S1: Ultimately, my whole point is, if you believe the court needs to be expanded, say it. I can tell you this, all the energy and the Democratic Party that comes from radical elements in that party right now and all the money that you see being poured into all the activism, all is demanding.
S2: The commander in chief, whose first responsibility should be to keep the American people safe, sat on this information and suggested to the American people, you’re on one side of his ledger if you don’t wear a mask. And on the other side of his ledger, if you do, we have so many different problems. And what do the Republicans do, Leader McConnell? A stunt. They can’t get anything done.
S3: Hello and welcome to Trump Cast, I’m Virginia Heffernan. We are gearing up for the last and final debate between incumbent President Donald Trump and challenger former Vice President Joe Biden. This is bound to be a scintillating matchup. The two statesmen are expected to discuss critical race theory and its relationship with the positivist Christian doctrine that animated the civil rights movement, which is more effective, India’s extraordinary progress in clean energy and whether that might be a model for decarbonisation in America. Of course, they’re going to have to touch on responsible data governance in the United States. And finally, the topic on everybody’s lips, Indonesia at a crossroads. By the way, I always choose Indonesia at a crossroads because it’s always the cover of foreign affairs on The Simpsons. Anyway, it’s no doubt going to be an area dignified, frank and friendly exchange of views. Oh, who am I kidding? The debate tonight, one person is going to say, oh, hello, I look like a president and a regular old person, and the other one is going to say, gobble, gobble, ehp orp. And then it will be over. My guest today is Carlos Lozada. He is the nonfiction book critic for The Washington Post, a winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the author of What Were We Thinking? A Brief Intellectual History of the Trump Era. Of course, Carlos and I are going to be talking about Indonesia at a crossroads. Carlos, welcome to Trump Cast. Thank you for having me. I’m sure I’m not the first to say this, but you read one hundred and fifty plus books about Donald Trump. So we don’t have to.
S4: But you can if you want to. You can if you want to. Everyone says so you don’t have to. But yeah, you’re totally free to do it.
S3: Well also some of them are worth reading. So rather than slag off the bad ones, why don’t we start by talking about the good ones? And I should admit, I’ve read a lot of these to nowhere near one hundred and fifty, and there were some I hadn’t even heard of. But maybe we can start with can any one of these people and we’re talking Omarosa, Michael Wolff, John Kelly, James Comey, can any one of them. Right?
S4: Well, there’s like different categories. Right. And you kind of have to grade on a curve. Right. There’s some books where you’re not really in it for, like, the beautiful writing, but the surprisingly good writers, for instance, where you really don’t expect it among, say, the insider books is, I would say Cliff Simps. Cliff Semmes was sort of like a mid-level communications guy in the Trump White House and wrote this book called Team of Vipers, right? Yeah, yeah. It’s not like title. Yeah. Yeah, it’s it’s a it’s a good it’s a I guess it’s a playoff team of rivals. Rivals, Vipers. I don’t know. But yeah, that’s a book that again, I’m not saying it’s sort of like high literature, but it is it is entertaining. It it is long but it reads quick. And he has a good eye for scenes. I mean, one of my favorite moments in that book takes us back to the very, very beginning of the Trump presidency, literally that first weekend when Sean Spicer was sent out to litigate the crowd size. Right.
S3: Trump’s inauguration versus the vast crowd size at the biggest inauguration period, period, period.
S4: Yes. He added spice or added period to a lot of things. But Cliff Simms takes you behind the scenes of that moment. And essentially he’s at the keyboard when all these aides are like huddled, trying to come up with Spicers talking points and they’re pulling data. They’re pulling information out of nowhere. And they they fully admit it. And yet suddenly, just when they’ve kind of got their stuff together, the computer crashes and they lose everything. Right. And Cliff Simmons didn’t know if, you know, like, is this like an automatic shutdown thing, like what’s going on? And, you know, and they’re able to cobble it back together and send Spicer out. But that scene just made me think that, like the the ghosts of press secretaries past were like intervening and trying to get them to stop doing something so transcendentally dumb on that first weekend where where they ended up losing so much credibility, like right off the bat.
S3: Yes. This is the rare Short-circuiting. Doesn’t him say he had it been a long time since he’d used a PC rather than a Mac? So this is the PCs. It’s an old poison pill for Bill Gates about lie overload. When your circuits get shorted in your PC, if you if you lie too much.
S5: Yeah. That I like, you know, like like that was just a good scene. It was something we thought we all knew what had happened. But it’s just a nice behind the scenes moment and also just the ways in which Steve Bannon, you know, came off as this big sage thinker and rabble rouser. But all he seems to say to everyone is like, hey, let’s just break shit. You know, let’s just let’s just, like, mess things up, you know? And you never get a sense of him actually sort of like being a big strategic thinker as opposed to kind of playing a big strategic thinker. And so that’s, for instance, why I liked Team of Vipers. That was a book that I I didn’t read at the time. I a lot of these books I read throughout the Trump presidency in my ongoing role as a book critic for The Washington Post, but many others, I went back when I was working on the book to kind of backfill, and I wanted to get more about specific subjects. And that’s when I read Team of Vipers and I enjoyed it. It was just a good read.
