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Fear Summary

14 min read ⌚ 

Trump in the White House

More than four decades ago, Bob Woodward, perhaps America’s greatest investigative journalist, almost singlehandedly took down one president.

Now, he seems to be back for another. Join us as we take a look with him at the inner workings of the fairly dysfunctional Trump administration.

As you’ll find out, it operates on the most primal human instinct:


Who Should Read “Fear”? And Why?

Donald Trump doesn’t have a very good opinion for most of USA’s respected journalists, but even he has said some nice words about Bob Woodward in the past. And when we say “in the past,” we do mean “in the past”: he seems to have changed his mind ever since Fear was published.

Some say it is because the book portrayed him too authentically, others because parts of it are fabricated. If you want to find out, you’ll have to read the book yourself.

Also, do read it if you care about America or want to understand what’s happening in the White House. Even the highest echelons in the government are having a hard time disproving some of Woodward’s allegations, and even if half of them are true—it’s a jungle in there, at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington, D.C.

And not the fun kind.

About Bob Woodward

Bob Woodward is an American investigative journalist.

He has worked for The Washington Post ever since 1971 and is currently an associate editor at the newspaper. He started his stellar career with possibly the most famous scoop in the history of American journalism: the Watergate scandal.

Dubbed “maybe the single greatest reporting effort of all time,” Woodward’s original news reporting on this scandal (with Cal Bernstein) made him an idol of generations of journalists. It later became the material for two of his bestselling books, All the President’s Men and The Secret Man.

In addition to these, he has written 17 more books on American politics, such as The Brethren, The Agenda, Bush at War, Plan of Attack, Obama’s Wars, The Price of Politics and others.

Find out more at http://bobwoodward.com/

“Fear Summary”

On March 31, 2016, at the Old Post Office Pavilion, Trump International Hotel, Washington, D.C., in an interview with Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, then-presidential candidate Donald J. Trump uttered a chilling sentence:

Real power is—I don’t even want to use the word—fear.

Hence the title of Bob Woodward’s book was published two and a half years later (on September 11, 2018) to widespread acclaim in the liberal media (and general disdain on the other side).

The book sold over one million copies in the first week of its publication (making it the fastest-selling opener in the history of Simon & Schuster) and is still, one year later, as divisive as it had been even when it was announced that it’s been in the workings.

True, as Woodward explains in a “Note to the Readers” which prefaces the book, Fear is not based on conversations with Trump (who declined to be interviewed for the book), but is “drawn from hundreds of hours of interviews with firsthand participants and witnesses to these events.”

“Nearly all allowed me to tape-record our interviews,” he goes on, “so the story could be told with more precision. When I have attributed exact quotations, thoughts or conclusions to the participants, that information comes from the person, a colleague with direct knowledge, or from meeting notes, personal diaries, files, and government or personal documents.”

Even so, some (White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly and Secretary of Defense James Mattis) have denied making the claims attributed to them in the book, and Trump has called its stories “made up” and said that they have “a lot of credibility issues.”

Be that as it may, Fear was written by Woodward, and is so frightening it deserves serious consideration.

And here is why.

Mr. Trump’s Aides Do Not Have a Very High Opinion of Him

Whether you love him or hate him (there’s no middle ground with him, is there?), we think saying that Trump is not the sharpest tool in the shed is a fair assessment of his intellectual capabilities.

There are people out there who believe that all of that is just a ploy and that Trump knows precisely what he’s doing at all times, but, at least according to Fear, even behind the curtains, Trump is what he is in public.

And the people around him can’t believe this!

Here’s, for example, the summary of a Korea-related meeting (read below about the meeting itself) by an anonymous White House official quoted by Woodward in Chapter 27:

The president proceeded to lecture and insult the entire group about how they didn’t know anything when it came to defense or national security. It seems clear that many of the president’s senior advisers, especially those in the national security realm, are extremely concerned with his erratic nature, his relative ignorance, his inability to learn, as well as what they consider his dangerous views.

And “extremely concerned” doesn’t even tell half of the story!

Most of Trump’s advisors, at least as portrayed in the book, are either fed up with him or so frustrated with his opinions and doings they are all but incapable of juggling between their personas anymore.

John F. Kelly

For example, White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly—rumored to be close to resigning for some time now—supposedly once referred to Trump as “unhinged,” and, another time, in a small group meeting in his office, uttered these words about him:

“He’s an idiot. It’s pointless to try to convince him of anything. He’s gone off the rails. We’re in crazy town. I don’t even know why any of us are here. This is the worst job I’ve ever had.”

