This week veteran journalist Bob Woodward will release 20 taped interviews he made while interviewing Trump for his book, Rage, which was released in September 2020. The ostensible reason Woodward is releasing them now is to promote an audiobook he’s created featuring those tapes. Leaving aside the fact that, in doing this, Woodward joins a long line of people with firsthand knowledge and access to Trump’s tenure in the Oval Office who’ve withheld critical insight and information from the public about the man’s behavior until they’ve had an opportunity to profit from it, the tapes themselves are nonetheless revealing.
Put bluntly, they reveal that everything Democrats have said from the outset about Trump’s character—or lack thereof—and his sheer pathology and disregard for anyone except himself, are wholly accurate. What is really new here is that you can hear the malice in his voice, firsthand.
In an interactive piece published in Sunday’s Washington Post, Woodward includes audio snippets of those tapes, together with their transcription. He emphasizes at the outset that the printed version doesn’t do justice to the sheer malevolence that Trump displays in his responses to Woodward’s questions—specifically his tone, his volume, and his mannerisms—and he’s right. Listening provides a much clearer picture of what we were all forced to deal with for those four awful years. Because the way Trump speaks—his constant self-aggrandizing tone, his sneering self-certainty—would qualify as a caricature, taken straight from any film or depiction of an organized crime mob boss.
The audio cannot be embedded here, and the Post’s article is behind a paywall, so the only way you’ll be able to appreciate that—until the tapes themselves are released and (presumably) disseminated on public forums—is by purchasing a Post subscription. However, many of the quotes Woodward cites in the Post article have been publicly aired on CBS’ Sunday Morning:
Woodward had previously released segments of these interviews in Sept. 2020 (again in conjunction with the book release, Rage, in which he quoted these same interviews), most notably the revelation—obtained by Woodward six months before—that Trump had deliberately played down the magnitude of the COVID-19 pandemic. (By the time Woodward saw fit to release these segments, hundreds of thousands of people were already dead, many of them due directly to denial and skepticism about social distancing, masking, and business closures inculcated by Republican governors seeking to curry favor with Trump.)
In May 2020, Woodward interviewed Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, who explained how he and others had warned Trump in January of the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic and its potential magnitude. Woodward states that it was only then that he fully appreciated Trump’s “abdication of presidential responsibility.”
I then went back and reviewed Trump’s comments to me and his public statements after that Jan. 28 warning. It was clear that Trump never communicated the magnitude of the threat to the American people. It amounted to a large-scale deception and coverup.
Woodward also notes that subsequent interviews show how Trump “edited” his own statements with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, it’s not until a July 21, 2020, interview that Trump tells Woodward that he just “noticed” the virus had escalated into a global pandemic. During that same interview, Trump acknowledges that—months into the pandemic—he does not yet have any plan to combat it but advises Woodward to wait four weeks and his “plan” would materialize. Trump also backhandedly acknowledges that his “plan” to combat COVID-19 was wholly tied to his electoral prospects in 2020:
You will see the plan, Bob. I’ve got 106 days. That’s a long time. You know, if I put out a plan now, people won’t even remember it in a hundred—I won the last election in the last week.
The interviews and their tone paint a clear picture of Trump’s egomania and narcissism, his complete lack of empathy or compassion for the victims of a raging virus, and his reflexive habit of demeaning and belittling anyone who disagrees with him. For example, asked whether the CIA’s assessment that North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un was “cunning, crafty but ultimately stupid,” was in fact correct, Trump took offense at this characterization because no one could possibly know more about the North Korean despot than Trump, who calls him “very smart.”
Because they don’t know. Okay? Because they don’t know. They have no idea. I’m the only one that knows. I’m the only one he deals with. He won’t deal with anybody else […]
The word chemistry. You meet somebody and you have a good chemistry. You meet a woman. In one second you know whether or not it’s all going to happen. ...
Woodward updates the impression he reached at the end of his prior book, Fear, in which he concludes Trump was simply “the wrong man for the job.”
Two years later, I realize I didn’t go far enough. Trump is an unparalleled danger. When you listen to him on the range of issues from foreign policy to the virus to racial injustice, it’s clear he did not know what to do. Trump was overwhelmed by the job. He was largely disconnected from the needs and leadership expectations of the public and his absolute self-focus became the presidency.
The problem for Woodward, though, is that most of us recognized Trump was an “unparalleled danger” to the country years ago, and this was most visibly confirmed on Jan. 6, 2021, when he tried unsuccessfully to overthrow the U.S. government so he could remain in power, even after a majority of Americans had tossed him out of office.
Woodward emphasizes one revealing quote. When asked whether he’d prepared a speech about “law and order” himself, Trump provides an essential insight into what motivates him:
I get people, they come up with ideas. But, the ideas are mine, Bob. Want to know something? Everything is mine.
Taken in isolation, Trump’s verbal spew is alarming enough. But considering the fact that he continues to dominate the entire Republican party—and, by extension, that half of the American electorate who continue to hang onto his words as if they were gospel truth—it is nothing short of horrifying.
Putting Trump into a position where he could wield real power was the biggest mistake this country ever made. The problem is, it’s still making it.