The first attempt at a thorough account of Donald Trump’s four years in office reads occasionally less like history and more like a warning.
Peter Baker and Susan Glasser’s newly released book, The Divider: Trump in the White House, 2017–2021, is based on their reporting on Trump for the New York Times and New Yorker, respectively, as well as more than 300 exclusive interviews conducted expressly for the book. Even while this volume covers a lot of ground, is fascinating, and has a lot of scoopy, recently reported information, the possibility and impending future is what this doorstop of a book is ultimately and perhaps even primarily about.
Baker and Glasser conclude that Donald Trump “was, by many metrics, the most politically ineffective tenant of the White House in generations.” He twice lost the popular vote. He was twice impeached. He lost the House, the Senate, and the White House in four years. He is the first president in Gallup poll history to never have received a majority of support from Americans, not even for a single day during his one term in office. He is still “the undisputed frontrunner” to be the GOP nominee in 2024, they add. What if he won the presidency once more? “Many of the limitations that restrained Trump in the first term would be gone in a second,” they claim.
Glasser informed me that “the historical record in this live-action threat to American democracy needs to be filled out.” “We must comprehend it as completely as we can.”
Although we want this to be for history, Baker noted that it still has a lot of current-day application. “Past is prologue. The best example of that is this. You can see how the following word might go.
This superstar husband and couple team’s third book is available now. (Full disclosure: When Glasser worked as an editor at POLITICO, she recruited me.) James A. Baker III, The Man Who Ran Washington, was the subject of their most recent, which was published in 2020. Nevertheless, their first one, which was published more than 15 years ago, discussed Vladimir Putin and “his effective assault on the nascent Russian democracy.” Baker and Glasser close their introduction to this new book on the conceited, insecure, stupid, impulsive, systems-testing, and destroying Trump with a memory from the beginning of their tenure as foreign correspondents in Russia.
They report that a reformist lawmaker was questioned about the country’s unstable democracy at a Moscow event. He responded by telling a tale from the Soviet era about an ambulance driver who picks up a patient.
The patient inquires, “Where are we going?”
The driver answers, “The morgue.”
“Why? The patient protests, “I’m not dead yet.
The driver replies, “We’re not there yet.
According to Baker and Glasser, “it was a mordant jest about where Russia was going two decades ago. After four years under President Trump, it “may also serve as commentary on the health of American democracy: We’re not there yet, but it does not look good.”
This conversation has been condensed and made more concise.
Michael Kruse: In my opinion, this book is the first thorough attempt to condense those four years between two covers.
Susan Glasser: Without a doubt. This was something we really wanted to undertake as sort of the first attempt at a reliable four-year history of Trump. There have been countless books, many of which are excellent. Although there is still plenty to discover, we thought it was crucial to look back on the past four years and chart their progress because no one had previously done so.
What benefit does performing this kind of job presently have? asked Kruse.
Baker, Peter This will not be the final chapter in the history of this presidency. However, there is value in doing it now, in preserving people’s memories while they are still vivid, and in documenting them while they are still alive to help make sense of everything. If you study histories 20 years after a president, individuals have, in effect, rewritten history in their minds as recollections have faded, disagreements have subsided, and concerns and disputes have mellowed. Everything is still acute and extremely real today. The fact that it isn’t over, in your opinion, is another crucial point. This is the past. It’s also a very real-life situation at the same time. Because it might not be the last time we see him, the book’s title includes the words “2017 through 2021.” Therefore, it’s crucial to comprehend how the previous phrase was in order to comprehend how another term might be.
Glasser: There’s a reason, I believe, why we referred to it as “an active crime scene” in the opening. This is crucial because it explains why we spent 18 months doing original reporting for this after Trump left office. It is necessary to complete the historical record in this actual challenge to American democracy. We need to comprehend it as completely as we can. And from a historical perspective, it goes without saying that the idea that Donald Trump was already well-known is absurd. And more importantly, I believe we discovered while conducting research for this book how many of the things that appeared to be a part of the Trump circus and the insane daily news cycle actually posed much greater threats to institutions than we had previously realized, especially when it came to national security.
The battle against American institutions, in my opinion, is the main focus of the book and the underlying narrative of the Trump presidency. We sensed tension between, instance, Trump and the Pentagon when it came to matters of national security. The Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, for example, came to believe that Donald Trump posed a threat to national security, that he was “ruining the international order,” and that he disagreed with many of the ideals that the United States fought for during World War II. You know, that’s the language in the resignation letter that Mark Kelly submitted.
Kruse: Are you writing for the benefit of current American citizens or are you writing for the historical record?
Baker: I suppose both, actually. Although we want this to be for history, it still has a lot of use in the present. History serves as a guide. The best example of that is this. You can see how the following word might go. An example of a national security professional comparing Trump to the velociraptor from “Jurassic Park,” or learning, is mentioned in the beginning. This person used to meet with Trump every day. He didn’t know much when he took office, but after four years, he mastered the art of opening a kitchen door. As a result, if he were to serve a second term, he would approach the job with more competence because he now understands what he wants and how to obtain it.
Kruse: Who is the target audience, and who do you believe is a more likely candidate? Does anyone read this?
Glasser: As a journalist writing this type of history, all you can do, in my opinion, is work as hard as you can to record as much significant information as possible and attempt to integrate this overwhelmingly overpowering national experience that we have all just come out of. Because we believe it tells a crucial tale, we want everyone to read it. The first line actually contains the mission statement, which states that there has been an extraordinary, understandable emphasis on the disastrous conclusion of the Trump presidency and his historic challenge and attempt to invalidate the results of the 2020 election as well as January 6th. But in our opinion, in order to truly comprehend January 6th, one must go back to the first day of the administration and connect the dots. I believe you have a lot clearer perspective now. I mentioned the attack on institutions, so that’s one thing, right? the assault on NATO, for instance. With the disclosure of a more complete historical narrative, it is very evident that from the start of his presidency, Donald Trump was dead serious about dismantling the NATO alliance. He invites the congressional leadership to the White House on the first day of work, and as he begins ranting about the rigged election and the millions of illegal votes cast in California, Nancy Pelosi asks, “What are you talking about?” This is just an amazing detail that, of course, we forgot about.
Kruse: What do you two hope readers will do with the data you’ve gathered, published, and summarized in these 600+ pages?
Baker: Oh, it reads quickly.
Kruse: For a book with 600 pages, it reads quickly.