The Divider by Peter Baker and Susan Glasser

The Divider: Trump in the White House, 2017-2021The Divider: Trump in the White House, 2017-2021 by Peter Baker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Husband and wife team Baker (New York Times) and Glasser (The New Yorker) have written a massive tome documenting the Trump presidency based on years of personal reporting and interviews of key insiders. I won’t bother to analyze or bash Trump since everyone pretty much knows what he is. Those who need to hear the truth about him won’t listen anyway. What I found interesting and important about the book is how it portrays the people around him in the White House or other key government positions. I hadn’t realized how much they almost all hated each other. They fell into two general categories: those true pro-Trumpers and those who took positions primarily to prevent Trump from doing something horrible. The former didn’t really like or respect Trump, nor he them, but they saw him as a vehicle for their own agenda. These include people like Jared Kushner (Israel), Jeff Sessions (immigration), John Bolton (Venezuela), Betsy DeVos (charter schools), and many others. The latter included the generals such as Mattis, McMaster, and Kelly, (but notably did not include Flynn, who was a true Trumper with an agenda of his own), Tillerson and many others. None of them was very effective either at their own agendas or at controlling Trump. Even within the second category, the in-fighting was fierce.

My takeaway from the book is how blessed we are to have a civil service system. Our governments and federal, state and local level chug along doing what needs to be done, whether protecting us , providing sanitation, education, social services, foreign relations, and a myriad of other things, all despite, not because of, the elected politicians. They are also protected by the civil service system which makes it hard to fire rank and file employees, and easy for arbitrators or boards to reinstate them. The same is true in the military. It leads to incompetent people staying in positions and plenty of the inefficiency for which government is known, but it is also the safeguard that keeps people like Trump from replacing knowledgeable career people with partisan incompetents or worse. It was our inexorable government machinery that kept our allies on our side, our military within the law, our court system running, and our economy working.

The book itself is too long and ponderous to be an enjoyable read. It is really written as a historical source document. People who follow the news closely won’t find much surprising, although I skipped liberally through the second half and may have missed something. The book is over 700 pages.

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