"Peril"| Reviewed by Bill Schwab.
For this final volume of Bob Woodward's trilogy of books about the Trump presidency—(first, “Fear,” then “Rage,” and now “Peril”) Woodward has joined his “Washington Post” colleague Robert Costa to report the chronicle of events leading up to the 2020 election and the aftermath of President Trump’s defeat.
The fast-paced narrative includes facts, quotations, interviews and other information which became known during their vigorous investigation.
There are many revelations in this book but one of the most notable is recorded in the Prologue where Woodward and Costa disclose that General Mark A. Milley, the 20th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called his cohort in Beijing after the January 6th insurrection to let him know that he (Milley) would prevent President Trump from starting a war with China.
During this conversation the General twice reassured his Chinese counterpart that the President would not launch a nuclear attack in order to improve his chances of staying in office. Milley took this extraordinary action because he was worried President Trump “might still be looking for…a ‘Reichstag Moment’”, (when the parliament building in Berlin was burned on February 27, 1933.)
Milley discussed the process for nuclear strikes and other acts of war with his U.S. military colleagues to make sure nothing was initiated without his knowledge. The authors explain that Milley was “overseeing the mobilization of America’s national security state without the knowledge of the American people or the rest of the world.” He walked the fine line between being an ardent defender of the Constitution and pacifying President Trump so he would not get fired.
Paul Ryan, the former Speaker of the House, was so concerned about 45’s mental status during this time that he researched psychiatric literature. His conclusion was “Do not humiliate Trump in public. Humiliating a narcissist risked real danger, a frantic lashing out if he felt threatened or criticized.”
After the 2020 election, the authors follow President Trump's reactions to his loss, from depression to rage to the belief that the election was stolen. After interviewing “more than 200 firsthand participants and witnesses,” Woodward and Costa recount how President Trump's comments about the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville motivated Joe Biden to run for president. They also give an account of Vice President Mike Pence’s internal wrestling over whether he should nullify the Electoral College results.
“Peril” is not a polemic, but a skillfully crafted documentation of Trump’s late presidency and Biden’s early presidency. The objectivity of the book is impressive. Information is written so that readers can draw their own conclusions.
Woodward and Costa close their examination of this turbulent period by pondering the fate of the United States’ experiment. “Could Trump work his will again? Were there any limits to what he and his supporters might do to put him back in power? Peril remains.”
About the Authors: Bob Woodward is an associate editor at “The Washington Post” where he has worked for 50 years. He has shared in two Pulitzer Prizes: for Watergate coverage and coverage of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Robert Costa is a national political reporter at “The Washington Post.” He previously served as moderator of Washington Week on PBS and as a political analyst for NBC.