We wrote “supposedly” above because, at least according to an official statement by Kelly, “it’s exactly the opposite,” and the story is “another pathetic attempt to smear people close to President Trump and distract from the administration’s many successes.

Rex Tillerson

John Kelly may have retracted his statement (Woodward still claims that it is both accurate and verifiable), but Rex Tillerson has yet to say something similar. And his description of Trump is even more damning.

Named Secretary of State by Trump in December 2016, Tillerson regularly clashed with the President, something which culminated on March 13, 2018, when he was fired from his office.

But there’s a good chance he was already thinking about resigning long before. 

After a meeting during which Trump suggested to the US military a tenfold increase of the United States nuclear arsenal—something that would cost a lot of money and take hundreds of years to complete—in a discussion with Priebus, Tillerson called Trump a “moron.”

“I just don’t like the way the president talks to these generals,” he supposedly said. They don’t deserve it. I can’t sit around and listen to this from the president. He’s just a moron.”

“It was challenging for me coming from the disciplined, highly process-oriented Exxon Mobil corporation,” Tillerson would say to Bob Schieffer in an interview after leaving the Trump administration, “to go to work for a man who is pretty undisciplined, doesn’t like to read, doesn’t read briefing reports, doesn’t like to get into the details of a lot of things, but rather just kind of says, ‘This is what I believe.’”

And that’s not just Tillerson’s assessment.

James Mattis

Think it’s easy talking to Trump?

Not according to his associates: it’s basically the same discussion over and over again! Because Trump just doesn’t listen to anyone but himself. You know… like children.

“Grievance was a big part of Trump’s core,” writes Woodward in Chapter 36, “very much like a 14-year-old boy who felt he was being picked on unfairly. You couldn’t talk to him in adult logic. Teenage logic was necessary.”

Supposedly, Secretary of Defense James Mattis is particularly exasperated and alarmed by this trait of the President, telling close associates that Trump acts like (and has the understanding of) “a fifth or sixth-grader.”

Speaking of which…

Trump and His Tweets

Trump may not be a dedicated reader, but he’s certainly a great consumer and lover of all forms of media.

“During Trump’s first six months in the White House, few understood how much media he consumed,” writes Woodward. “It was scary,” he adds. Trump didn’t show up for work until 11:00 in the morning. Many times he watched six to eight hours of television in a day.”

And that’s not all, of course. He also tweets about it—and, as you know full well, about everything else.

The tweets, says Woodward, are not merely incidental to his presidency. They are central.

How central, you ask?

Well, Trump once ordered printouts of all of his recent tweets that had received a high number of likes, north of 200,000.

Why, you ask?

Well, to study them and find the common thread, to discover the themes that make him popular. “He seemed to want to become more strategic,” writes Woodward, “find out whether success was tied to the subject, the language or simply the surprise that the president was weighing in.” 

Unsurprisingly, it turned out that “the most effective tweets were often the most shocking.”

So, Trump went about his business: shocking everybody via his tweets day in and day out, despite suggestions to the opposite by his social media director Dan Scavino and his PR specialist Hope Hicks.

In fact, after Trump described Mika Brzezinski, in a scathing 6 a.m., as “bleeding badly from a face-lift”—enraging many women senators—Hicks, Scavino, and other top staffers tried setting up a committee with a mission to vet Trump’s “politically unhelpful” tweets.

However, Trump ignored them, because, in his opinion, it is the other way around, Twitter being the reason why he won the election in the first place.

He supposedly said to them:

This is my megaphone. This is the way that I speak directly to the people without any filter. Cut through the noise. Cut through the fake news. That’s the only way I have to communicate. I have tens of millions of followers. This is bigger than cable news. I go out and give a speech and it’s covered by CNN and nobody’s watching, nobody cares. I tweet something and it’s my megaphone to the world.

Unsurprisingly for a man with such a mindset, he honestly believes that he’s also a great composer of tweets. When Twitter announced doubling the number of permissible characters to 280, Trump supposedly said that though this was pretty nice on one level because it allowed for more depth, it’s also bad on another.

“It’s a good thing,” he is quoted as saying by Woodward, “but it’s a bit of a shame because I was the Ernest Hemingway of 140 characters.”

