A Warning fails to live up to the hype. Its author, “a senior official in the Trump administration”, offers few new revelations about the tempest-in-chief. Three years into Donald Trump’s presidency, the public is well aware he is neither stable nor a genius.
Unlike Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury, A Warning does not entertain. Unlike Devil’s Bargain by Joshua Green, Anonymous does not present Trump World in a broader context. Unlike Josh Campbell’s Crossfire Hurricane, A Warning does not brim with righteous fury.
Rather, A Warning reads like something written by someone with knowledge of what sometimes transpired within the Oval Office but without box seats. While the book records Trump’s profanity and chaos, it does not convey a meaningful firsthand story.
As the work of a supposed insider, A Warning illuminates too little. Nonetheless, the book is racking up record pre-sales. More than 100,000 copies have been ordered in advance, the publisher has printed 500,000. While Trump may have zero interest in reading, he can be great for other people’s sales.
Think of the pending battle on the bestsellers’ list between Donald Trump Jr’s Triggered and A Warning as a proxy for the scrum between red and blue Americas. Triggered has hit No 1; A Warning will probably follow.
In large measure, A Warning treads on well-worn ground. Stories of members of Trump’s administration considering jettisoning their boss with the 25th amendment are not new. Rod Rosenstein, the Janus-faced ex-attorney general, was outed for having raised that prospect in the aftermath of Trump firing James Comey.
Trump’s disdain for the judiciary and the rule of law is not news either. According to published reports, he talked of rescinding Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the supreme court on account of a perceived lack of gratitude. Appointees to the federal bench are now expected to kiss the president’s ring.
With the president’s tax returns on the line and the supreme court asked to weigh in, the public may get to witness another Trump-era civics lesson. Think of the recent census litigation as prelude, with Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh falling into line.
Ditto Trump’s attorneys general. Until Bill Barr emerged as the president’s hatchet man, Trump bemoaned the absence of the late Roy Cohn, his disbarred personal lawyer from whom he walked away as Cohn lay dying of Aids. As consigliere, Cohn helped Trump and his father battle charges of housing discrimination in the Nixon years. Cohn introduced Trump to Roger Stone, back in the day.
In Anonymous’s telling, it took Trump’s reaction to the death of John McCain to make the author realize this presidency was qualitatively different. It is as if Trump’s campaign rallies weren’t harbingers of what would come next.
Let’s take a walk down memory lane. There were those moments where Trump mocked McCain, a disabled reporter and a gold star family. In February 2016, hours before the New Hampshire primary, he repeated a cry from the crowd that Ted Cruz was a “pussy” on account of his position on waterboarding. That was eight months before the Access Hollywood tape.
And who can forget the chant of “lock her up”, a call to battle whose echo marred Trump’s outing to watch the World Series last month. As for the press, Trump painted a bullseye on their backs, much to the delectation of his supporters. Unlike George HW Bush, Trump never drew a distinction between campaigning and governing. Constitutionally, he is incapable.
A Warning also lacks a serious examination of how America reached this point or how “never Trump” lost its place within the Republican party. From that perspective, A Warning shares much with Max Boot’s The Corrosion of Conservatism, which also misses the fact the GOP has become less the party of suburbia and upward arc, more an amalgam of class and racial resentments.
Think of Trump as the godfather of birtherism. Think of Stephen Miller, his nativist adviser, as the byproduct of a lab experiment conducted by Pat Buchanan and Sarah Palin.
Still, Anonymous has tales to tell, and on immigration the writer does deliver. Trump purportedly proposed classifying all undocumented immigrants as “enemy combatants”, placing them on the same footing as captured members of al-Qaida and consigning them to the US prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
“Are you fucking kidding me? This is completely batshit,” an administration official tells Anonymous, who writes: “Before the president could make a public case for the concept, officials quashed it.”
Elsewhere, Trump is depicted as telling staff: “We get these women coming in with like seven children … They are saying, ‘Oh, please help! My husband left me!’ They are useless. They don’t do anything for our country. At least if they came in with a husband we could put him in the fields to pick corn or something.”
Disturbing, however, is not the same as surprising.
Trump had a difficult time distancing himself from David Duke during the presidential race. Then there was Charlottesville, where “good people, both sides” became the operative mantra. His take on immigrants was not an isolated one.
As a cache of emails between Miller and the former Breitbart writer Katie McHugh reveals, Miller, too, had a weak spot for white nationalism. According to McHugh, Miller suggested she promote an analysis of race and crime from American Renaissance, a white nationalist organization. Apparently, FBI data wasn’t enough.
Synchronously, A Warning lands amid public impeachment hearings. Although the author does not favor impeachment, the book stands to add fuel to the fire. Central tenets of the Republican defense of Trump are his own ineptitude and that his subordinates saved him from himself on Ukraine. In a sense, A Warning bolsters that case.
Beyond that, however, Anonymous is no Bill Taylor, George Kent or Marie Yovanovitch. As the names and faces of impeachment witnesses fill our TV screens, an aide with no name will be quickly forgotten.