Originally published January 2018
“Fire and Fury” is the book you want to read.
“It’s Even Worse Than You Think” is the book you need to read.
Author David Cay Johnston is a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, an investigative journalist and a general thorn in Donald Trump’s side for the last couple of decades. Like “Fire and Fury“‘s Michael Wolff, Johnston has been following his footsteps for a while, having previously penned “The Making of Donald Trump.”
Both Trump books paint a generally horrific picture of the current administration. But where Wolff’s book focuses on the salacious chaos surrounding the Oval Office, Johnston’s book delves into the damage being inflicted at the departmental level. So much so, you may find yourself at a loss for words and just desperate for it to end.
You’ll read it, and think to yourself, “Trump ain’t lying — he really has done a lot in just a year. Too bad it all STINKS.”
Why read something so depressing? For me, I needed some validation. There are days — ok, WEEKS — where I can find myself lost in the white noise that is a constant stream of Trump’s least-favorite news channels, running nearly 24/7 to the point that if I hear MSNBC’s early-morning promotional jingle (“Don’t watch what they say, watch what they DO”), my ears may start to bleed. I get so far into the weeds that I do often wonder how much of what I am hearing is verifiable fact and not just opinionated blathering.
Johnston’s book, for the most part, dismisses with the hyperbole and makes his argument for the absurdity, department by department, issue by issue, lie by lie. For example, when it comes to taxes: On his ethics financial disclosure form, Trump claims Mar-a-lago is worth $50 million. But for tax purposes? No, it’s just $5 million. That, in a well-documented habitual attempt not to pay the right amount of taxes on the property. Same goes for Westchester. Jupiter. Palos Verdes. Doral. You name the course, he’s scamming someone on it. Johnston goes into all the detail as to why this is such a big deal. Frankly, I’m just gobsmacked at the bravado. Wish I could do that with my property taxes and get away with it.
All that squawking about putting American workers first? Hold that thought. Johnston’s book illustrates one of his first moves — to defund the Trade and Development Agency, a department designed to build mutually beneficial trade partnerships with overseas markets. His administration will tell you that can be done better by the private sector. But for an agency that was returning $95* in goods and services overseas for each $1 invested, it seems pretty apparent their work was beneficial. Oh, and also professional.
*(Author’s note: I was contacted by the USTDA after I posted this blog to amend this amount. Johnston’s book says, “Agency operations cost taxpayers $75 million. That means American exporters sold $752 worth of goods and services overseas for each dollar invested by taxpayers. However, the Trump budget report credited the agency with only $85 of exports per taxpayer dollar spent, with no explanation for the lower figure.”)
Those are just a couple of examples — what I most appreciated about Johnston’s writing was that while I was already hyper-aware of Trump’s ignorance when it comes to just about anything, he takes known news stories — such as Trump’s Saudi Arabian visit, his relationship with China, the miscreants he has installed at the departmental level at agencies like the EPA, the Department of Education, the Interior, etc. — and explains them in detail. Sure, we know Pruitt is abysmal. But just how abysmal? Yikes.
Sure — it’s not as if you’ll set the book down and have a new set of tools with which you can change the world. But you might be able to change a mind. Debating from a fact-based stance is so much more powerful than just the talking points alone.
I’m off to make a few flash cards.