Stealing Important Documents Under Trump’s Nose (and Saving Two Trade Deals)

No matter what you think about Trump, you can’t deny the fact that he tries hard to be true to his promise to put America first. 

The problem is that, most of the time, experts are not so sure that his attempts to do this could result in the desired outcome. In fact, it’s usually quite the opposite.

While editing a speech with White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter soon after leaving a G20 summit—according to Woodward—Trump scribbled three revealing words on a piece of paper which probably sum up most of his beliefs regarding his job: “Trade is bad.”

“Though he never said it in a speech,” Woodward writes, “he had finally found the summarizing phrase and truest expression of his protectionism, isolationism and fervent American nationalism.”

In reality, however, the world doesn’t work this way. In reality, trading “globalism” for “nationalism” does damage in the long run for everybody, even if it seems beneficial for the trader in the short run.

However, Donald “this-is-what-I-believe” Trump wouldn’t have any of it. His politics, according to Woodward, is actually economics and quite a simple one: trade surplus = good, trade deficit = bad.

And he would do everything to transform the latter in the former, disregarding possible negative outcomes.

Case in point, two years ago, Trump nearly pulled the United States out of two major trade deals: NAFTA and KORUS.


Allegedly, in the spring of 2017, Trump had Rob Porter draft an order to remove the US from NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement between the US, Canada, and Mexico), a trilateral trade bloc which is one of the largest in the world by GDP.

Gary Cohn, a Goldman Sachs COO and the chief economic advisor to Trump from 2017 to 2018, and Sonny Perdue, the secretary of agriculture, tried explaining to Trump that this is not a smart thing, since the three economies are tightly integrated, and the US exports $39 billion surplus of products to Mexico and Canada every year.

But Trump doesn’t want explanations: it’s either his way or the highway!


“I can stop this,” Cohn said to Porter after realizing that Trump is planning to go all the way with his plan. “I’ll just take the paper off his desk before I leave.” And he later took it. “If he’s going to sign it, he’s going to need another piece of paper,” he said.


Something similar happened in the case of KORUS, the United States–Korea Free Trade Agreement, which eliminates about 95% of each nation’s tariffs on goods and sets the rules for more than $150-billion-worth of trades, involving over 350 million consumers in both countries. 

Cohn tried explaining to Trump that it is due to KORUS that Americans are able to buy “the most amazing TVs in the world for $245,” which is the reason why “people are spending less money on TVs and more money on other products in the United States,” but he used graphs and to do that, and Trump, as noted above, doesn’t understand graphs.

What he does understand, however, is the logic of a teenager, according to which everyone can be wrong but him.

According to Woodward, Trump even signed a letter that would have taken the USA out of KORUS, but, thankfully, Cohn stole it off Trump’s desk.

The President never noticed it was missing.

The Koreas: “We’re Doing This in Order to Prevent World War III”

There is, of course, another aspect of the KORUS agreement that Trump is not that bothered about and that keeps all of his military officers awake at night.

Namely, the US is paying $1 billion a year for an anti-ballistic missile system in South Korea called the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) which is there for two reasons: 1) to protect South Korea and its free-market society from an attack by its communist neighbor on the north, and 2) to protect the USA from a nuclear attack by North Korea.

How so?

Well, the THAAD should detect a missile fired in the direction of the United States in the span of seven seconds if in South Korea, much, much longer than the 15 minutes necessary if the THAAD was located in Alaska.

However, Trump was pretty adamant that the South Koreans are supposed to pay for the THAAD, and that the United States should immediately get rid of its troops in that country.

“We spend $3.5 billion a year to have troops in South Korea,” Trump said once angrily to Cohn. “$3.5 billion, 28,000 troops… I don’t know why they’re there. Let’s bring them all home!”

He thought pretty much the same about THAAD as well, asking that it be relocated to Portland, Oregon. “I informed South Korea it would be appropriate if they paid,” he once said. “It’s a billion-dollar system. It’s phenomenal, shoots missiles right out of the sky.”

The root cause for all of this?

The American $18 billion trade deficit with South Korea!

Amazed at how little Trump cares about world peace, Mattis once said to him something described by Woodward as “a breathtaking statement, a challenge to the president:” ““We’re doing this in order to prevent World War III.”

Still, as in the case of so many other deals, Trump thought that all of that is just an excuse and that Americans are being played like “suckers” by their former enemies, who 

“I think we could be so rich,” Trump said once, “if we weren’t stupid.”

