Wood­ward set off alarm, and we need to wake up

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - OPINION - Leonard Pitts Jr. The Mi­ami Herald Leonard Pitts is syn­di­cated by Tri­bune Me­dia Ser­vices.

Where have you gone, Bob Wood­ward? Our na­tion turns its lonely eyes to you. I asked that ques­tion in Jan­uary, repur­pos­ing a Paul Si­mon lyric to im­plore the dean of Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal re­porters to help us make sense of the mess that is the Trump White House. On Tues­day, Wood­ward fi­nally came through. That was the re­lease date of his lat­est book, “Fear: Trump in the White House.” You may in­fer the pub­lic hunger for it from a Wash­ing­ton Post re­port that a whop­ping 750,000 copies were sold on just the first day. Ac­cord­ing to the Post, for­eign em­bassies have been buy­ing the book in bulk. The whole world, it seems, wants a peek in­side this sad ex­cuse for a pres­i­dency. As an Amer­i­can, one feels an em­bar­rass­ment roughly akin to find­ing one’s tat­tered draw­ers hang­ing on a clothes line in Times Square.

Trump has tried to laugh the book off, us­ing tac­tics that by now seem as fa­mil­iar as they do des­per­ate and thread­bare. “Fic­tion,” he tweeted. “Joke,” he tweeted. Etc.

Prob­lem­at­i­cally for him, how­ever, this isn’t Michael Wolff, whose “Fire and Fury” was marred by re­por­to­rial slop­pi­ness. Nor is it some for­mer aide who can be writ­ten off as dis­grun­tled. No, Wood­ward is the real deal, a two-time Pulitzer Prize win­ner who was mak­ing his bones when Trump and his daddy were still schem­ing how not to rent apart­ments to black peo­ple.

That said, the por­trait he paints is quite rem­i­nis­cent of oth­ers we’ve read. Trump emerges as an id­iot, an un­in­formed boor, a mean bully, an id­iot, a liar, an in­com­pe­tent lout, an id­iot, a whiny tod­dler.

But Wood­ward also teases out — and to a de­gree ar­guably no other ob­server has — a sense of how emo­tion­ally and in­tel­lec­tu­ally dam­aged the man is. No one ever quite says this (though Wood­ward re­ports one of his lawyers con­sid­ers him “clearly dis­abled”), but the im­pres­sion rises un­avoid­ably from scene af­ter scene of ad­vis­ers try­ing and fail­ing to get the sim­plest in­for­ma­tion to take root in his mind.

At one point, one of them asks, “Why do you have these views?”

“I just do,” says Trump. “I’ve had these views for 30 years.”

This im­pair­ment, this in­abil­ity to get past what he thinks he knows in or­der to ab­sorb and an­a­lyze new in­for­ma­tion, comes into chill­ing play as his national se­cu­rity team tries to get him to un­der­stand the crit­i­cal­ity of the na­tion’s Ter­mi­nal High Al­ti­tude Area De­fense (THAAD) sys­tem, based in South Korea at a cost of a bil­lion dol­lars a year.

Trump wants to move it to Ore­gon.

If based in South Korea, his ad­vis­ers ex­plain (and ex­plain and ex­plain), the sys­tem lets us know within seven sec­onds if North Korea launches a mis­sile at­tack — giv­ing us pre­cious ex­tra time to shoot it down be­fore some South Korean or Amer­i­can town is oblit­er­ated. Put it else­where, and that seven sec­onds ex­pands to 15 long min­utes.

Yet Trump still wants to move it to Ore­gon. Why? He’s ob­sessed with the idea that South Korea is pulling a fast one, snook­er­ing us into pay­ing for its de­fense. He doesn’t care about al­lies or mu­tual in­ter­ests. He just cares about get­ting paid.

As Wood­ward told Stephen Col­bert, “We bet­ter wake up to what’s re­ally go­ing on.” With “Fear,” he’s done his part. He’s set off an alarm.

We sleep through it at our own peril.

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