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US President Donald Trump (Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas)

Drawing from hundreds of hours of interviews with more than 200 sources, A Very Stable Genius — a collaboration between The Washington Post‘s Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker — describes itself as an an attempt to “truly understand what goes on behind the scenes, to understand the reverberations for the country”.

It recreates scene after scene of chaos from the first three years of the Trump presidency. Many sources agreed to speak “candidly” on condition of anonymity. But the way the authors flatter certain personalities — not to mention the detail with which some of their stories are retold — gives the reader a few clues as to who squealed.

Like any “revelatory” book on the current US administration, A Very Stable Genius‘ capacity to shock is dampened somewhat by how regularly the powerful idiocy, moral bankruptcy or plain criminality of Trump and his team is played out in public.

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Still, Leonnig and Rucker have uncovered a few anecdotes that really set the teeth on edge.

‘Dopes and babies

Six months into his presidency, Trump met with senior military and foreign policy officials who had “grown alarmed by gaping holes in Trump’s knowledge of history, especially the key alliances forged following World War II”. Attempting to tutor Trump on the “rules-based world order” (that the US has always so stringently upheld, obviously) failed horribly.

He grew increasingly frustrated, asking why the US didn’t charge allies for the military support the US provided. Eventually he flew into a rage over the “loser war” in Afghanistan, US troops stationed in the Persian gulf — “We spent $7 trillion; they’re ripping us off … Where is the fucking oil?” — and how the US had “forgotten” how to win wars.

He capped the rant off by calling the room full of generals and government officials “losers” and “a bunch of dopes and babies”. Not for the first time, his stroppy, childlike approach to language would’ve be funny if he didn’t have access to nuclear weapons.

Sessions‘ compression

In A Very Stable Genius‘ telling, former attorney-general and moist-eyed garden gnome Jeff Sessions had a hell of a time working for Trump, particularly after he recused himself from the investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 election.

After Sessions’ recusal was announced Trump reputedly slumped back in his chair and announced “This is the end of my presidency. I’m fucked.”

From this point, Sessions was the subject of constant bullying from the President, who in the space of one conversation with his advisers calls Sessions “fucking worthless”, a “fucking idiot”, a “fucking jerk off” a “fucking moron” and a “fuck head”.

Nepal is not what it seems

In an October 2017 meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Trump dismissed Modi’s concerns about China’s growth, ambitions and aggression in the region.

“It’s not like you have China on your border,” he said, having missed the 4000 or so kilometres of border that China and India do share. Modi’s eyes apparently “bulged out” in surprise.

Then-secretary of state Rex Tillerson — who is described as a man of “substance and gravitas” so, yeah, we can assume he talked — raised hand to his brow, indicating to Modi “that he knew this statement was nuts”.

The theme of Trump’s willful ignorance gets revisited time and again. He “repeatedly” responded to former chief of staff John Kelly’s suggestions he be briefed on various topics with “I don’t want to talk to anyone. I know more than they do. I know better than anybody else.”

That’s a direct quote.

Putin on the Ritz

Trump’s seemingly pathological need for Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin’s approval is another recurring theme of the book.

National security aides report the ease with which Putin can manipulate Trump, playing to his insecurity and tendency to conspiracy. “It’s not us,” Putin tells Trump. “It’s subordinates fighting against our friendship.”

After Putin’s win in the rigged 2018 Russian election, Trump insisted on calling him, and promptly ignored his briefing materials, in particular a five-by-seven-inch “cue” card prepared for him, which read “DO NOT CONGRATULATE”.

You ask for one measly award

Trump’s conviction that he ought to have at least as many Nobel prizes as his predecessor is well documented. The book goes further into his fixation on awards and prizes:

“Oftentimes when he heard about somebody receiving a lifetime achievement award … Trump would complain to aides and argue he deserved it more.”

At one point in late 2017, he suggested he might award himself the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. Reviewing the biographies of potential candidates, he remarked “Well, I’ve probably done even more. Maybe I should be the one getting this.”

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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