The Waitstaff

“Can’t you just shoot them? Just shoot them in the legs or something?” That was Trump asking Mark Esper about shooting peaceful American protestors who were protesting racial injustice outside the White House. According to Esper’s book, Trump also asked about bombing Mexican drug labs: “We could just shoot some Patriot missiles and take out the labs, quietly. No one would know it was us.” These are just a couple of the many, many troubling things we’ve learned about Trump’s time in office. The details come out in dribs and drabs, usually timed to promote a book release. It’s clear that some folks in the administration had to keep Trump’s madness on the down-low so they could prevent him from acting on it while they held their positions. But what about after they resigned or were removed? As Tom Nichols explains, they had a duty to speak up before their book deals. “Esper, Mattis, Rex Tillerson, and many, many other people who crawled through the Shawshank sewer pipe that was the four years of the Trump administration needed to speak up the minute they were out. Instead, they teased their book bombshells or played coy games of slap and tickle on cable outlets. Sitting on crucial information about whether the president himself is a menace to the security of the United States—hello, John Bolton—is bad enough. But there is an assumption that undergirds this reticence that is shared by both former officials and the public, one that is inimical to our democracy: The officials who have not spoken up (even without a book deal) have been silent because they somehow seem to believe that things will just work out.”

Maybe a similar argument can be made when it comes to reporters who hold bombshells for books. I wrote about Bob Woodward’s decision to wait until his book Rage came out (months after he interviewed Trump) before letting Americans know that Trump knew full well how deadly Covid was and how it was spread. From Please Scream Inside Your Heart. “The excerpt from the Woodward book brought up an interesting debate about whether Bob Woodward should have spilled the details of his February interview with Trump the second he learned that the president was lying about a threat that would kill hundreds of thousands of Americans. It would have broken his agreement with the administration (the president understood these interviews were for a book and not for immediate publication) and could have impacted the access afforded to Woodward and future authors. So one can understand why Woodward would hold the information for the book . . . if this were an ordinary moment in history and an ordinary president. But neither was ordinary.” Or as Nichols suggests above: This is not an era of norms when we should all believe things will just work out.

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