The Room Where It Happened by John Bolton (2020, Simon and Schuster)
I love this book. I’m going to pan it and explain why you shouldn’t read it.
First, let’s get one thing out of the way: this is a book which is designed to garner negative reviews. Bolton is a man who has been despised by Democrat intelligentsia for decades, and anything short of a full recant of his life’s work would be unwelcome from most prominent reviewers. Bolton offers no apology or reversal in this work. To the contrary, he fully embraces and explains his decisions, from his initial efforts to join the Trump White House immediately following the election through his reluctance to testify before the House for impeachments.
The book is not especially well-written, but neither is it terrible. Bolton’s narrative bogs down in long paragraphs which contain what would seem to be excessive detail. This is likely because the vetting process associated with potentially classified material prevented him from pursuing the usual political book route and getting a ghostwriter. With the exception of any final copyediting, this manuscript is almost certainly all John Bolton.
This may explain why the writing is heavily detailed. Bolton’s introduction suggests that he has written this book as much for historians and political scientists as for any contemporary reader. Minor facts, as distracting as they might be to casual readers, are often vitally important for those performing painstaking recreations of events.
It might also explain why the book is incredibly self-serving. That is certainly nothing new to political books, but the assertion of blatant untruths in defense of one’s legacy is always unwelcome. Bolton embraces a number of fallacies throughout the book and consistently interprets events in such a way that they present him in a sympathetic light. In Bolton’s mind, his predecessors had done Trump a grave disservice by attempting to bypass Trump’s inane decisions instead of confronting the President or even resigning because of them. This, he explains, entrenched Trump’s paranoia and rendered him incapable of listening to reason in the form of Bolton’s voice. The notion that Trump had displayed an unwillingness to respect the view of any underling for thirty years prior to taking office is somehow lost on Bolton.
So… hamfisted, overwritten, self-serving… the obvious question is why I love this book. The answer lies on the copyright page.
The book has been out for less than two weeks, and the number line at the base of my copy runs down to the number 9, with the numbers 1 through 8 removed. That means this is from the ninth printing of the book in two weeks, whereas most political books don’t go into two printings.
This book is being purchased, and it’s probably being read by people who are curious about what Bolton has to say. For the most part, that does not include the hardcore Trumpers who are offended by his revelations of Trump’s pettiness and incompetence, nor the Democrats whose existing negative perceptions of him were amplified when he refused to testify during the House’s impeachment inquiries.
The majority who are reading this are likely Republicans who have either drifted away from supporting Trump or who are questioning whether their devotion to Trump is valid. Bolton’s answer to that second item is a resounding “no.” Even as he attacks the Democrats for performing a politicized, incompetent impeachment he posits that Trump would have been more correctly impeached over multiple other matters. He paints Trump as not simply incompetent but as having judgement so impaired as to be a clear and present danger to the safe operation of the country.
In this way, Bolton may cost President Trump tens or even hundreds of thousands of votes in November.
He is performing another valuable service, although one I find hard to appreciate. He is being staunchly loyal to the Republican party of George W. Bush and before. By presenting Trump as unhinged, his support staff as incompetent, the businessmen and military leaders Trump brought into his cabinet as unable to grasp the complexities of public office and the Democrats as placing political gain over the good of the general public, he uses the binary argument to guide readers into one conclusion: they must support the Republicans, but not Trump or his enablers.
I cannot overstate how much I dislike this approach… but that’s on an emotional level. Intellectually, I approve of it, and here is why: while I believe the Republican party has become grossly corrupted and may not be salvageable, I admit two facts. First, that many of the people who insist they want a new party to take over from the Republicans will never do more toward that process than proclaim that desire on social media, and second, that many Republicans who have been blind to Trump’s flaws for four years are unlikely to recognize a new party is needed.
I want a new party, but if one is not forthcoming, Bolton’s effort is an early demand for a return to Reaganism, even if the main reason for that argument is to excuse his failings.
It thus has the potential for very positive results. But if you’re not in the mood to see Bolton do things like validate the basic conceit behind “Deep State” even as he admits that there’s no such thing, don’t spend any money on this. It’ll frustrate you, it will bore any non-researcher, and most of the biggest revelations have already been released to the public.