid new particulars about Trump’s ever extra dictatorial habits. In a chapter titled “My Generals,” Baker and Glasser describe how Trump was so annoyed along with his army commanders for refusing his varied strong-arm orders that he requested Chief of Staff (and retired normal) John Kelly why his generals couldn’t be extra like Adolf Hitler’s throughout World War II. When Kelly retorted that these generals had tried to kill Hitler, Trump replied, “No, no, no, they have been completely loyal to him” — as if that was what needs to be remembered about the Nazi regime.

As explosive as this new quote is, we’ve lengthy identified how Trump feels about Hitler-like energy. Yet Baker and Glasser uncover many different episodes that clarify — properly earlier than Jan. 6, 2021 — how shockingly far he was keen to go to remain in workplace. The authors reveal a set of exchanges between Trump and Attorney General William Barr that counsel the president was really critical about his tweet threats to lock up election rival Joe Biden. “That pissed me off,” Barr tells the authors, which is a bit like lastly getting upset together with your juvenile-delinquent child when he disables the brakes in his trainer’s automobile.

Another revealing story issues Trump’s strenuous makes an attempt to get the Food and Drug Administration to approve a coronavirus vaccine earlier than Election Day. The scale of the “bombardment” was unprecedented — conferences with and repeated cellphone calls from the president and his underlings, who accused the impartial company of “sabotaging the election effort.” Trump failed, of course, however not with out damaging public confidence in the vaccine. If he hadn’t, he would possibly nonetheless be president.

The proven fact that Trump finally misplaced makes it straightforward to look again with confidence that every part turned out because it ought to have. But, as Baker and Glasser say, recycling a quote about Waterloo used by Kelly, “it was a close-run factor.”

When journalists write a e book, it inevitably slows down supply in actual time of revelations they uncover throughout the course of and opens the authors as much as expenses of withholding info for the profit of the e book. The query arises extra ceaselessly lately as a result of of the sheer quantity of books on the Trump administration. When a New Yorker piece primarily based on “My Generals” ran in mid-August, Eric Alterman argued in the American Prospect that Baker and Glasser had saved some of the most explosive disclosures below wraps to make “The Divider” extra newsworthy and doubtlessly profitable.

Evaluating this cost is tough, as a result of Baker and Glasser hardly ever cite their very own interviews and by no means say when any of them have been performed. But the normal concern is definitely legitimate. Journalism is a enterprise, and journalists must make a dwelling. But, as day by day journalists, additionally they have a accountability to tell residents as they uncover information, and it’s deeply troubling in the event that they maintain again related info for business causes.

Good journalism is indispensable in a democracy, and it wants protection now greater than ever. “The Divider,” with its devastating portrait of a demagogue who nonetheless dominates his occasion, reveals why. It additionally means that journalism must have a critical dialog about its function and tasks in in the present day’s fraught politics. In this all-hands-on-deck second, we want journalists centered on the horizon and shouting rapidly and clearly about icebergs forward.

Jacob S. Hacker is a professor of political science at Yale University and the co-author (with Paul Pierson) of “Let Them Eat Tweets: How the Right Rules in an Age of Extreme Inequality.”

Trump in the White House, 2017-2021

By Peter Baker and Susan Glasser

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