I spent the last several weeks reading all 500 plus pages of the #1 NY Times bestseller, I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year, by the extremely thorough Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Phillip Rucker.
The book is alternately fascinating, disturbing, infuriating, disorienting, dull, sick, perplexing, darkly humorous, scary and long.
At times I wished it were a little less even-handed and journalistically proper. But when you write something so exhaustive on a subject and subject matter such as this I suppose the true gangsta move is keeping your reportorial cool.
It brought back how I felt watching David Lynch’s very straightforward 1999 film, the very aptly titled A Straight Story.
Why would the creator of cutting edge classics such as Eraserhead, Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks, and the director of such oddly entertaining works as Lost Highway and Wild at Heart, make a G-rated movie about the true story of an old man who drives his lawnmower from Iowa to Wisconsin to visit his sick brother?
Well, as Lynch himself explained to us (Note: Okay, me) at the time, it was for that very reason. By just sticking to a straight narrative of facts, it actually was his most daring, his most experimental film.
In that same way, there was no other course for Leonnig and Rucker to take in chronicling Trump’s last 12 months in office and have it land in any more of a meaningful fashion.
After all, how do you even begin to get any more twisted and salacious than Trump himself?
And what would be the point in trying?
This brings to mind the response I received, in various forms, from EVERY ONE OF THE SEVERAL DOZEN PEOPLE I told I was reading this book over this period time.
WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO?
Of course, not everyone said it exactly that way. Some just gave me a look, or silently nodded their heads, or explained they couldn’t because they lived it, or apologized they wouldn’t because it was too upsetting and their mental health was already precarious, or responded in person or on the phone with the kind of thick stony silence that tells you the person you’re speaking with has ZERO interest in pursuing this discussion or subject any further (you can hear editor Holly’s reaction on our newest podcast).
In other words, Chairy, BACK OFF!
Nevertheless, that didn’t stop me from sometimes throwing a few tidbits in.
As Stefon might say, this book and that year had everything –
a. A pandemic the Leader of the Free World ignored, downplayed and lied about.
b. A litany of dictatorial edicts spewed by the POTUS himself to send the military out into the streets to take over cities and ARREST (Note: Or worse) protestors that his own military leaders ignored and refused to carry out.
c. A ton of cursing, blame gaming of others and dangerous lies and/or conspiracy theories launched from the bully pulpit and via social media from the resolute desk in the Oval Office all in service of one single cause – his 2020 re-election.
d. An actual planned mob of many THOUSANDS that #45 personally spurred on in a prepared, fiery speech on Jan. 6 that caused said group to violently attack and rampage though the U.S. Capitol Building, kill and maim a bunch of policemen, as well as hunt and threaten to hang the sitting vice-president before he could actually ratify the Electoral College results that would declare Joe Biden the new POTUS and thus brand Trump now and forever the official LOSER of the 2020 race.
No amount of arm twisting, phone yelling, or even frantic yet calm talks from first daughter Ivanka (Note: Referred to by one advisor as a stable pony, as in when the racehorse gets too agitated, you bring in the stable pony to calm him down) would ever get Trump to tell his supporters they were doing ANYTHING wrong. Even as they threatened lives and destroyed objects that had stood the test of time over SEVERAL CENTURIES in the Capitol and through dozens of other presidencies.
In fact, the most he would ever do was tell them to go home while simultaneously reminding them we love you.
Oh, and the other thing he NEVER DID, as the book details, was to call a single Senator, Congressperson, Aide or even Vice President to inquire if they were okay. Not on that day and, as far as we know, not to this day.
Of course, none of this is shocking at this point, even as it remains scary and disheartening. Worse is that, according to the book, Trump not only knew about the virulency of COVID-19 back in Jan. 2020 but totally bungled a phone call at the time to China President Xi Jinping when he attempted to get representatives of the US medical community into China in order to examine, study or in some way help or contain or accrue information to contain and/or treat Covid-19.
Afraid to jeopardize a trade agreement between the two countries that he thought would win him economic points from his supporters, Trump soft-balled his ask to the point where the head of Communist China simply avoided and/or refused to allow anyone from the US medical establishment into his country. Then he very calmly ended the call.
And when the virus raged on for months and months in the first half of 2020, infecting and killing tens of thousands, the book chronicles how not only Trump but Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin as well as Larry Kudlow, his National Economic Council advisor, refused to the very bitter end to take the obvious steps to close the economy that everyone else in the Trump administration was demanding.
Still, none of this is even quite as surprising as who Loennig and Rucker position as one of the unlikeliest of heroes of the administration – Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Previously we all knew Milley as that military guy in fatigues who followed POTUS through the street to that Church where Trump held the Bible upside down in some sort of victory over citizen protestors.
That was because right before, under Trump’s orders, the National Guard had marched onto the DC streets and used tear gas and pepper spray to clear a path for him and wipe away any traces of the Black Lives Matter protestors that had peacefully demonstrated for several days so he could have a photo op.
Old history, right? Except what we didn’t know is that Milley, who felt “used” and publicly apologized some days later in a video for that appearance, then began a full out, shadow campaign to make sure #45 would never again use the military to further his personal political agenda… or worse.
According to the book, from that day forward Milley regularly shot down Trump’s requests for firepower in the streets; at one point told Trump’s ultra right wing chief speechwriter Stephen Miller to shut the f—k up; and enlisted as many present and former cabinet officers and military men as he could to keep the country from imploding. Or exploding.
When the events of Jan. 6 happened, it was Milley who had to strong arm the slow-moving acting Defense Secretary and finally order troops to save the Capitol building. And when his orders weren’t immediately carried out, it took Vice President Pence’s demands for reinforcements to finally cause the powers-that-be to act.
But the one person who never requested any troops, military or otherwise, to defend the Capitol building was Trump. In a blistering recounting of Insurrection Day, the book chronicles POTUS’ primary post-speech activity to be watching it all unspool live on TV in sheer awe.
What particularly irked a military guy like Milley, who has advanced degrees from both Columbia and Princeton, was seeing right wing fascist groups like The Proud Boys, as well as other Trump MAGA supporters, many of whom shouted racial epithets and were armed with military style weapons, so swiftly and threateningly move into the sacred halls of government without seemingly missing a beat.
Several weeks later, after it was all through and it was his responsibility to plan and maintain an ironclad safe and secure inauguration site for Joe Biden, he thus didn’t hesitate to make the same analogy myself and many of my more mouthy, Trump-loathing friends dared to speak back in 2016 the moment it became apparent that Trump et al would actually rule the presidency, the White House and the rest of us along with it for an entire four years.
Yeah, I said it. It’s been our POV from the beginning and it still is. It doesn’t have to be yours or those close to you. But just know that leading up to Inauguration Day 2021, it also began to be the POV of the highest-ranking military officer in the U.S.
And it still is.
Speaking to dozens of military and law enforcement leaders at a large gymnasium as they planned for the ceremony to swear in #46, Milley noted that thousands of Trump supporters were already organizing via social media a return to D.C. for a week of siege that would culminate in the disruption of Biden’s inauguration. And, he wanted them to be ready.
Here’s the deal, guys. These guys are Nazis, they’re boogaloo boys, they’re Proud Boys. These are the same people we fought in World War II. Everyone in this room, whether you’re a cop or whether you’re a soldier, we’re going to stop these guys to make sure we have a peaceful transfer of power. We’re going to put a ring of steal around this city and the Nazis aren’t getting in.
And they didn’t.
And Milley still chairs the Joint Chiefs.
And Trump’s out of office.