Watershed Book Review: Trump in the White House, 2017-2021 by Peter Baker and Susan Glasser

No president is as obsessed with the media as Donald Trump. His biggest insult on Twitter is “fake news,” and he never tires of pointing to the “failed New York Times.” His hatred of The Washington Post and its owner, Jeff Bezos, was so deep that he tried to deny Amazon a federal contract and access to the U.S. Postal Service. For months, Trump has tried to block a merger involving another disgusting media company, CNN, and even encouraged Rupert Murdoch to buy CNN’s parent company (sold at the low price his efforts generated).

For the target of Trump’s anger and admiration, the obsession is mutual — and very lucrative. Trump has vilified the mainstream media, but readers, subscribers, viewers and advertisers are throwing dollars at them. Digital subscriptions to The New York Times and The Washington Post have soared during the Trump presidency. Between 2015 and 2020, the combined ratings of CNN, MSNBC and Fox more than doubled. The biggest beneficiary, of course, is Murdoch’s conservative media empire​​​.As bottom-feeders of right-wing media feast on the detritus, Fox News Becoming the closest thing the US has ever seen to national television. In one year, Trump tweeted about the story 657 times on his show.

This last gem is from “The Divider: Trump in the White House, 2017-2021” by Peter Baker and Susan Glasser (he belongs to The New York Times, she belongs to The New Yorker). The timing of the book is just right, given Trump’s decision to stuff his presidency with classified documents, not to mention the possibility of a 2024 campaign. “The Divider” is a fast-paced, engaging narrative that showcases some of the best big-source journalism of the Trump era. However, it also brings to life some of the shortcomings of the industry that Trump has repeatedly exploited.

A new Trump book is only worth reading if Its arguments or revelations break new ground. The arguments in Baker and Glasser’s book are unoriginal, if accurate: Trump poses a unique threat to American democracy. The threat is lessened by his incompetence, the incompetence of many on whom he depends, and the resistance of many others – some principled, some partisan, some self-preserving. But the anti-democratic sway of the Republican Party he exploits, the faltering constitutional order he challenges and his growing grasp of the politics of loyalty tests he excels at amplify the threat.

Honestly, Trump’s attacks on American democracy have also been helped by the American media — not just right-wing sources who glorify his presidency and energize his voters. Trump would not have been in the White House at all if it weren’t for the mainstream media making classified information on Hillary Clinton’s private email server the campaign’s biggest man issue. (The irony is too strong to cut.)

Even after Trump took office, journalists struggled to refrain from old instincts: spreading every tweet, focusing on political pomp over policy substance, giving “both sides” an equal voice. Only with time and more understanding of Trump’s intentions will we see deeper investigations into his finances, policies and manipulations, and how they were abetted by his increasingly adoring party. Baker and Glasser liken Trump to Jurassic Park raptors gradually figuring out how to corner their new human prey (in this case, American democracy). The metaphor also applies to journalists. Under the unprecedented attack, those covering Trump had to learn as they hunted.

“The Line” is in many ways a sign of how much journalism has adapted. It shows some old instincts: Despite more than 650 pages, it says little about the policies pursued by Trump and his fellow Republicans, Nor does it talk about political organizations that supported or opposed his party or lobbied Washington during his presidency (the National Rifle Association, for example, is not mentioned once.) Many anecdotes and backstories seem to be simply because Baker and Glasser knew about them. Still, the book remains the most comprehensive and detailed account of the Trump presidency published to date, and as Baker and Glasser write in their acknowledgements, without them “covering up the Trump administration, At the same time, it was vilified as the “enemy of the people”. “

To this rich factual backdrop, Baker and Glasser add fresh and often shocking stories, based in part on the more than 300 interviews they conducted. If their arguments touch on familiar Trump book territory, “The Divider” sheds a lot of new light.The Biggest Scoops Offered About Trump’s increasingly authoritarian behavior. In a chapter titled “My General,” Baker and Glasser describe how Trump was so frustrated by his military commanders’ rejection of his various forceful orders that he asked the chief of staff (and retired general) ) John Kelly why his generals couldn’t be more like WWII-era Adolf Hitler. When Kelly retorted that the generals had tried to kill Hitler, Trump responded: “No, no, no, they were totally loyal to him” — as the Nazi regime should remember.

As explosive as this new quote is, we’ve known for a long time how Trump feels about Hitlerian power. However, Baker and Glasser uncovered a number of other episodes that made it clear – well before January 6, 2021 – how shocking he was willing to stay.Author reveals A series of exchanges between Trump and Attorney General William Barr showed that the president was really serious about his tweets threatening to target running opponent Joe Biden. “It pissed me off,” Barr told the author, it’s kind of like finally getting upset with your juvenile offender The child’s brakes failed in his teacher’s car.

Another instructive story concerns Trump’s efforts to get the Food and Drug Administration to approve a coronavirus vaccine before Election Day. The scale of the “bombing” was unprecedented – meetings and repeated phone calls with the president and his subordinates, who accused the independent agency of “undermining the electoral effort.” Of course, Trump failed, but not without undermining public confidence in a vaccine. If he doesn’t, he might still be president.

The fact that Trump ultimately lost makes it easy to look back with confidence that everything went as it should. But, as Baker and Glasser say, citing a quote Kelly used about Waterloo, “it’s a close thing.”

Reading this, one can’t help but wonder if Baker and Glasser would have been so close if they had shared all the troubling facts they knew ahead of the 2020 election. When the New Yorker article based on “My General” aired in mid-August, the authors were criticized for keeping some of the most explosive disclosures private in order to make “The Divide” more newsworthy and potentially lucrative.

Evaluating the allegation is difficult because Baker and Glasser rarely cite their own interviews and never say when either of them conducted them. So it’s unclear what information they could have made public by November 2020. But such concerns are certainly justified. Journalism is a business, and journalists need to make a living.But they also have a duty to notify citizens before these citizens enter the election booth, when they appear to be Withholding relevant information for business reasons.

Good journalism is essential in democracies, and defense is needed now more than ever. With its devastating portrayal of a demagogue who still dominates his party, “Watershed” shows why. It also shows that journalism needs serious conversations about its role and responsibilities in today’s stressful politics. In this moment of full participation, we need reporters to focus on the horizon and shout out the news of the iceberg ahead quickly and clearly.

Jacob S. Hacker is a professor of political science at Yale University and the “Let Them Eat Tweets: How to Get the Right Rules in an Age of Extreme Inequality. “

Trump at the White House, 2017-2021

Peter Baker and Susan Glasser

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