It’s not likely that Donald Trump supporters are reading Peril, the new book by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa. That’s unfortunate. The book presents a compelling case that the U.S. was in grave peril as Trump’s presidency came to an end. The case is so strong that even hard-core Trumpers should rethink their support for the ex-president.
For several months in 2020 and ending only on January 20, 2021, a delusional, narcissistic, and ruthless man was in the White House. During this period, military leaders were afraid he would start a war. Trump attempted an insurrection. And Trump schemed to overturn the election through any means possible. Trump’s January 6 activities got him impeached, but even that has not been enough to cost him continuing support among most Republicans.
I hope that Peril will help. The story told by Woodward and Costa is one that most of us have read before. We all know that Trump disputed (and continues to dispute) the election outcome. We know about his attempt to invoke the Insurrection Act to stop last summer’s BLM protests. We recall him standing in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington holding an upside-down bible. And this list should go on.
What Woodward and Costa contribute to the story are details. The book doesn’t just call Trump crazy. It describes in detail the ravings and actions of a demented president. We learn, for example, that General Milley immediately regretted being part of the Trump visit to St. John’s following the forceful clearing of Lafayette Square. The book details Milley ‘s realization that Trump had broken his oath to uphold the Constitution and sought to hold onto power through any means possible. We also learn that Milley concluded that Trump was sufficiently dangerous to national security to necessitate taking steps to prevent Trump from starting a war as he raged about the election.
Trump’s desperate actions eclipsed any sense of duty to discharge the office of the President. The book describes a man who had ceased trying to be a competent president as his rage overcame him. He obsessively watched right-wing news and accepted commentary offered by Sean Hannity as truth. He also came to distrust many on his own staff. The image of Trump dropping a B-52’s load of F-bombs on aides at White House meetings should give pause to all of us, including those who liked Trump’s policies or who think that Biden is also a failed president.
The behavior of Trump described in the book would get most corporate CEOs fired. Unfortunately, the Constitution makes removal of a president extremely difficult if not impossible. Well-run corporations have diligent boards of directors that represent the interests of shareholders. Our structure of government has no equivalent safeguard. The Constitution did not anticipate the election of a president who believed he had unlimited power.
Reading Peril not only leads you to conclude that we are fortunate that Trump is gone, but also that new safeguards are needed to prevent another Trump-like president. It should be easier to remove deranged presidents from office or, at a minimum, limit their authority in specific circumstances. The details of such legislation will have to be worked out, but action is urgent.
Despite everything that has happened in the last two years, Trump still has supporters and many of us expect him to run for president again in 2024. Could he win? Unfortunately, he could. A combination of a divided Democratic party, Democrats’ inability to select a credible alternative to Trump, a failing economy or some other sort of disaster blamed on Biden and/or the Democratic party could set the stage for Trump or a Trump clone comeback. The peril we faced in the last year could be less than that we face in the future.
So, here’s hoping that Trump supporters will not dismiss Peril as “more lies” and will read the book with an open mind. They should ask themselves, “Is the Trump described in Peril fit to be president?” You know my answer.
J.E. Dean of Oxford is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant writing on politics, government, birds, and occasionally goldendoodles.