Non-Fiction: A Warning by Anonymous

Since A Warning (Twelve) came out about a month ago, there has been no shortage of press. From a pure sales perspective, the publication date could not have been more timely, with barrages of impeachment news keeping the American president in the headlines, even if his own antics weren’t. And they were.

Though sales have been brisk, reviews have not been universally positive. Few voices on either side have been as elegant as Talia Lavin’s biting take for GQ. She begins at the beginning:

The book was born from a viral op-ed in the New York Times—“I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration”—by the same anonymous official, a faux-sagacious bit of windbaggery from the halcyon days of 2018. That op-ed asserted that there was a cadre of senior officials “working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.” The president speculated whether the op-ed constituted: “TREASON?” The mystery of the author’s identity was a weightless bit of intrigue, the perfect bait for DC journalists more interested in power and its machinations than any of the lives impacted by its exercise; thus, it captured the wittering minds of cable news for days on end.

But, ultimately, Lavin is disappointed with the payload Anonymous delivers:

Unfortunately, the “Warning” produced by the book is one abundantly obvious to anyone who has even passingly observed the news over the past few years. The recurring theme of the book is that the president is impulsive; of poor character; and leaves aides continually scurrying to either check his worst impulses or at the very least repackage them into more palatable forms. We are treated to such solemn pronouncements as: “Donald Trump is not a paragon of justice.” Or “Unlike Lincoln, he does not see temperance as a virtue.” These astounding insights are larded through with a mix of previously unreported snippets of administration conversation, chiefly in the form of racist or sexist offhand comments—such as imitating migrant mothers in a “Hispanic accent,” or calling women “a little chubby”—by the president, and an ample use of press reportage, such as exhaustive reporting on the Trump Foundation, often drawn from investigations of greater depth than this book could ever hope to plumb.

At times, the portrait of internal chaos—a staff reeling from the perennial impulsivity and distractedness of an addled sociopath—cannot help but be vivid. At one point, the author describes working in the Trump administration as follows: “’It’s like showing up at the nursing home at daybreak to find your elderly uncle running pantsless across the courtyard and cursing loudly about the cafeteria food, as worried attendants try to catch him. Only your uncle…doesn’t have to lead the U.S. government once he puts his pants on.”

The full piece is engaging, and it’s here.

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