S3: Yeah, I love some of the passages. I mean, love may be too strong. I like some of the passages you quote from The Sims book and especially it’s very hard to make writing and editing have any drama to it. And somehow he’s able to bring you to this point where the PC crashes and he frantically hits the spacebar. I mean, but also that all comes down to the moments of people like Sims who were called on and virtually everyone. He writes, writes, these books who were called on to smooth over, have been called on to smooth over and make sense of Trump’s exaggerations and, you know, more rotten moral character. So, you know, that’s it’s just exactly right. You’re just manically typing and trying to frantically hit the spacebar in order to preserve a justification of Trump’s hyperbole. That can’t be justified. I mean, it’s just there’s something very interesting in the mania that you describe there. So thanks for that tip.
S4: It’s also very consistent with Trump, even pre presidency. Some of these books describe, for instance, Trump during The Apprentice.
S5: And it turns out that Trump would often choose winners on the show in a way that had no bearing on how they’d actually done the tasks or sort of like how have they shown themselves to be to be worthy or not on the show. And so the producers and editors had to then go back and basically re edit the show to make Trump’s ultimate decision make sense. Yeah. And so I think that’s that’s you know, you see that that’s described in books like James Poniewozik book Audience of one is that Times TV critic. But you see, it’s entirely consistent, right? It’s very much how he has kind of used the federal government like after the fact. I want X outcome. And so let’s sort of massage data. Let’s get other information out there to make it seem like that is the correct outcome. And it’s only a coincidence that I’m holding a Sharpie right now, which I just have here just for emphasis. And that’s that’s that’s the ultimate example, right? Like let’s redraw the map of the hurricane with with a Sharpie after the fact to make my my off the cuff impulses seem correct afterward.
S3: You know, I think the first very first time I was on this show as a guest, I talked to a guest. So I talked to Jacob Weisberg because I was in James Poniewozik for all when The Apprentice was on the air. And I had seen every episode and it was kind of it’s kind of hard to get good hands on the episode. So I was sort of you like I had seen it, so nobody else had to. And I have a favorite season. And but one of the things that was really interesting in those final year fired scenes was it’s true that the producers had tried a little bit to bring together his completely capricious decisions about who should win and lose. He hadn’t been following who who was the good project leader, who didn’t what on each project. But they also kind of gave in to his impulsiveness as an interesting drama. So I think I said that and I still I still believe that. I don’t know, maybe it’s the untouchables, but a mafia don walking around a table with a baseball bat and you don’t know whose head is going to smash in, you know, or that, you know, that thing where he’s like, haven’t I done right by everyone here? Has everyone you know and you know that he’s on to the rat, but he’s like talking sweetly and then he just bashes somebody’s head in who you don’t expect. So the other thing is that the producers that’s as as time went on on The Apprentice also realized that his complete, you know. Yeah, impulsivity was interesting. Drama was like anybody could die now. And, you know, he’s talking about firing Christopher Wray or DeSanto, you know, so like someone could be completely loyal and he’s still deciding. Yeah. That he can sack them at any opportunity. So anyway, who have these writers is pro Trump?
S4: Oh, I mean, there’s a lot there’s a lot of I mean, I, I wanted in this book to range as widely as I could. It would be a very boring book if I’m just writing about writers who are against Trump, who are in the tank for Trump, and it wouldn’t be as useful, I think, to anyone. So I mean, there is a sort of canon of sycophantic writers, but there are sort of two kinds of those writers. Some are just the you know, you have books by by Corey Lewandowski and and and Jeanine Pirro and and Newt Gingrich has written for Trump books in four years. I mean, that is some dedication to Charles Dickens of our time. And and I have to pause there. And and but then you also have you know, and those are just books that really that often, you know, mimic Trump’s tones and that try to sort of not see in him what is what is there, try to sort of explain everything away. Then you have books that are sort of the pro Trump intellectuals, Victor Davis Hanson, Michael Anton. And I mean intellectuals is an elastic term. There’s there’s. All sorts of kind of levels of of of thinking going on, but what did you make of those? Because, you know, yeah, they you know, Rich Lowry, who was the who, you know, who, as editor of National Review, oversaw the against the big against Trump issue they did before the election, but sort of got religion afterwards. Yeah. And and those books my my my main conclusion with those is that they want to retrofit some kind of ideology onto Trump after the fact. They want to to say that there is something coherent and noble that is called Trump ism, as opposed to just something impulsive called Trump. And so they create these whether it’s a new conservative nationalism, theories that purport to explain what Trump is really all about. But more often than not, they just end up like they claim to love Trump for his beliefs and his principles, but they really are with them for his enemies. Right. They they they share common enemies. Michael Lambton, who wrote the famous Flight 93 essay before the election, the idea there was that, look, voting for Trump is is risky. But if you don’t vote for Trump, i.e., if you sort of allow Hillary Clinton to win, then then you die for sure. Right. That voting for Trump was like charging the cockpit on 9/11. Right. Like you might die, but if you do nothing, you’ll definitely die.
S3: What’s crazy about that? Because we’ve talked so much on the show, especially lately, about the death cult of Trump and Trump ism. If such a thing exists and you know, you might die at Flight Flight 93, they did die. So, yeah, the other weird thing is like it’s a Hail Mary move, but it’s also, you know, you’re going down to it’s a kamikaze mission.
