On Books & Reading: A First Look at ‘A Very Stable Genius: Donald J. Trump’s Testing of America’

(C) 2020, 2021 Penguin Random House

Hi there, Dear Reader. It’s late morning here in New Hometown, Florida on Tuesday, August 17, 2021. Currently, the temperature is 84˚F under partly sunny skies. With humidity at 52% and the wind blowing from the south-southeast at 7 MPH, the heat index is 92˚F. Today’s forecast calls for thunderstorms to move through our area, and the high will be 93˚F. Tonight, we can expect scattered rain showers. The low will be 72˚F. The Air Quality Index (AQI) is 60 or Moderate.

Yesterday, I received my copy of A Very Stable Genius: Donald J. Trump’s Testing of America, Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig’s 2020 book about the first three years of Donald Trump’s abominable term as President of the United States. I usually don’t read politically-themed books, but since I’m reading the authors’ current bestselling I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year, I thought I might as well as get read the earlier book, too.

The edition I ordered from Amazon last week is the paperback edition published by Penguin Random House earlier this year; I thought about buying the original hardcover edition, but (a) the paperback is slightly cheaper, and (b) according to its front cover, it’s “Updated with New Reporting.” As a guy who studied journalism in my younger days, I like to get as much information as I can about a topic, so even though the paperback will probably get dogeared as time goes by, it contains some information that is not in the 2020 hardcover edition.

I started reading random bits of A Very Stable Genius; I retrieved the package from our mailbox late in the afternoon and only opened the mailer package in the evening, so I did not sit in a comfy reading area with a drink close by to really dive into it. However, I can say this much about the book:

  • It’s based on Rucker and Leonnig’s extensive reporting on Trump and his Administration for The Washington Post between late 2016 and 2019
  • It covers a longer span of time than I Alone Can Fix It; that book only covers a 12 month-long period. A Very Stable Genius starts with the transition period after Trump’s surprise victory over Hillary Clinton in November 2016 and ends shortly before the New Year’s celebration for 2020
  • Because the book was written while Trump was President, Rucker and Leonnig relied on interviews with sources who cooperated anonymously to avoid Trump’s wrath and possible retaliation
  • The authors’ style is, as in I Alone Can Fix It, straightforward, factual, and analytical, not to mention compelling and extremely readable

Here’s a brief excerpt from the book’s first chapter:

On November 9, 2016, President-elect Donald Trump began to staff his administration. Because he never truly expected to win, he was unprepared. Trump prioritized loyalty above all, and so, instinctively, he and his family knew whom to knight first: Michael Flynn.

 
Flynn was a retired lieutenant general and had been a respected intelligence officer. Yet his former colleagues had shunned him for a bill of particulars that included Islamophobic rhetoric, coziness with Russia and other foreign adversaries, and a reliance on flimsy facts and dubious assertions. None of that mattered to Trump. 

During the campaign, Flynn was one of the few men who had ever worn stars on their shoulders willing to promote Trump. His allegiance was so intense that he had led an anti-Hillary Clinton chant of “Lock her up” at the Republican National Convention, which mortified his military and intelligence brethren, who believed he was leveraging his status as a decorated former military officer to fuel society’s more dangerous elements. Yet this endeared him to Trump. Flynn made himself indispensable to Trump, whispering in his ear that he couldn’t trust most intelligence officials but could trust Flynn. He was crafty enough to ingratiate himself with Trump’s family, too-including Jared Kushner, the candidate’s ambitious son-in-law who had no experience in politics or foreign affairs, yet styled himself as Trump’s political strategist and interlocutor with foreign governments. 

The day after the election, the flattering consigliere got his reward at a transition meeting on the twenty-sixth floor of Trump Tower. Ivanka Trump, the president-elect’s elder daughter, and her husband, Kushner, who together helped oversee some of the high-level appointments in the new administration, made clear to Flynn that he could choose any job he wanted. 

“Oh, General Flynn, how loyal you’ve been to my father,” Ivanka said in her distinctive breathy voice, adding something to the effect of “What do you want to do?” 

Don McGahn frowned with some surprise. He had been the Trump campaign’s lawyer and was now in line to become White House counsel. He had nothing personal against Flynn. He didn’t really know him. But others in the room noticed McGahn’s displeasure, which seemed to say, “Is this really how we’re going to do this?” – (A Very Stable Genius, pp. 11-12)

Of course, Trump supporters will more than likely not give A Very Stable Genius an enthusiastic review. They will complain loudly that Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker are reporters for The Washington Post, one of the right’s least loved publications and frequent targets for hate and derision. They will also gripe that Rucker and Leonnig rely too much on anonymous sources and that Trump was not given a chance to defend himself from “lame stream media” reporting. (Leonnig and Rucker write in their introduction that they contacted the White House many times to set up an interview; Trump did not make himself available to answer questions or make a case for his behavior as President. Later, when the authors were putting I Alone Can Fix It together, the former President sat down with them at his Palm Beach mansion, Mar-a-Lago, for over two hours.)

I’ll review A Very Stable Genius soon, but based on what I have seen of its content in the brief time I’ve had it in my possession, I can already tell it’s going to be a good read.

Published by Alex Diaz-Granados

Alex Diaz-Granados (1963- ) began writing movie reviews as a staff writer and Entertainment Editor for his high school newspaper in the early 1980s and was the Diversions editor for Miami-Dade Community College, South Campus' student newspaper for one semester. Using his experiences in those publications, Alex has been raving and ranting about the movies online since 2003 at various web sites, including Amazon, Ciao and Epinions. In addition to writing reviews, Alex has written or co-written three films ("A Simple Ad," "Clown 345," and "Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss") for actor-director Juan Carlos Hernandez. You can find his reviews and essays on his blogs, A Certain Point of View and A Certain Point of View, Too.

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