The Enablers

My next book will be out in one month. It is being published by Cambridge University Press and is titled, The Enablers: How Team Trump Flunked the Pandemic and Failed America.

As its title suggests, it is not primarily about former President Donald Trump. Rather it is about Trump’s followers. Especially about those who served the president, or in any case went along with whatever he did or said as it pertained to the pandemic, without meaningful dissent.

Despite Trump’s handling of the coronavirus being wretchedly misguided, miserably managed, and shockingly self-interested, the slavish adherence to the chief executive continued during his last year in office. The year during which he presided over the public health crisis, and during which 400,000 Americans died with barely an audible objection either from anyone serving in the administration, or from Trump’s feverishly devoted Republican allies.

Let me now pivot to another book, one in a series of several coming out this summer and fall, all slated to slash the president’s performance, especially though not exclusively during his final 12 months in the White House. So far, this one, titled I Alone Can Fix It, written by Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker, has gotten the most attention.

The New York Times’ review of the book was mixed. It praised some aspects of it, while summarizing the whole as being “grueling” reading. It’s true, the book is a bit of a slog. It is 578 pages long, which means that for all but the most heavily addicted Trump junkies it provides far more detail than most of us want or need.

I did not read I Alone Can Fix It in its entirety, nor will I. Still, having recently written The Enablers I was struck again, thunderstruck again, by how passive, how servile, how weak, virtually all the main characters other than Trump himself. Just five among a sea of examples:

  • On page 41: “Trump had no idea about the anxiety building [about the virus] among his experts.” Which raises the question of, why not? How could his “experts” have allowed him to “have no idea”? Why did they not force feed the president what they honestly thought? Even if it meant quitting their posts.
  • On page 62: Alex Azar, then in the all-important post of Secretary of Health and Human Services, “tried to sound agreeable and understanding, having learned that when Trump was in a true frenzy, it was better to absorb his rage rather than argue.” Heaven forfend! Take on head on your boss when he’s cranky not to speak of downright mean? Even when your boss is dangerously wrongheaded?!
  • On page 64: Son-in-law and toady-in-law, Jared Kushner, told Azar that Trump picked Vice President Mike Pence to head the coronavirus Task Force “because he wanted someone to focus solely on telling people the virus was under control.” Which, I hardly need add, Pence did.   
  • On page 73: Dr. Robert Redfield, the hapless head of the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, had his salary slashed smack in the middle of the virus crisis. Did Redfield object? He did not. Though he later feebly admitted, “I should have known from the beginning this guy [Trump] didn’t have my back.” Surprise, surprise! Trump other than fiercely loyal? Who would’ve guessed?!
  • On page 98: Dr. Deborah Birx was a similarly belittled and derided medical professional. She gamely occupied a “windowless closet of an office,” toiling into the night to serve the country – and President Trump. Was it enough? Not hardly. “Soon, Birx found her access to Trump cut off” – primarily for the original sin of occasionally telling the president that which he did not want to hear. But did she quit? Did she protest? Did she say out loud what she really thought? She did not.

I Alone Can Fix It is full of such small stories. Full of evidence that Trump’s malfeasance was buttressed at every turn by everyone who was in, or in any way close to the administration. It is an irony that though books like these fixate on the leader, they unwittingly testify not just to his importance but to the equal importance of those who followed where he led. As The Enablers makes painfully clear, this is a story not just about leader malpractice, but about follower malpractice.   

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