It's Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America
by David Cay Johnston
Simon & Schuster, 2018
David Cay Johnston, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Making of Donald Trump and frequent cable-news president-pummeling pundit, turns again to the subject of Trump in his new book, It's Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration is Doing to America, a fast-paced and engagingly-written premature post-mortem on 21st century America under the administration of the racist, sexist, fascist lying moron in the Oval Office. Johnston's central contention will be familiar to readers of any of the small torrent of anti-Trump books to appear in the last year: that the 2016 election result was not only a devastating loss by one political party to another but a radical defeat for the forces of light against the forces of darkness.
This is a tricky, argument-starting contention, obviously, not least because it positions squarely as putative savior of civilization a professional politician as staggeringly, operatically corrupt as Hillary Clinton. Writers of this kind of post-mortem never seem to want to discuss – or even admit – that the 2016 was very much a choice of two evils; Johnston seldom even glances in the direction of such thinking before barreling on, not only to clarify why exactly Trump is the worst president in the history of the country:
We can look back at these presidents and applaud or be appalled by their conduct. But we must always take care to judge them by the standards of their day, not by conditions today. Viewed properly in the context of their times, the last forty-four presidents all pursued policies that they believed would make for a better America tomorrow.
The Trump presidency is about Trump. Period. Full stop.
… but also to clarify how the vitality of the Republic itself is imperiled by this gang of opportunistic barbarians:
The Trump administration deposited political termites throughout the structure of our government. Their task, in the words of Trump's first White House strategic adviser, Steve Bannon, is the “deconstruction of the administrative state.” By that, Bannon has explained, he means to undo the tax, trade, regulatory, and other means by which the federal government carries out its duties. The endgame is not just a smaller government, which Republicans always say they want, but a weak government, a government that looks first after the best-off in the land, not those most in need of a helping hand in the form of a sound education, clean water, and the other basics of a healthy society in the twenty-first century.
Trump, Johnston argues, is not the face of the disease but merely the symptom of a deeper malady. “That millions of people voted for a narcissistic, know-nothing con artist who has spent his entire life swindling others while repeatedly urging followers to commit criminal acts of violence against his critics,” our author writes, “reveals more about America than about Trump.”
For any readers living outside the fetid confines of what has come so malignantly to be known as Trump's “base,” symptom-and-disease comments like this are as uncontroversial as they are unhelpful, and coming from a writer who has profited mightily in the last few years from Trump's symptoms, books like It's Even Worse Than You Think can easily come across as self-serving – indeed, as more than a little barbarically opportunistic themselves. As has been pointed out many times in this last epically awful year, if you somehow accomplish the impossible and overlook Trump's bizarre personal behavior – the compulsive daily lying, the compulsive daily baiting of the free press of his own country, and of course the tweets, most of all the tweets – you have the picture of a more or less standard paleolithic Republican President: raping natural resources, deregulating Wall Street, defunding social programs, cutting taxes for wealthy, and posturing about nationality. As much as any other factor, that bizarre personal behavior seems to animate Trump's critics particularly to discern on him the Mark of the Beast. According to writers like Johnston, the Trump administration, even from its first year, has introduced into fundamental changes into the fabric of America in ways no other administration had ever done. In one sense alone, this might end up being true: nuclear war. Short of that, time, as it tends to, will have its say.
Steve Donoghue was a founding editor of Open Letters Monthly. His book criticism has appeared in the Boston Globe, the Wall Street Journal, and the American Conservative. He writes regularly for the National, the Washington Post, the Vineyard Gazette, and the Christian Science Monitor. His website is http://www.stevedonoghue.com.