The System Does Not Live on Trump Alone

John Bolton unpacks, but too late. His book describes a U.S. president whose madness can no longer surprise anyone. And a system that knows no heroes.

It is tempting to focus solely on John Bolton. And to see him as somebody who was unwilling to be a hero at the right time. Now, the former national security advisor is returning with a book, and, for a juicy million-dollar fee, he takes a closer look at himself and his failure — many are saying he should have come forward earlier with the truth about President Donald Trump. The anger is culminating in headlines like that in Mother Jones, which read, “Say It Under Oath, Asshole.”

Yes, Bolton would have been the best witness against this president, had he shared his knowledge months ago when Congress was dealing with impeachment. He, who was in the room where it happened (as per the title of his book), assiduously recording Trump’s madness on his yellow pad, ducked out of testifying back then. So, why is this book necessary now?

The reason is not to finally let the world know who Trump is. Bolton is not the first and won’t be the last one to provide a first-hand description of the disarray in the White House. A clueless president who is only interested in himself and is willing to resort to any means necessary — a verdict which, at this point, does not come as a surprise to anybody. Somebody who asks foreign powers to interfere in the election on his behalf — we already know that. Somebody granting personal favors to dictators he admires and who expects the same in return — of course. Somebody who would like to jail journalists and rule without term limits, but is intimidated by every powerful man — be that as it may.

Former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly is quoted by Bolton as saying, “What if we have a real crisis like 9/11 with the way he (Trump) makes decisions?” But even those fears have since been overtaken. The COVID-19 pandemic is a true crisis and the effect of Trump in the White House can be seen in the graveyards. In symbolic fashion, the effect of Trump in the White House has manifested in his reaction to the peaceful protests against police brutality and racism, to which his only answer is escalation and toughness. The catastrophe has long been obvious to everybody: an egomaniacal president who despises democratic oversight, a totalitarian beguiler and fraudulent amateur — since the election in 2016, things have only gotten worse.

’He Is So Full of Shit’

The hope for a hero to put an end to this is understandable but futile. And not only because Bolton does not want this role. With his account, the former national security advisor solidifies the image of a system that is not held together by just Trump. There are just too many participants, watching or looking the other way. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who, during a meeting between Trump and Kim Jong Un, handed Bolton a note, reading, “He is so full of shit” — and he was not referring to the North Korean dictator. Attorney General William Barr, who is informed by Bolton about several questionable events — and is also “concerned,” yet willing to tolerate Trump’s excesses and remains Trump’s willing helper. Former Chief of Staff Kelly told Bolton early on, “You can’t imagine how desperate I am to get out of here. This is a bad place to work, as you will find out.”

Nobody is buying the fairy tale of the adults in the room who are keeping Trump under control anymore. Too many have tried and failed. For some, this president was simply a vehicle for their own interests, their own power. Tax giveaways, shredded regulations, stacking the courts with conservative judges — that is why the Republicans surrendered to him; nothing else mattered. The impeachment marked the last opportunity to take responsibility for the country and not just focus on their own party — but they would probably not have abandoned their president, even with testimony from Bolton. Now the only time left for heroes to step up is in November: Anybody not voting for Trump will be regarded as one.

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