Thank Your For The Servitude: Book Review
Thank You for the Servitude: Donald Trump’s Washington and the Price of Submission (2022), Mark Leibovich. The last Leibovich book I read was This Town, about the corrupt environment of Washington, which he discussed at the Texas Book Festival and I became a fan. He was a long-time columnist for the New York Times and recently joined The Atlantic. This book mainly covers the Trump presidency, which I don’t want to rehash, but some of his quotes are particularly good.
Lindsey Graham wanted to “be relevant.” Question: “What would you do for your relevance? That’s always been a definitional question for DC’s prime movers” (p. 4). “Rudy became the president’s favorite therapy dog” (p. 6). “’Humoring him’ has essentially become the GOP platform” (p. 7). “Trump would leave behind a city stunned and locked down: a razor-wire fence encircling the Capitol, plywood covering downtown, and 25,000 National Guard troops protecting the government from the president’s own supporters—not a great look for a healthy democracy” (P. 8). “David Brooks wrote: ‘We’ve got this perverse situation in which the vast analytical powers of the entire world are being spent trying to understand a guy whose thoughts are often just six fireflies beeping randomly in a jar’” (p. 8).
“No one pushed around a tough-guy governor from Jersey [Chris Christie]—except, apparently, a whining, spray-tanned drama queen with dyed orange hair from Queens. … He was strangely in awe. They all were, the Lindseys and Rudys and Lyin’ Teds and Liddle Marcos. … The Republican Party became like a political version of that Stanley Milgram experiment on obedience from the 1960s. … The essence of obedience consists in the fact that a person comes to view himself as the instrument for carrying out another person’s wishes. He therefore no longer regards himself as responsible for his actions” (p. 9). “This book is about the view from the Trump Hotel…. It is about the dirt that Trump tracked in, the people he broke, and the swamp he did not drain” (p. 11). Trump Hotel: “flagship payola palace at 1100 Pennsylvania. … The one-stop destination for all the busy parasitic suck-ups who made the Trump-era swamp work for them. … Hotel of Homage. … The mother ship, Headquarters, … Swamp Hotel. … He turned the swamp into his own gold-plated Jacuzzi” (p. 13).
Chapter 1: The Problem. August 2015-March 2016. Ted “Cruz … was elected to the Senate in 2012 and in short order proved he had zero interest in achieving the kinds of things senators had traditionally prided themselves on, like passing laws, getting committee assignments, and earning the respect of colleagues. … Becoming a maximum nuisance was far more productive for his purposes. … He was happy to play the turd in the Republican punch bowl” (p. 18).
Chapter 2: The Joke, June 2016. Christopher Buckley: “Coming to terms with Donald Trump as the Republican nominee is like being told you have cancer. You know you’ll probably survive, but there’s going to be a lot of throwing up” (p. 29). “Rubio became just another dispiriting casualty of Trump’s moral slaughter of the Republican Party. He was another in the parade of leaders willing to discard every principle they once held for the purpose of staying in office” (p. 29).
Trump on Dictators: “If I’m nice to these people, they’ll be nice to me. … Is Trump really that shallow?” (p. 32). The Trump International Hotel was soon-to-be-opened: “It is a luxury hotel his blue-collar supporters can’t afford” (p. 34). “Celebrity trumps ideology” (p. 34) according to Al Franken. Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee chairman and the person principally in charge of trying to midwife the shell-shocked former Party of Lincoln into the Party of Trump. … The Trump campaign had zero use for the RNC” (p. 35). So much for the professional Republicans. Thrashing Big range Clown Fish. Cheap metaphor alert” (p. 37). The “normalization of Trump” was expected, but never arrived.
Chapter 3: Unity—or Else! June-July 2016 Obama’s opinion: “The American people will never elect a lunatic to sit in this office” (p. 43). Paul Ryan claimed Republican policies addressed urban poverty: lower taxes, entitlement reform, less regulation. Because corporations were magnanimous, generous, and empathetic to the lower classes? Hugh Hewitt called Trump a “cancer on conservatism.” “It was inspiring how many principled conservatives were learning to live so bravely with cancer” (p. 46). The only things different with Trump were: “foreign policy, free trade, rule of law, deficits, tolerance for dictators, government activism, family values, government restraint, privacy, optimistic temperament, and every virtuous quality the Republican Party ever aspired to in the best, pre-Trump days” (p. 46).
Chapter 4: The Inevitable, October 2016. “Hillary, who outlasted so much adversity for so long and still always managed to get an even bigger job and book deal. Bill humiliated her in the White House, and she landed in the Senate. Obama beat her in 2008, and she wound up at State. … Unlike Clinton, Trump was a desperately untamed figure with no regard for rules, traditions, or ethics. His non-compacity for humiliation or embarrassment created an asymmetric contest. He was willing to say or do or lie about anything. … He was always being caught in lies, getting exposed as a hypocrite and an idiot in new and breathtaking ways. He never apologized or showed even the slightest capacity for shame or remorse” (p. 49).
Clinton was never at home running for office: “I’m better at the service part than the public part. … She was being inspected like livestock and harassed by the hair-sprayed hecklers of the hostile media” (p. 51). “The campaign emphasized data, analytics, targeting. Hillary won all the debates, avoided big mistakes, and appeared to luck into a freak-show opponent who kept setting fire to himself in creative ways every week. … The Trump crowds and energy were insane, for those who cared to notice” (p. 52). Once again, Washington was wrong about “reading” America. Somehow Trump was a truth teller, no matter how many lies. A caricature, but not funny. Summary for Hillary: “I’m the last thing standing between you and apocalypse” (p. 58).
