At a later meeting in the White House Situation Room, Trump began speaking, not for the first time, about his desire to make a profit from the deployment of American soldiers. Tillerson had finally had enough. The authors describe the moment. The secretary of state stood, facing away from the president and toward officers and aides in the room.
“I’ve never put on a uniform, but I know this,” the authors quote Tillerson saying. “Every person who has put on a uniform, the people in this room, they don’t do it to make a buck. They did it for their country, to protect us. I want everyone to be clear about how much we as a country value their service.”
Trump grew red in the face, but saved his fire for later. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff later called Tillerson, his voice unsteady with emotion, to thank him. There aren’t a lot of moments in “A Very Stable Genius” in which people do the right instead of the expedient thing. Some of these scenes may make the reader unsteady with emotion as well.
There’s a lot more here, amid the peeling wallpaper of the American experiment. Trump considered awarding himself the Medal of Freedom. He informed the Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, wrongly: “It’s not like you’ve got China on your border.” Photographs emerged of Colbie Holderness, one of the former White House staff secretary Rob Porter’s ex-wives, with a black eye. She said Porter gave it to her. Trump had another explanation. The authors write: “Maybe, Trump said, Holderness purposefully ran into a refrigerator to give herself bruises and try to get money out of Porter?”
There are grainy details of a physical altercation between Kelly and Corey Lewandowski. There is the belittling, by nearly everyone, of the acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney (“He’ll take whatever I offer him”; “Mick just wants to be liked.”). There is commentary about Robert Mueller’s failure to press the president for a face-to-face interview during his investigation. There are descriptions of Mike Pence as “a wax museum guy,” able to blithely absorb any amount of insanity without comment.
In his memoir “A Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures,” the Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee wrote that Richard Nixon’s press secretary, Ron Ziegler, was “a small-bore man, over his head, and riding a bad horse.”
These words apply, one thinks while reading Rucker and Leonnig’s more than competent book, to nearly every adviser and staffer now in Trump’s orbit. The authors write: “The ineptitude came from the very top.”