Key Lessons from “Fear”

1.      The President Doesn’t Command Presidential Respect from His (Former) Aides
2.      Trump’s Position on Everything: “Deny, Deny, Deny”
3.      Trump Is Not Fit to Properly Lead USA’s Military

The President Doesn’t Command Presidential Respect from His (Former) Aides

Judging by Woodward’s Fear, something’s really rotten in the state of America, since not many of Trump’s associates can bear to spend time or having a discussion with him.

Blame it on his teenage logic!

According to James Mattis, Trump has the mind of “a fifth or sixth-grader,” and according to Rex Tillerson, he’s nothing short of a “moron.” “It’s pointless to try to convince him of anything,” supposedly said John F. Kelly, claiming that Trump has “gone off the rails.”

John M. Dowd, then-Trump’s personal lawyer, said something in the same vein in the light of the Mueller investigation, advising him to either not testify or end up with “an orange jump suit.”

All of the above with the exception of Kelly are not part of Trump’s administration anymore. It makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

Trump’s Position on Everything: “Deny, Deny, Deny”

The first rule of talking to Trump: Trump is never wrong.

The second rule of talking to him: when he is (which happens frequently) he’d deny everything ad nauseam

And he doesn’t even care how negative the thing in question is.

Once, talking to a friend who had made the mistake of acknowledging “some bad behavior toward women,” Trump advised him to never forget that “real power is fear,” and that one is always supposed to be strong:

You’ve got to deny, deny, deny and push back on these women. If you admit to anything and any culpability, then you’re dead. That was a big mistake you made. You didn’t come out guns blazing and just challenge them. You showed weakness. You’ve got to be strong. You’ve got to be aggressive. You’ve got to push back hard. You’ve got to deny anything that’s said about you. Never admit.

You know, just like he does on about everything—even when the records show the opposite.

Trump Only Cares About Trade Deficits and Is Not Fit to Properly Lead USA’s Military

Trump once implied to Mattis that he’d sleep like a baby even if North Korea attacked South Korea if he managed to transform the trade deficit toward South Korea in a trade surplus.

Only the theft by Gary Kohn of two already signed documents prevented him from ruining 2 massive trade deals (NAFTA and KORUS)—at least for now—and causing tensions on both the Korean peninsula and across the North American continent.

In addition, he supposedly once told Mattis in a telephone call to kill Syrian president, Bashar al-Asaad—just like that, as if it is a video game. And if that’s not enough, reportedly, Trump once asked Johnny McEntee, his “27-year-old body man,” if he should send more troops to Afghanistan. 

We’re not even going to mention the tweeter war he had with North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un over the size of each other’s nuclear buttons. Because, fortunately, that’s in the past now.

Like this summary? We’d like to invite you to download our free 12 min app for more amazing summaries and audiobooks.

“Fear Quotes”

Cohn concluded that Trump was, in fact, going backward. He had been more manageable the first months when he was a novice. Click To Tweet Cohn had a packet of Goldman Sachs–style charts and tables to educate the president on taxes. Trump was not interested and did not read it. Click To Tweet Conway agreed with Bannon that if the Trump campaign could make the race about Hillary, not Trump, they would win with those hidden Trump voters. If the race stayed about Trump, ‘we’ll probably lose.’ Click To Tweet Trump liked signing. It meant he was doing things, and he had an up-and-down penmanship that looked authoritative in black Magic Marker. Click To Tweet Grievance was a big part of Trump’s core, very much like a 14-year-old boy who felt he was being picked on unfairly. You couldn’t talk to him in adult logic. Teenage logic was necessary. Click To Tweet

Our Critical Review

Described by NPR’s Ron Elving as “the best glimpse we have into a White House like no other,” Fear is yet another addition to the anti-Trump canon (started by Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury and Omarosa Manigault Newman’s Unhinged).

Of course, that means that Trump thinks of it as “just another bad book,” and that most of his supporters believe him rather than Woodward. We side with the latter: Woodward has always been honest in his depictions of previous governments, so there’s no reason to believe this is not the case here.

That, however, means that there are more problems in the White House than one can list, and that, we may be living through “a nervous breakdown of the executive power of the most powerful country in the world.”

For the sake of America and the world, we do hope (for once) that Sarah Huckabee Sanders is right and that the stories in this book are fabricated. 

But we honestly doubt it.

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