“A Very Stable Genius” portrays a very unstable President

by John English

Pulitzer-prize winners Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig have put the last three years of Trump into one book: A Very Stable Genius: Donald J. Trump’s Testing of America. It’s a condensed recap with on- and off-the-record sources guiding us through the behind-the-scenes drama that has unfolded in the White House.

The authors portray a president who most of the time acts like a spoiled 12-year-old who thinks it is impossible for anyone to be smarter than him. He is surrounded by staff who are either true believers or believe they need to protect the country from Trump by being on the inside. There are mostly quotes from those who have since been dismissed or resigned from the White House, and there are times when the book shares the thoughts of John Kelly or Rex Tillerson without saying how the authors could conclude these were their thoughts. I view it as taking less dramatic license in the Halperin-Heilemann vein and more likely that Kelly and Tillerson were their own anonymous sources for the events described in the book.

Trump’s temper is in constant danger of eruption, and no matter how badly his staff tries to get him to do the smart, strategic thing, he flips the script on them, ruining their talking points with a tweet or impulsively making declarations or executive orders because the last strongman he talked to thought it would be a good idea. There are so many instances when exasperated staff bang their heads on their desks. “What is he DOING?” Even loyalists like Sarah Sanders have their scenes of misbelief, where she knows she’s not getting the full story, but still goes out to the press and berates them for their inaccurate reporting even though it was the White House who gave them the inaccurate information.

We wind up with the portrait of a White House where all the grown-ups are gone and the ones still there (Stephen Miller, Mike Pompeo, Mick Mulvaney, Bill Barr) could care less whether their actions are ethical. If Trump wants it, Trump gets it. It also makes Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump look like entitled brats. Plenty of ex-staffers and Cabinet members clearly had a problem with how much power and sway they had.

A Very Stable Genius by Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig
A Very Stable Genius by Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig

Previously, I knew about 85% of the stories in here. Those who follow the news less closely might be shocked at some of the incidents, like how he threw candy at Angela Merkel and said, “Don’t say I never gave you anything!” or how, in a plan only Michael Scott would hatch, he seriously considered giving himself the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

It’s also scary how much sway Fox News has over Trump. Hannity calls him almost daily, and most of the Fox News hosts (Hannity, Carlson, Ingraham, Fox & Friends, Judge Jeanine) are directing their comments to an audience of one. How busy can the president be when he’s watching this much TV?

A Very Stable Genius is not a hatchet job like Michael Wolff could be accused of, nor a slavish audition for a plug in a Trump tweet like Gregg Jarrett or Jason Chaffetz would write for. It leans more toward a negative portrayal, and so I could many Trump loyalists just dismissing it in its entirety, which is a skill Trump possesses. He’s convinced millions of people that no matter how dishonest and unethical he is, the press–the press that doesn’t flatter him–is worse.

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