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Book review: ‘The Divider’ is a sober look at the Trump White House

If “The Divider” has a dominant theme, it may be the fight inside the “almost cartoonishly chaotic White House” by people more reasonable and ethical than Trump to control their most dangerous instincts. Because everyone had different ideas about where to restrict and where to encourage Trump, the White House became a den of “ongoing tribal warfare.” they write: An “Apprentice”-style reality show in which parties competed to curry favor with Trump and outlast their rivals, even while sometimes sabotaging the president’s agenda at will.

How Times reporters cover politics. We trust our journalists to be independent observers. So while Times staff members can vote, they are not allowed to endorse or campaign for political candidates or causes. This includes participating in marches or rallies in support of a movement or giving money or raising money for any political candidate or electoral cause.

The dirty gossip and derisive nicknames the Trumpies coin for each other (Kushner is the “Slim Reaper,” Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is “Nurse Ratched”) make for fun reading; they also highlight a dysfunction rare even for the Washington freak show. Every chapter, it seems, has a sentence like this: “Although Priebus, Bannon, and Kushner didn’t like each other, the only thing they agreed on was that they all hated each other.” [Kellyanne] Conway.” Or: “In public, Mattis, Tillerson, and McMaster were portrayed as members of the Adult Axis. In private, there were pettiness that sometimes suggested a high school cafeteria.”

The gossip, and clandestine efforts to thwart their own president, led to constant staff turnover, a dream parade of firings, resignations, and defenestrations. Trump would remove an aide in favor of someone presumably more compliant, only for the new kid to discover that Trump was even more opinionated and indifferent to the rules than he had dreamed. Time and time again, employees debate whether to stay in the hope of assuaging Trump’s baser impulses or run from the room screaming. Even more staggering is the number of former loyalists who, after their tours of duty, became some of the president’s most strident critics.

Many Trump aides, including some, like National Security Adviser John Bolton or Attorney General William P. Barr, who might otherwise deserve harsh criticism, bravely intervened at times to keep Trump in check. Without his small acts of resistance, things could have gone even worse. Baker and Glasser, however, appear to endorse the view of Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff, who, during the first impeachment trial, warned Republicans: “You won’t change it, you can’t restrict it.”

They write: “Many had told themselves that they could handle the unmanageable president, that they could prevent him from going too far, that they could guide him in the direction of responsible government. … They had justified his service to him or his allegiance to him or his deference to him on the grounds that they could ultimately control him. And what Schiff was saying is that three years had shown that that was not possible.”

In this case, Schiff was speaking specifically about Trump’s plans to “compromise our elections,” and his words turned out to be tragically prescient. “The Divider” concludes with some riveting chapters about Trump’s insane plan to cling to power after his November 2020 defeat, which resulted in the deadly assault on Capitol Hill on January 6, 2021.


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