Book Review - ‘Fear’ (2018) by Bob Woodward

In the opening scene of Bob Woodward’s book ‘Fear’, President Trump opts to withdraw from the United States’ free trade agreement with South Korea. In the book, Woodward tells of Gary Cohn’s anxiety at this decision and writes, ‘Cohn at times would just yank it, and the president would forget about it. But if it was on his desk, he’d sign it. “It’s not what we did for the country,” Cohn said privately. “It’s what we saved him from doing”’ This quote reveals Trump’s flawed method of reviewing international treaties. To the president, these were real estate deals - transactional zero-sum games.

In this book, the American journalist responsible for the scooping of Watergate in 1972, turns his attention to the first half of Trump’s presidency. Unlike other contemporary accounts, ‘Fear’ sets out how unprepared Donald Trump was for the job.

The book reveals how many popular accounts of Trump’s early years are actually the product of media spin - something on the level of British New Labour. Recently, Carl Bernstein - Woodward’s Watergate partner - has shown himself not to be above the partisan fray and claimed every Trump scandal is worse than Watergate. But in this book, Woodward is more careful and forensic in his assessment. If one wants a very readable plain statement of facts, this is your book. But be warned. Woodward, unlike Michael Wolff or John Bolton, does not claim to have been in the room where it happened. His observation therefore, must be treated with caution.

The book’s title comes from a statement found reprinted on the jacket’s sleeve: ‘Real power is - I don’t want to use the word - fear.’ On each page, Woodward sets out how the forty-fifth President of the United States utilized fear to settle into his role and flex his newly found political muscle.

For the past four years, a steady stream of ‘tell all’ memoirs on Donald Trump have emerged from White House ex-staffers, often as some kind of literary grenade. This book allows Woodward to keep his legendary status as one of the great journalists. To understand America’s most complex president, ‘Fear’ is an essential read.

Bradley is a Burkean Conservative and Associate Editor at Liberal Base. His interest are in tribalism, relationship of liberty and order, western political parties and the rise of China.You can follow him on twitter @burkeansmithite

Image: Justin Sullivan | Getty Images