S4: And he keeps he wrote another book that kind of follows up on that. And it’s like we’re still on Flight 93. And like he hasn’t realized who has taken the controls for a long time now, you know, and yes, the way I read some of these Trump intellectuals is that they they just sort of share common enemies. And so they’re just trying to superimpose some kind of ideology, some kind of set of principles. But I think there’s a clear tell the sort of give themselves away how it’s there in their books. I mean, you know, like immigration suddenly becomes a huge hobby horse. And Michael Lantern’s book, not not just the original essay, fine. But then he wrote a book called After the Flight 93 Election, after he had served in the Trump White House on the national security staff. I mean, once he was he was I think he was outed by the by the dearly departed Weekly Standard. And he even then, it’s not like he was making the case for Trump based on anything Trump had done or anything he had seen Trump do. It was it was purely based on on who Trump’s enemies are. Hmm. That, to me, was sort of a very clear sign that it wasn’t really about proactively defending Trump principles. It was just about sharing Trump enemies.
S3: There’s something so hyper aroused or something in the case against the enemies that like quickly telecentre. Q And on what like you know, I think Kuhnen obviously they’ve accused Tom Hanks and Bill Gates of being actual first. They were just pedophiles and they’re eating children. And now I think sometimes they just say Satan, you know, that the deep state is satanic. And you see that at high and low ends of the rhetorical spectrum, that this kind of inchoate enemy is worth defeating at all costs. And I don’t know the levels of hysteria of I don’t know are something strange. And as you say, when the president has, you know, been in office all these years, right after Trump won someone, I was complaining on Facebook when I was still on Facebook and someone said, you know, give her a chance to breathe, because right after Mitt Romney was defeated, I was so depressed and no one like dancing on my grave about this. So will be will be happy later about Trump. But now is a moment, you know, to kind of console the the supporters of Hillary Clinton. And and and yet I never saw them enjoy their victory. They just kept, you know, just calmly have a moment to say, you know, all those, like, books at checkout counters are a time life kind of things about Obama, you know, that were written clearly by supporters about just what a wonderful moment and commemorative this and that that you still see around in Brooklyn. Just nothing like that. Just these other books that are still fighting the battle instead of sitting back and saying, you know, now let’s roll up our sleeves and get the work done. And that all seemed strange to me.
S4: Yeah. Trump I think part of it. Is that the the fight is the thing I don’t I don’t I don’t think it was about I mean, sort of immediately after I mean, Trump questioned the legitimacy of the last election. And he, you know, with with all these all these undocumented immigrants voted and I really won the popular vote, et cetera. You know, if you don’t count all the illegal voting, I mean, he questioned the legitimacy of an election that he won. Yes, it was always he enjoys fighting so much that I don’t think it was ever about, just like kicking back and sort of feeling like there was a chance to savor the victory. It was a battle instead, you know, and I mean, even running for re-election as the outsider fighting. And so I don’t know. I don’t think that there’s any sense where that was ever going to happen, even if you go back. And so this for me, this whole project started in the summer of twenty fifteen. I had only recently become the the book critic at the Post, and Trump was suddenly doing really well in the polls for the Republican nomination. And so I decided to go read his old books, starting with with the Art of the Deal and the others. And I know you’ve had Tony Schwartz on on on the podcast, but even even ghostwritten books are revealing. Right. And in the way that all propaganda is, is revealing. And so I read about eight of his books and did one big piece for the post about what I learned about the guy and what I concluded. I think this may have been the sort of PICC line is that he’s all about choir and he’s all about getting he’s all about winning. But then once he has the thing, he doesn’t care about it anymore, he gets bored. He’s uninterested. So, you know, that struck me as and I think I wrote something like, yes, he wants to win, but does he want to actually govern? I don’t I don’t think so. You know, and I mean, it was all there. I mean, that’s the crazy thing that, like everything that is so shocking about the Trump presidency is entirely unsurprising if you’d even just read his own books. Right. His constant sense of grievance, his his obsession with the media, both questioning it, but craving its approval, his his willingness to to to to stretch the truth, to lie like it was all there. It seems to me very consistent with the Trump who has presented himself for all these decades to not really care about governing all that much, to just it’s all about fighting. It’s all about winning. The world is divided into killers and losers. And you got to be a killer. There’s no such thing as a win win. This thing is like getting something done where it benefits everyone. It’s like and so to me, that perspective that they they never just kind of said, OK, now let’s roll up our sleeves now to try to expand the base. That never seemed like something that was really in the cards.
S3: Right. Not even lip service to kind of work across the aisle like you hear from from Biden. Now, it’s just like those words almost don’t pass anymore, which used to be just a truism.
S4: It’s also very reality TV, right? It’s very reality TV.
S5: It’s all about fighting. It’s all about who wins, who loses. It’s the show. I mean, you know it better than anyone. It’s like The Apprentice come six hundred Pennsylvania.
S3: So, yeah, one of the things about reality TV and this is to tee up a discussion of Omarosa Hasbrouck unhinged. Is that because the shows are in theory unscripted and they actually are they don’t have words on a teleprompter and this was supposed to cut down on union costs and they don’t have to pay writers in the same way. Also, all the actors are basically volunteers. Sometimes they get hair and makeup, but but most of the time they’re in it just for the branding opportunity. And because no drama is written in by writers there, they have to. You say this, you say this in the book, they have to create their own drama. Right. So, like, even that word gets bashed around. You know, she’s just a diva making drama. She’s all about drama. But in any case, they are all supposed to make scenes. That’s their job. And Omarosa on her season of The Apprentice just did a beautiful, beautiful job with that. I mean, it’s actually quite elegant, but there you have a black woman against Trump. And all he really has, she has her elegance. She has her wit. All he has is his, you know, elevated fake mahogany desk or whatever. That is where he looks down on her. So I was really interested in unhinged. And I have to admit, I did not get to read her book, even though my dear friend Kate Arthur says it’s the best of the books. I don’t think you share Kate’s impression of it. But I know you you respected it in certain ways. So tell me about unhinged.
