The latest book of Bob Woodward, Rage, is not exactly setting the Potomac on fire; neither is it giving any anxious moments to the Trump campaign. The broad consensus of all those who have read the work of a first rate and venerated journalist and in all the reviews that have been written in America and elsewhere can be narrowed down to two words: so what?
Apparently there is little in this latest addition of Woodward that the American people did not know about their President. From the small bits and pieces that have appeared, it seems that Woodward is only convincing yet another time that the obsession of President Donald Trump is not about putting in place workable domestic and foreign policies but only all about Himself.
In fact, even the initial hoopla about Trump admitting to Woodward as early as the first week of February that the virus was indeed an extremely deadly one, and deadlier than the flu seems to be evaporating.
“It goes through the air. That’s always tougher than the touch. You don’t have to touch things. Right? But the air, you just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed,” Trump is reported to have said. “And so, that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It is also more deadly than even your strenuous flus,” the President added.
But Trump was apparently holding on to an outward perception of not being too worried of the pandemic so as to not scare the wits out of people.
The fact remains that this astonishing statement of Trump does not seem to have caught traction over and beyond the Biden campaign and some of his supporters in Congress. In fact, Trump has gone to the extent of turning the tables on Woodward by asking the question as to why the reporter did not break the story at the time itself if he felt it was that serious?
“Bob Woodward had my quotes for many months. If he thought they were so bad or dangerous, why didn’t he immediately report them in an effort to save lives?” Trump said. “Didn’t he have an obligation to do so? No, because he knew they were good and proper answers. Calm, no panic!” he added.
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The book Rage is set to formally hit the book stands on September 15 and Woodward himself is being criticised in some quarters of having held back crucial information for a book instead of outing the President on his casual and callous thinking.
But the senior scribe seems to have taken the position “The biggest problem I had, which is always a problem with Trump, is I didn’t know if it was true.”
The response of Woodward on his so-called ethical lapse may not be convincing to many but for now the veteran journalist has to be taken at his word.
Mr Calm in crisis
With the first death reported near Seattle towards the end of February, today the death toll is nearing 200,000, with millions infected across all the 50 states of America.
And Trump is trying to get away with planting the impression that he was Mr. Calm during the time of a crisis that he does not wish to acknowledge the existence of a serious problem on his hands.
And yet, the very same person was going about telling people to drink Clorox and ingest detergents as a way of coming to terms with the virus, whether he said that in seriousness, jest or sarcastically will never be known.
Even if Trump did not wish to create a panic situation in the country, he could have stayed with the information of the “deadly” virus and put in place urgent mechanisms that were the order of the day. And the political mainstream has the feeling that the leadership was most certainly lacking in this time of a pandemic.
Not enough firepower
The Biden campaign has not taken the focus away from Woodward’s revelations on Trump and coronavirus with the former Vice-President literally tearing into President Trump at a campaign rally. “He had the information. He knew how dangerous it was. And while this deadly disease ripped through our nation, he failed to do his job on purpose,” said Biden.
“It was a life-and-death betrayal of the American people. It’s beyond despicable. It’s a dereliction of duty. It’s a disgrace,” Biden added at a campaign stop in Warren, Michigan.
“The President’s own words spell out the devastating truth: Trump was fully aware of the catastrophic nature of the coronavirus but hid the facts and refused to take the threat seriously, leaving our entire country exposed and unprepared,” Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives said. Pelosi hails from California, one of the states severely impacted by the coronavirus.
There must be some amount of frustration in the Democratic camp that the latest bombshell is not exactly creating the kind of waves it ought to; and worse Trump appears to be coming out of all this as if he were some hero like Winston Churchill.
The latest polls show that while Biden still has the lead nationally by about seven points, the race in battleground states are tightening even if the Biden campaign is pumping advertisement money in states like Florida.
What surveys are also showing is that there is no dramatic shift in the support groups of both Biden and Trump, each seem to be holding on to their bases of support and only marginally moving ahead or behind.
At one time, political analysts were looking at states like Georgia and Texas as possible Democratic pick-ups. Today, not many seem to be nursing that illusion. Both Trump and Biden are duking it out in the mid-western battlegrounds of Michigan and Wisconsin, with Pennsylvania being another hot state of pursuit.
In the nearly four years of Trump at the White House, senior officials have privately characterised him as an idiot, fool, moron, and a person who cannot tell the difference between the truth and a lie.
The question is if any, all or any other characterisation of the President is really going to matter on November 3, the day of the real opinion poll in the United States.
(The writer was a former senior journalist in Washington D.C. covering North America and the United Nations.)