Book Review of Thank You for Your Servitude: Donald Trump’s Washington and the Bid Price by Mark Leibovich
Mark Leibovich has none of that. In his new book, “Thank You for Your Servitude: Donald Trump’s Washington and the Price of Submission,” he uses caustic quotation marks around his occasional attempts to “understand” his fellow Americans as an indication of the futility of the enterprise. His statement is more mocking and dismissive: “I . . . never found Trump so captivating as a stand-alone character. . . . The slavishly devoted Republicans that Trump lured to his side were far more compelling to me,” he wrote. Most of the events he describes are familiar, he says. “In all likelihood, you’d rather not relive a lot of them. I sympathize.” But “the idea [of the book] is to tell the story of this ordeal through the pleading fanboys who allowed Donald Trump’s depravity to be inflicted on the rest of us.
Kill vultures in a barrel, you say? Can there be bigger targets than Lindsey Graham or Kevin McCarthy or Rudy Giuliani? Indeed, I was ready to brag about how cheap and dangerous such caustic cynicism is. But Leibovich, in the end, kind of won me over.
It’s partly because he’s so good at it. He’s a world-class braggart, carrying on an American tradition that includes such dyspeptic luminaries as HL Mencken, Hunter S. Thompson and PJ O’Rourke. Trump, he writes, “has a way of wearing you down. It invades your habitat, like the opossum that enters the attic, dies, stinks and attracts derived nuisances. Trump’s complete lack of shame “gave him the advantage of being bulletproof in his own scrambled head.” Senator Ted Cruz saw his own “unpopularity in Washington [as] a decisive advantage. Attorney General William Barr was the “Yo-Yo Ma of WH toadyism, with Trump as the cello”. Lindsey Graham was a “Gilligan to Donald Trump’s Skipper”.
Leibovich is, more subtly, a brilliant interviewer able to coax not-quite-confessions from his subjects, which give him all the access in the world. “I’m pretty much brain dead,” Lindsey Graham told her after the 2020 election, knowing full well that the company’s journalistic focus is gutting. “I’ll see you back in DC. We will visit you. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy shows Leibovich cellphone photos of himself posing with Trump, Pope Francis, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Kobe Bryant, and explains how much he loves going to the Super Bowl and at the Oscars. Former House Speaker Paul Ryan told Leibovich, “The President posted a tweet last night that was really good.”
The whole Trump project was a slanderous joke, of course. A parody of American political life and its decline. Leibovich’s main location is the Trump Hotel, which he compares to the set of “Cheers”. It serves as a nesting place for “Trump’s usual collection of pet rocks”. He gleans nuggets at the Benjamin Bar, trolls the BLT Prime steak house upstairs where Giuliani has a regular table with the nameplate, “Rudolph W. Giuliani, Private Office.” Lev Parnas, one of Giuliani’s Ukrainian enablers says he’s never been to the White House, “All I saw was the Trump Hotel.” William Barr secures his place in the Hall of Fame by signing a contract to host a holiday party at the hotel with a minimum cost of $31,500. Prior to the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, Trump raises minimum room rates from $476 to $1,999 per night.
Yes, we have seen these scenes before. But, little by little, I started to feel my throat rising – the joke was on us American people, especially those of us, the dreaded elite, who took things like, well, the health care and pollution and education and overseas authoritarians like Vladimir Putin seriously.
Leibovich builds his case sequentially. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump’s fellow Republicans evolved into cowardice through stages of moral blindness and, finally, licked pleas. First, they ignored Trump’s utter lack of knowledge and rude behavior, hoping not to alienate his startling legions. Their attacks on the Play-Doh despot were belated and pathetic. Marco Rubio of Florida spoke about the size of Trump’s hands. Ted Cruz didn’t even endorse it in his speech at the convention. Nikki Haley of South Carolina said: “Donald Trump is all we are. . . teaching our children what not to do in kindergarten. But he slaughtered mainstream Republicans. They swallowed hard and supported him against Hillary Clinton, sure in the fog of conventional wisdom that she would win and provide Republicans with a perfect piñata when she became president. But Clinton campaigned with all the zest of a day-old kale salad, overwhelmed by Trump’s deluge of nacho cheese dip. Then the Republicans thought, well, he’ll pivot to solemnity now that he’s president. No. “If your campaign is a personality cult, can you really modulate that personality while still maintaining the cult?” points out Leibovitz.
Republicans were stuck in a diabolical bargain: They got their Supreme Court nominees and tax breaks for the wealthy, but they had to kneel before a man most of them considered a “moron” ( Secretary of State Rex Tillerson), an “idiot”. (Chief of Staff John Kelly) and a “dope” (National Security Advisor HR McMaster). They were wrong, however. Trump is the Napoleon of morons. He has a genius for identifying the soft underbelly of Washington’s tired conventions and the weakness of his opponents. And he’s in on the joke: “The perverse beauty of Trump was that he could be weirdly open about how full of shit he was,” Leibovich writes.
Thus, the GOP fell into nihilism. Its leaders regurgitated Trump’s lies. “It’s theater, it doesn’t matter,” Graham said. When asked how he would be remembered in history, Giuliani said, “My attitude about my legacy is: fk it.” And the first lady wore a jacket emblazoned with “I Really Don’t Care.” And you? »
They could be so brazen – they could almost get away with destroying American democracy – because a significant percentage of the American people, the people that we “serious” people are trying to “understand”, are too lazy, rude and bigoted to care; They just want revenge on people who offer transgender toilets. And as Leibovich gets to Jan. 6, 2021, I wholeheartedly agree with Atlantic’s exquisite Caitlin Flanagan, who describes the rioters as “deadbeat dads, YouPorn addicts, slow-moving students and MMA fans. . . with bellies full of beer and Sausage McMuffins, maybe a little high on Adderall.
What catharsis! After all those hours of trying to figure out why the most pampered, richest, and freest people in history – people up to their ears in cellphones, flat screen TVs and supercharged pickup trucks – are so angry, it feels good to whip yokels upside down, doesn’t it? I mean, at a certain point, our so civilized attempts at “understanding” become indulgence. Our attempt to respectfully heal national wounds becomes a lesser version of Republican capitulation to the Trumpers’ careless ignorance. Why can’t we be as angry with them as they are with us?
Because we know better. We know that if we don’t understand that, we don’t have a country. So, thanks for the primal shout, Mark. He felt . . . gorgeous. But now it’s time to seek out our best angels once again, even as they’re drowned out by the chants of “Let’s go, Brandon” at NASCAR races.
Joe Klein is the author of seven books, including “Primary Colors” and, most recently, “Charlie Mike.”
Thank you for your servitude
Donald Trump’s Washington and the Bid Price
Penguin Press. 352 pages. $29