S4: Yeah, so unhinged. It’s funny, with some books that I review, I look back, know I have a bookshelf here in my house that is just for the books that I’ve written about. And my my wife made it for me because she knows I like to like have you know, she’s really handy and she knows that I like to kind of go over some of these, these books again and again. Some I look at. I have no memory of ever having read. I don’t like I like what was what was in that book, you have to, like, look at my own, but like, oh, yeah, I remember what I thought. Yeah. Others, others I know sort of exactly where I was and what was going on and how I felt. And Unhinged is one of those. I was writing a piece about all the most pro Trump sycophantic books I’d read like five of them I think. And just when I was done and starting to write Suddenly Unhinged came out. And I don’t know if I if I didn’t know when it was coming or but I had been planning to to read it in that moment. But it came out like, oh, I have to do this even though it’s different. Right. It’s about a sycophant who turn right.
S5: That’s right. It’s very distinct in that sense. And so she you know, she paints herself as having been in almost this kind of Trump cult. And she writes about her time on The Apprentice as how she explicitly modeled herself on Trump. She studied him. She wanted to be exactly like him because she thought that that’s how you would get ahead in the show. And so, you know, it’s it’s very clear. It’s she’s all that she’s doing is trying to out trump Trump to be the black female Donald Trump as odd is odd as that as that sounds. And of course, she became the the villain. Then, you know, there’s this it’s also very Trump and that she has this enormous sense of entitlement that she feels like she deserves, you know, a very significant job. And it’s disappointing when she doesn’t get the job she wants. Nearly everyone wants the same. A lot of these authors like Scaramucci, Cliff Simms and Omarosa, they all want the same job. I’m going to look it up in in the book, what we’re talking to, see if I can remember. I remember which job it was. How hard can this job be? It was the office of it was to be director of the Office of Public Liaison in the White House. I don’t know what that means. Like, I’m not a White House reporter. I have no idea what the person in that job does. But everyone wants that job, which makes me think that it must be like a made up job that has no real responsibilities because everybody feels that they deserve that job. But she didn’t get it. She didn’t get this job that she wanted. And that was one of the steps toward her gradual disenchantment with Trump world.
S4: In a sense, it reminds me of Michael Cohen’s book and even weirdly of Mary Trump’s book. Like like there are people who who if things had just gone a little better for them in Trump World probably would never have written these books. Right.
S3: Like like, wow, OK, that’s serious fighting words. You know, like I mean, if Mary Trump hadn’t been disinherited, she might still be in the fold. She might be a tip.
S5: Well, I think. But I really like that. No, no, no. I’ll tell you, I gave a very positive review to that book. Yeah, her cards are on the table. Right. Like like she shows very clearly that she has an axe to grind. She’s upset because her side of the family was treated so horribly and her brother were basically disinherited. Her father was treated horrendously by her grandfather, Fred Trump, and by and by Donald later on. And so, yeah, I think her cards are. Entirely on the table, and I think that if if like, if she hadn’t been sort of pushed away from this, I mean, I think this is very natural. It doesn’t seem to me like a big a big sort of fighting words thing. Like I think if she had been treated with greater respect and and greater empathy and affection by this family, maybe she wouldn’t have given 19 boxes of documents to The New York Times, like maybe she wouldn’t have written this memoir. And what I like about it is that she’s up front about everything. She’s up front about all of this. I mean, she doesn’t talk about her her motivations in writing the book. And what I have done this or what I have not. So it’s a different version of what I’m talking about with Michael Cohen and Omarosa. But if John Kelly hadn’t tossed her out of the White House, I doubt that she would have written a very aggressive tell all book. You know, if yeah, if if if Michael Cohen hadn’t been hung out to dry, you know, I doubt that he would have written disloyal. In fact, he was pitching a different book. He was pitching a book about the Trump revolution and how how great it was when people ask me, which are the books that give you the best insight into Trump himself in a weird way, aside from his own, I think of Mary Trump’s book for sure, which is such a unique vantage point. Right. Like a family member with a background in clinical psychology. Right. To really understand this. I mean, that’s an amazing combination. And Michael Cohen, who was there for years at his side, you know, watching everything. And so I liked Mary Trump’s book far more than Cohen’s book. It’s just better written. And she’s more honest about where she’s coming from than Cohen is. I think. I think. But I think those books give you a really good sense of Trump himself. But I also, you know, I don’t know if they would have existed if all these people had been treated better in Trump.
