Confession is good for the soul, but timing is everything if one expects absolution. Consider John Bolton and his confessional, tell-all book, “The Room Where It Happened.” Bolton was President Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser until he was dismissed, or resigned — there is some dispute. During Trump’s impeachment, Bolton’s testimony might have sparked some curiosity and courage on the part of Republican true believers. Unfortunately, Bolton was too craven to step up and be sworn. Now we have to pay Simon and Schuster $32.50 to read his testimony — which is why, for me, Bolton’s book, is as much an indictment of Bolton as it is of President Trump, whose misdeeds it chronicles.
I ordered the book weeks ago, and, for a time, I thought I’d never see it. The Trump administration tried to block publication, alleging it imperiled national security — even though it went through a review process and passed muster. Frustratingly, for the administration, copies were deftly leaked to newspapers and several national columnists, making its release “fait accompli.” As Federal Judge Royce C. Lamberth told Trump’s lawyers. “The horse was already out of the barn.”
It’s been out of the barn for a long time. The book tells all. Yet, its 13 chapters and 578 pages tells us nothing we didn’t already know — or suspect. Whether its arrogance, greed or stupidity, Trump’s conduct and character have been out front for some time — be it the Stormy Daniels incident and the Access Hollywood Tapes before he was elected, or the venomous tweets that pour out of his office every day, and, more recently, his failure to acknowledge that the Russian government placed a bounty on the lives of American soldiers. He has revealed himself and reveals more of himself every day.
During the 2016 campaign he said “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” The voters agreed and elected him president of the United States. He’s been in the Oval Office for three-plus years. Nov. 3 will determine if he stays for another four.
John Bolton’s book is a warning. That was his intent. Yale educated and a lawyer, Bolton is a conservative thinker, a “hawk,” a neo-con, a Republican and an ideologue on matters of economics and foreign policy. He served in the Reagan and both Bush administrations and was the United States representative to the United Nations in 2005-06.
John Bolton is no right-wing extremist. Like so many conservatives who’ve denounced Trump, and left the Republican Party to join the Lincoln Project, he is deeply worried about the state of our country and government. I join with him in that. I don’t agree with all of his opinions and arguments, but he is a gentleman.
He writes, “I am hard-pressed to identify any significant Trump decision during my tenure that wasn’t driven by re-election calculations.” That takeaway is served up in the book with every Trump rant and reckless phone call, his pronouncements on the coronavirus pandemic, his Ukraine dealings, his abandonment of the Kurds in Syria, his kowtowing to the likes of Turkey’s Erdogan, North Korea’s Kim Jung un, China’s Xi Jinping, Saudi Prince Mohammad bin Salman, and, of course, Russian President Vladimir Putin. The book eviscerates his foreign policy and exposes him, in Bolton’s words, as “stunningly uninformed.”
John Bolton is no poet, and his book is no easy read. Its 494 pages of text and 83 pages of notes remind me of the hundreds of pages of dull memos I’ve read in my career. It took a lot of commitment and resolve to get through it. There’s much there, but, at the end, I found no surprises — just worry, disappointment, and Donald Trump.
We are made of many histories and divergent cultures. We are not a homogeneous society, and we never will be. Diversity and division are a part of our history. The Constitution, itself, is no testament to our unity. It was barely ratified and remains a fragile compromise. Civil War ripped it apart, and we pasted it together — leaving many of the same issues unresolved.
President Abraham Lincoln wrote: “A house divided against itself cannot stand — I do not expect the Union to be dissolved. I do not expect the house to fall – but I do expect it will cease to be divided.”
Our democracy is an ongoing experiment. I believe we are at a point where the next few years could determine its outcome and cement the verdict of history.