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Press: Four years of Trump is worse than we thought  

Looking back at it now, the most surprising thing about the Donald Trump presidency is that we survived it at all: the lies, the chaos, the ignorance, ugliness, recklessness and lawlessness. On many levels, it was unlike any other presidency in our history, Republican or Democrat.  

Presidential historians generally rank Warren G. Harding, Ulysses S. Grant, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Zachary Taylor and Andrew Johnson as the worst six presidents in American history. It’s time to revise the list. Donald Trump makes them look like statesmen.  

It’s all spelled out in “The Divider,” a compelling new account of Trump’s four years in the White House by Peter Baker and Susan Glasser. In a sense, their book is a compilation of their great reporting — by Baker at The New York Times and Glasser at The New Yorker — on COVID-19, the Robert Mueller investigation, and both impeachment trials. But it’s more than that. Now that it’s over, pulling it all together, their account of the entirety of the Trump presidency is mind-blowing. How did we stoop so low? How did we escape?  

Baker and Glasser don’t hold back. They establish the theme of the book in their very first sentence: “Donald Trump’s refusal to accept defeat in the 2020 election, and the insurrection at the Capitol he summoned to overturn his loss, were no violent outliers but the inexorable culmination of a sustained four-year war on the institutions and traditions of American democracy.”  

Let that sink in. Donald Trump didn’t declare war on democracy on Jan. 6, 2021. From Day 1, his entire presidency was a war on democracy, an undermining of our basic democratic institutions and breaking of rules that continue to this day. So much so that Glasser and Baker call their book “a report from an active crime scene.”  

As the authors point out, we should not have been surprised by Trump’s behavior in the Oval Office. As a big-time New York developer, he was known for puffing himself up, telling lies and breaking rules. The idea that he’d “pivot” once he became president was absurd. Still, the inadequacy of his presidency is stunning.  

No president ever brought to the office less experience in or less knowledge of national policy, even the most basic stuff. For starters, Baker and Glasser note, “He did not know that Puerto Rico was part of the United States, did not know whether Colombia was in North America or South America, thought Finland was part of Russia, and mixed up the Baltics with the Balkans.” They add: “He seemed genuinely surprised to learn that Abraham Lincoln had been a member of the Republican Party.”  

If ignorance was one hallmark of the Trump presidency, chaos was another. “The Divider” correctly portrays the Trump White House as a nest of vipers, plagued by in-fighting among staffers. Chief of staff Reince Priebus didn’t trust adviser Steve Bannon, and neither of them liked senior counselor Kellyanne Conway; all three of them resisted the overriding influence of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner.  

Ironically, as Glasser and Baker report, it was those same top staffers, “those who were in the room with him,” who were most fearful of what actions the out-of-control president might take, and often went out of their way “to save the country from its own president” — a responsibility never exercised by Republican leaders of Congress.  

In the end, a reading of “The Divider” is not only a reminder of how bad the Trump presidency was but how dangerous, operating without any limits, a repeat Trump performance would be. Voters beware!  

Press is host of “The Bill Press Pod.” He is the author of “From the Left: A Life in the Crossfire.”

Tags Andrew Johnson COVID-19 Mueller investigation Peter Baker susan glasser Trump presidency Ulysses S. Grant

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