S3: Yeah. All right. Maybe this sounds a bit far fetched, but I’m thinking and putting together in my head how Mary Trump begins the book. And I’ve just come to really like her and respect her. And I liked the book at the time. But she starts out the book in a way that was I wanted her to be. You want all these people to solidly dissent. I want all of them to be Walt Sharp, you know, OK, I gave them a chance, you know, at the Office of Government Ethics. He refused to divest. And so I am out and I am a resistance fighter. But you did that right away, too. He did that right away. And it was so powerful. And he never looked back. And he went with MoveOn to fight for the kids at the border. And he’s, you know, it. He’s spoken on soapboxes and and moved mountains to call attention to these ethical violations. And I want them all to be like that. But, of course, you you know, the first one I reviewed of these and read was Michael Wolff’s book. And yet I know him a little bit. And I just thought, God to, you know, to catch a thief like you have to be one of these people to really be in there with them. And he’s, you know, a swaggering bullying jerk. And he probably wrote one of the best books about it, you know, because he just can he can stand he can stomach sitting with these people and getting to know Steve Bannon. And I couldn’t even sit across the table from that guy. So hats off to to Michael Wolff. So, Mary, Trump’s book begins. I love the name Trump. I’ve always loved my name, right? Yes. Yes. You know, and I that’s the part that I wanted her to say that like one of Paul Manafort Stoddard, she was changing her name. She wanted nothing to do with him. But she really is like the umbrella of Trump. Protection is very, very powerful and only because she was basically born into exile, because Fred had been Fred was despised by his father even before Mary was born, Fred Jr.. But you’re right that there’s a feeling of like God, there was this warm penumbra. And Cohen always talks about, you know, you felt like you were part of something bigger than yourself when you were with him. And only because I’m sitting in a prison cell can I start to get some distance from this.
S5: That felt so honest, right? Didn’t that feel so real to you? Like, that’s really appreciate about about those kinds of books. Is that, you know, there I mean, especially a lot of the a lot of the resistance writing is so self righteous and like Trump’s moral compass is broken. So mine obviously points north at all times. Yeah. Yeah. And and, you know, books like these are kind of, you know, by flawed and fallen people are just seem more real to me. You know, Michael Cohen fell for it. Michael Cohen loved it. Michael Cohen, you know, lived it. And and that’s why when he’s there sitting in front of these members of Congress telling them, like, I know what, I know what you’re going through. I know what it feels like to be totally in the tank for this guy, like it’s not going to end well for you. It just seems so. Much more credible, even if the guy’s a confessed liar, right? It’s just an interesting juxtaposition for me. And I you know, I really reading Michael Cohen’s book was hard. I yes, it combined so many horrible things and scenes and moments and impulses and instincts about Trump and about how Cohen himself just grew to love all of that. Yeah, that I sort of hated reading it. Like I feel like this was the book that defeated me, you know, like I just I was ready to cry, like uncle, like, OK, stop. Like, I know I know that this is who this person is. But at the same time, you know, I, I feel like I just got a really clear vantage point. My favorite moment in that book is early on when Cohen has only recently begun working for for Donald Trump. And there he’s been meeting on the twenty sixth floor, whatever it is, of Trump Tower. And then they walk, they come down, take elevator down and they’re all walking through the atrium of Trump Tower and all these people are just mobbing him coming up to Trump, asking for autographs and taking pictures. And Michael Cohen is blown away, but also kind of loves being part of it.
S4: And and Trump winks at Cohen and leans in and whispers. This is what Trump is all about. And it’s completely true.
S5: Right? That’s what Trump Trump is still all about. Right. Like being at the center at the center of the mayhem of the story of the attention. It’s exactly how he wants it. It’s how he ran the Trump organization. It’s it’s how he governs. And I think a lot of these books, a lot of these books, including Michael Wolff, kind of feed into that. You know, it’s just like like this era is defined solely by this one person.
S3: Right. And they orbit everyone’s orbiting around him and some of us kids. My my epigram for Michael Cohen is what he said before, Elijah Cummings and that committee when he testified, which is I’ve been lying for Mr. Trump, you know, and that’s exactly the expression that Giuliani uses, lying for Mr. Trump. He doesn’t he has a different accent. But anyway, I hope you appreciate my effort at a Long Island. Yeah, exactly. But line for Mr. Trump. And he Mr. Trump talks in code. And this is how we do this around him. And then the people even up the chain to a commie or to a a John Kelly find themselves lying for this guy and then they’re implicated. And that’s what I where I want to go to Comey, because the pressure. You know, Comey, as he continually reminds us in a higher loyalty, is six, eight, he’s up there in the higher loyalty realm where only high godly figures hang out. And, you know, you’d think that someone who had run a enormously, you know, powerful law enforcement department would who’d been armed many times in his life, would not be worried about awkwardness, as he says with Trump and would not have a hard time answering the question, you know, will you be loyal or will you? I hope you can see your way clear to letting Mike Flynn go. Yeah, right. So he you’d think that someone like that would be able to say, but it would not feel like hiding and cringing. I think some people, because me too came out at the same time. We weren’t thinking about Comey, that he was almost like being kind of stalked by a predator and at some point was hiding behind curtains, didn’t want to be alone with him. You probably remember Preet Bharara also said, you know, has he Trump called him and sort of strongarmed him about all the litigation he was facing in New York. And Preet Bharara got off the phone. I’m not going to do an impression, Preet Bharara as father, but Preet does a very good impression of his father, you know, says as he calls his father basically to give him ballast. And his father says, like, I don’t think you should spend much more time with this guy, basically. And so all these alpha males in huge who should know better. And I don’t know if Michael Cohen fits the bill but are enlisted in this in this terrible. Business of lying for Mr. Trump and somehow can’t say no, they can’t sort of call on their military reserve or call in anything to stand up and say, I think, as Rex Tillerson once did, or they’re small examples of someone shouting back at him, but they can’t seem to do it. And sometimes the books seem to chronicle their own equivocations in this very morally disturbed way, you know, because almost all of them have genuflected before him at one point or another, except Walt Sharp, even James Comey.
