“Real power is— I don’t even want to use the word— fear.” That tenet, spoken to a reporter by Donald Trump on March 31, 2016, is the origin of the title for Bob Woodward’s 19th book. Since becoming president, Donald Trump has attempted to make American citizens fearful of international trade deals, of an underfunded military, of terrorists overwhelming the nation’s security system and of torrents of immigrants from Mexico flooding our nation.
Creating a sense of crisis got Trump elected and his continual declaration that the nation is in a state of emergency has maintained his popularity among his base. None of these fear-inducing claims, however, are based in fact. Actually, more people are immigrating to the United States from India and China than from Mexico; the $700 billion military budget is the largest ever; the majority of terrorists are not crossing our borders by land, but by air and they are typically immediately captured by security at airports.
Woodward chronicles Trump’s early time in office until the resignation of his attorney, John Dowd. The book is 42 chapters long and each chapter recounts an episode of staff members and other public figures confronting Trump’s impulsive, unpredictable leadership style. The endnotes indicate Woodward used countless newspaper articles, numerous radio and television interviews and many eyewitness recollections as primary sources. There are 16 pages of colored photographs of many of the people hired and fired during this early tenure.
The plainly and meticulously written book is essentially a fact check of Trump’s rhetoric. Woodward’s dogged investigative reporting is remarkable. Throughout his career as an author, he has become known for his unassailable search for truth.
Woodward lets readers put their own interpretation on what he has written. Critics have called him a “stenographer” and the “literary equivalent of a C-SPAN3”, but in these days of outlandish adversarial reporting on cable news and social media, Woodward’s impartial style seems especially apt. I found the book to be a disturbing portrait of a president who gains power by instilling fear in the people he was elected to serve, but also a depiction of a world leader fearful of the office he holds.
Bob Woodward is an associate editor of The Washington Post, where he has worked for 47 years. He has shared in two Pulitzer prizes, first for the Post’s coverage of the Watergate scandal with Carl Bernstein, and second in 2003 as the lead reporter for coverage of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. All of his books have been national nonfiction bestsellers. Simon & Schuster is the publisher of this 420-page hardback.