S5: He’s your hero. I like that.
S3: Oh, my gosh. I mean, come on. Like he did. Exactly. You know what everyone was cheering for someone to do from the very beginning. I love that speech. Before Brooking’s, he ought to take the strong medicine and medicine of divestiture.
S4: I also don’t brand it so and read.
S3: Exactly. I also have a neighbor who’s a Trump right here and with Trump flags. And I keep wanting to go over and say, do you even understand the Emoluments Clause and something like that? Because, like, Walt’s rhetoric is so different from Trump’s, you know, it’s like it’s all in the clauses of the section symbols anyway.
S4: So I want to take a detour on on shop for a second and get back to me. I’m having a flat now that I’m hearing you talk.
S5: I’m having this flashback that I think at some point I heard from Walt during the Trump presidency and I think like in an email and I think it’s when I reviewed Michael Lewis’s book, The Fifth Risk, which of course, is a book that that that I think shop maybe was featured and briefly, but also I think a book that he just loved and he would love, because that to me is I mean, to the extent that a Michael Lewis book can kind of go under the radar, which I know sounds impossible, but I mean, people who know him from the Big Short or the Blind Side or Liar’s Poker or whatever, you know, this was a book that relative to those Moneyball, relative to those got, I think, less attention than me. It’s one of the most vital books of this period. So every outgoing administration has to prepare a series of briefings for the incoming administration just so they know what’s going on. And I think this started in 2000 when the transition because of Bush v. Gore got so messed up and the Obama team was so impressed with how well the Bush team prepared those briefings for them, that they just knock themselves out to prepare briefings for whoever would come next. Of course, they assumed it was going to be Hillary Clinton as as most of the world did. But but it wasn’t. And then they ended up like the a lot of the Trump team either didn’t show up or sent the wrong people or didn’t have the clearance to get the briefings. And so Michael Lewis did basically the the next best thing. And he went and interviewed a bunch of perhaps recently retired officials from the Obama administration to basically say, what briefing would have you given the Trump team if they’d been interested? And he talked to folks from Department of Commerce and Energy and Agriculture. And it’s all about how the federal government is this massive risk management agency and they’re trying all day long to prevent catastrophic things from happening short term or long term. And the fifth risk is basically that kind of ongoing risk management and project management that agencies do. And the book felt like countercultural right in this moment, where were federal employees are being constantly denigrated. And after I reviewed it, I may be making this up in my head, but I’m pretty sure I got an email from Walshaw basically saying, like, I’m so glad you read this book. This is a very important book. And it asked if I got that. He was right.
S3: He never misses a moment to offer praise and to read the right, you know, to read all the books. And I don’t know, he just to me, he seems to have a clear moral compass.
S4: And at some point I realize you were you were you were like a groupie. Yes. That’s awesome. Yeah.
S3: He’s become a good friend, too. I mean, OK, I was a I was a fan first from the Brookings speech, but let’s get me. Yeah. Yeah. Because Shobna also dislikes and a lot of people do the famous KOMY sanctimony, you know, the kind of I speak for Reinhold Niebuhr side of him. And I know you see some of that is insufferable. The truth is I part company from Walt in liking a higher loyalty. I think it’s a really strange and powerful book about a strange and powerful person. I think he does a really interesting job with his own character. And I get yes, he’s sanctimonious, but this is how. The world seems from inside and his extreme insecurity. I mean, it’s it’s just such a, I don’t know, an interesting memoir. But tell me tell me about your your hesitation around it and what you might or might not like.
S5: I mean, I think your description of the memoir, those those sort of mixed feelings are just perfectly capture comis role in this era. He’s one of the most fascinating. Absolutely characters from this period. People are always going to remember Jim Comey and what he decided to do during the campaign when he spoke out about Hillary Clinton so forcefully, yet didn’t move forward on the charges that the October surprise.
S4: I mean, we’re still getting some of the best books we’re getting now on that period reflect that those mixed feelings. I’ve got Michael Schmitt’s book, Donald Trump versus the United States, which came out recently, which is basically tells the story of this time through the eyes of Don McGann, the White House counsel and and and Comey. Yeah. And it’s kind of more sympathetic to Comey then than others have been than Devlin. Barrett, my colleague at the Post has written a book that’s far more critical called The October Surprise, far more critical of Comey. And to me that that contrast is perfect because that’s exactly how we feel about James Comey. Yeah, and in the book, there is a ton of the that kind of self puffery and sanctimony. And he is honorable to a fault, like on the little things like like I regifted a tie one time, but I told the recipient that it was a gift because I felt guilty about it or I never cut them. Here’s a great moment. I never cut in line at the FBI cafeteria because I just wanted people to know that I don’t think I’m better than anyone else. The way to not be better than anyone else made people think that is to not act as if you’re better than anyone else. Right. Not to be constantly worried about how better you are or not. And so, like, those little things just kind of put you off. But he does a really good job of describing life from that vantage point in Washington because he’s been in it forever, not just not just as as FBI director, I mean, as as in the Justice Department and in very senior roles. He writes about how he’s always had to watch life through like black tinted windows, like driving as he’s as he’s driving past places. So, you know, Comey, I think, just perfectly captures in that book all these misgivings that people have about someone like him who is trying so desperately to do the right thing. But he’s trying to do the right thing, and in part because he’s trying to live up to this exalted self image that he has. Yes. Yes. And so it’s it’s a weird kind of rationale there. Right. Like, he’s trying to do the right thing, but you try to do that things sort of very self-serving reasons. You know, it’s it’s just an art. I have I have these very that’s why he’s one of my favorite as a character and one of my favorite characters of this time, because there’s nothing clear about him. There’s nothing unambiguous about his role and the way he sees Trump. I mean, you’re saying that, you know, why can’t he stand up to him? What is he let himself be beaten down? And he writes himself in the book that dealing with Trump reminded him of the time when he’s in the he’s U.S. attorney in Manhattan and he’s dealing with all these mobsters that he’s prosecuting. Right. And he was like like the us versus them world view, the like small circle of assent, you know, the the the loyalty oath, all these things. He said, like, you know, dealing with Trump is like dealing with a mobster. And.
S5: Yes, and he said that right at the beginning. You know, like that’s become part of the discussion over. Michael Cohen talks about it a lot. Michael Cohen, who says in his book that when he was young, he kind of wanted to be like a like the young Henry Hill from from Goodfellas. Yes. You know, like like he also it’s not that Trump made him this, you know, like Cohen kind of aspired to this in some ways, but Comey recognized all that. And he can take these mafia families on as as US attorney.
S4: But it’s different when it’s your boss, when it’s when you’re sitting there having dinner one on one and suddenly out of the blue, this guy’s asking you for your loyalty. What was his response? You give him like loyal honesty or honest loyalty.
S3: Every one of those loyalty. Honest. Yeah, something like that. That exchange had. Yeah. Was like also heavily passed. And, you know, the I think I remember in the I hope you’ll see your way clear to letting Flynn go, which by the way, by the way, a fervent wish of Trump’s. That was the. Actually happened, it took four years, but Flynn has been let go, but I think one of the president’s sons defended, I hope, as not a command back to the Mr. Trump talks and code that I hope that that’s the whole thing.
S5: Yeah, you don’t need to. I mean, back to Goodfellas, right? Yes. Paulie never had to speak much because everyone knew what he meant, you know. Yes. Yes. I was just watching that the other night and said, oh, really?
S3: I remember that that scene, you know, BuzzFeed is basically reported that, yes, Trump did suborn perjury from Michael Cohen, as Michael Cohen also agrees. But he said it like, you know, this is the time frame for the for the Trump Tower deal in Moscow. Right. You know, in other words, you will say it this way, but that isn’t the same as ordering that there’s this elliptical kind of speech that is known, you know, that that Cohen calls code. And that and that clearly baffles Comey. I mean, he just has such a different relation to language.
S5: You also see it in the Mueller report. I think you see in the report where, you know, he’s he’s basically I think he’s telling Don McGann to talk to Sessions about firing Mueller, but without ever saying tell sessions to fire Mueller. Yes. It’s you know, it’s always very it’s more oblique than that. It’s more elliptical, as you say. It’s it’s like something like, you know, talk to sessions about, you know, Mueller’s conflict of interest. Right. You know, like it’s it’s never saying, like, you know, go fire him, right? Yes. Yes. And of course, McGann doesn’t do it because he doesn’t want to launch another Nixon like massacre. Yeah. And yeah. So I think those two that’s why I’m only halfway through it and I’ve gotten distracted by other reading. But Michael Schmidt’s book, Donald Trump versus the United States by focusing on McGann and Comey as these two sort of very senior but kind of second level figures is, I think, a really good way to think about this presidency, because, again, it doesn’t have to be all about him. It’s about how people respond to this very unusual institutionally. What’s the word like this? This this man who has no sort of other knowledge or respect for how things are supposed to work. Yeah. Then know dealing with a lifer like me or just like a guy who wants to appoint judges like McGahn.
S3: Yeah, I think that’s absolutely right. All right. Because you you’re a literary critic. I want to end with a question for you about a kind of adjectival overload that I felt like I knew out of the gate. So Trump usually picks an adjective and sticks to it. Crooked, right. But somehow this has been a test of the roadways in everyone’s mind to try to say, you know, jerk as many ways as possible. So I remember when The New Yorker, I think David Remnick, in his bylined pieces, settled on infantile and then people started to get to sadist and they brought back the word grifter for some of the bit players. And then there was this period where we really loved the Scottish. Remember when they said the Scots called him a drunk or something? The name they may have done that, but then they had this whole because he falsely implied in 2016 that they had been leavers. So they had been nationalists, that they wanted to leave the EU. And so they said back to him on a tweet, we voted to remain you polyester cock Womble, you incap incompressible, just carpet. I miss leather. You leather faced shit tobacconist you weasel headed fuck. Now get home. And it does seem that we reached I mean I’ve tried Pinwheel Eyes, I’ve tried Siko but nothing seems to leave a mark in any way. It means, you know, one of the area’s other phrases. So I guess there’s the proliferation of language on the side of, let’s say, the deep state people or the college educated. And there’s kind of a contraction of the language among Trunk’s Trump supporters with the sloganeering. And where do you think that leaves literature? Sort of a big question. And maybe you don’t accept my premise, but I feel like, you know, there’s a little bit of like Raffo media. There’s just all these books trying to say, you know, that he’s a corrupt bigot over and over and over. And, you know, on the other side, there’s like this is why I was talking about wanting to go over and say something about emoluments to my next door neighbor, where they say Make America great again. And then I go off into a spiel about do you understand what the Hatch Act is, you know, like met their phrase making with and I’ll submit to you my white paper. You know, in some ways that seems like that seems like a an important kind of contrast alive in the land.
S6: Where does it leave literature? Whenever people, you know, want to talk to me about this this this book or ask me about it, there’s always this sense of weariness like, oh, my God, are are you OK? You know, you read all these books about about this era, the assumption being that they must be awful, that they must be exhausting, and that I’ve sort of taken one for the team. Right. And I think that there are there some great books to come out of this period. There’s books that I’m I’m so I’m so grateful that I had the chance to to read. And to experience, I think, some of the very best books of the Trump era, the most essential books of the Trump era are just not about him. Yeah, and once we get past the all consuming obsession with one person, we actually are able to see works that are far more significant and useful. And even in understanding the quote unquote, Trump era and books that show how all the fights we’re having right now, whether over immigration or over race or of identity and over justice and just over over belonging to all those fights are just ever present in the American story. They’re they’re not this is this is an oddity only in the sense that it seems to bring so many of them together this period. So I think of books like Jilib, these truths, which is just this this intense examination of whether we have lived up to the self-evident truths of the declaration. Looks like one person no vote by Carol Anderson, which looks at the long history and struggled over voting rights and voting suppression books like Susan Hennessey and Ben Witnesses on making the presidency, which takes this debate over norms. He’s he’s he’s killing the norms, right. To sort of show where the norms came from, how they grew up around the presidency and what it means to slowly dismantle them. Yes. Books that kind of put this moment in the American story where it is. It is. You know, it is who we are or at least who we have been rather than just this constant refrain of this isn’t normal. It’s not who we are. Well, in many cases it has been who we are. And a book like America for Americans by Erica Lee, which looks at how this nation’s tradition of being welcoming to immigrants lives alongside a very vibrant tradition of xenophobia and rejection of outsiders. These aren’t necessarily comforting reads that make me feel better about the moment, but they make the moment more understandable. And so in that sense, I would not sort of solely lament the literary output of this time. And that’s even just in my nonfiction world, I mean, which is my focus at the post. So in that sense, I don’t see this experience of writing a book about all all the books of the Trump era as solely this kind of taking one for the team blunt force exercise that I had to go through.
S3: That’s great. I mean, I from the beginning, I’ve been hesitant to say there’s something, you know, there’s anything less salubrious or something about the Trump presidency that it’s purgative of our you know, now will we’ll really get out, be able to lance the boil of racism once and for all or somehow to surface these things. But I do think it has put pressure on some really interesting minds to bring to the table sort of what they have. And I agree with you about Bennewitz and Susan Hennessy’s book and even some of the military figures, Klaper and Keli, that just you know, I didn’t listen to them before. I didn’t know and I didn’t know what it might look like if we had our patriotism, our norms, our sense of what America is, our sense of what the social fabric is, deconstructed or dismantled in a way where we can see its component parts. And you’re right that that’s a spur to imagination for a lot of these these really excellent minds who are also wrestling with their emotions, you know, and their sense of outrage.
S6: Life is different once you once you sort of peek down into the abyss.
S3: Yeah. Yes, that’s right. That’s right.
S6: And you even if you if you then look back up and you and you keep crossing on the tightrope, you know, like you’ve looked down now. Yes. You know what’s there.
S3: I was with Jacob Weisberg, the original host founded the role of founded started Trump cast on election night. And he you know, we I in my mind, he knows everything about political science. He knows everything about history. And as Trump was winning, I looked over at him and I was sure he was going to say something like, well, McGeorge Bundy and the Federalist Papers. And like, you just explained something that would make sense of it and it would all be over. He did not say McGeorge Bundy. He did not say the Federalist Papers. He did not present and, you know, fully formed New York Review of Books saying he was white, just a color drained out of him. And it it our poor powers to add or detract have been, you know, have been challenged. And that meeting of mind with catastrophe is potentially a really interesting place for for literature.
S4: I think it reveals it’s a great tradition of writing to look at what happens to intellectuals under political and cultural duress, captive minds. Right. Or the captive mind to sort of one of one of the great classics of that. And I think that this this period is is revealing about the country, revealing about the, you know, the Madisonian guardrails of American democracy, that should have been what Weisberg talked about, the Madisonian. But it’s also revealing about intellectual life. It’s revealing about how in the face of a disorienting and shocking event, how we then attempt or fail to to make sense of it.
S7: Thank you so much for being here. Carlos was really illuminating. And and I no longer think that it was a miserable slog for you. Thank you. Thank you for having me. Really fun. That’s it for today’s show. What You Think. Talk out your feelings on Twitter because everyone else says I’m at page 88 and the show is at Real Dreamcast. And please read us whichever app you use for podcasts. Give us five stars and a review where hopefully in the homestretch here. And we’d love for you to wrap up what you think of the show with a valedictory five stars. It all goes a long way for helping our show. And whatever comes next, reach its audience. Thank you, Slate plus members for being Slate plus members. Our show today was produced by Melissa Kaplan and engineered by Richard Stanislaw. I’m Virginia Heffernan. Thanks for listening to Trump cast.