Chapter 5: Apocalypse 45, November 8, 2016. “If you could get beyond the bluster and menace of Trump (and, okay, the cruelty, bigotry, lunacy, criminality, incompetence, and so on), his message did contain kernels of cogent defiance against Washington’s permanent syndicates. ... Trump’s main trick was not to convince anyone that he was pure but rather to convince people that everyone else was dirty. Everyone lied and cheated. … Trump was just better at being dirty, proving how smart and savvy he was. … The resentment he stirred was palpable, and the idea that so many well-off and well-educated people were oblivious to it should have been its own detector of a powerful gas in the air. … His main appeal, simply, was a tool of revenge” (p. 59).
Chapter 6: The Punch Line, January 20, 2017. Trump’s “American carnage” speech given on inauguration day. Spicer: “The was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration—period.” “The crown size episode was idiotic, but contained its own autocratic foreboding. The point was to demonstrate the party’s power to proclaim and promulgate a falsehood. … Sometimes the point isn’t to make people believe a lie. It’s to make people fear the liar” (p. 70). Melissa McCarthy would play Spicer on SNL.
Chapter 7: Bonfire of the Genuflectors, June 12, 2017. Trump complained: “Inherited a mess from Obama, was doing historic, unbelievable things, and would have won the popular vote over Hillary … if not for the unbelievable voter fraud that everyone was talking about. … Why was everyone betraying and disappointing him? Why were they not building the wall as he promised? Or killing Obamacare? Or locking Hillary up? No politician in history has been treated worse or more unfairly” (p. 80).
The cabinet met on June 12. Trump: “Never has there been a president, with few exceptions, who’s passed more legislation, who’s done more things than I have. … Trump wanted to hear from his cabinet about how grateful they were to work for him” (p. 83). Pence started the “symphony of sycophancy.” “Why would this most conspicuously moral of Christian men attach himself so utterly to one of the most depraved creatures ever to inhabit our public life? … Pence stood by his man in the most nakedly servile of ways” (p. 84). Pompeo was “a particular kind of Eddie Haskell figure among the Alpha Lapdogs, dutiful in sucking up to Trump and prodigious in trashing him behind his back” (p. 87).
Chapter 8: Snowflake City, January-June 2018. “The deluge of leaks at Trump’s expense had become a story of its own. … for-profit presidency” (p. 91).
Chapter 9: The Caretaker’s Dilemma, July 2018. The McConnell Zombie Walk, his way of ignoring journalists.
Chapter 10: Funeral Porn, August 2018. John McCain died and planned his funeral(s) in detail. “McCain had gone through many acts as both a Washington icon and an iconoclast. He was McCain the Maverick for many years. He would later become known as a bipartisan bridge builder, sore loser, sacred cow, old bull, lion in winter, and (sometimes) happy warrior” (p. 111). He favored Teddy Roosevelt’s “crowded hour” (up San Juan Hill). “He would introduce me to people as a Trotskyite reporter from the New York Times and someone who was part of a work-release program and who just got out of the Betty Ford clinic” (p. 113).
Chapter 11: Stinkball, December 2018. Trump played golf the day of McCain’s funeral: “the greatest self-parodist in history” (p. 125). Lindsey: “came to occupy a distinct category of Trump-era contortionist, whose dash from the side of McCain to McCain’s archnemesis occurred with breathtaking speed and chutzpah” (p. 126). Graham was great at playing Trump and “stunningly open about how easy a mark Trump was. Flattery was always important with Trump, but there was an art to it” (p. 128). “Certain politicians are simply born to be sidekicks and second fiddles. … This could be a debasing look … but became part of his shtick” (p. 130).
Chapter 12: Bristling, Exploding in Rage, and Increasingly Isolated, January 2019. “DeSantis was known within the House Republican caucus as a socially awkward weirdo who had minimal profile outside his district. … transforming his identity into that of a panting and performative Trump-worshipping fanatic. His strategy was to get on as many Fox News shows as he could and defend Trump as hard as possible. … MAGA is the dogma” (p. 144). Paul Ryan: “We’ve created a whole entertainment wing of the party. This has given rise to amoral opportunists who have found they can scale politics much faster than the meritocracy of proving yourself” (p. 145).
National Review: “Trumpism is not the philosophy of free-market and limited-government. It is something more like group therapy for conservatives and others who feel alienated from, and hostile toward, the progressive social consensus. Trumpism is, at heart, not a philosophy but an enemies list” (p. 147).
Chapter 13: Contagion, April 2019. “While Bush 41 lay in state, Trump 45 spend the morning railing against presidential harassment. … Also, Stormy Daniels was in town” (p. 153). Senator Susan “Collins had become a kind of caricature of the solemn centrist, always deliberating very carefully or being deeply saddened or troubled over something or other. [The frustrations of being a moderate.]
“Trump kept blowing through the guardrails that, theoretically, were supposed to keep a vehicle like him in check. … The Republican ‘establishment’ and vaunted ‘party apparatus’ did not exist as any functional bulwark. … Trump truly was speaking for a big and determined swath of the GOP. … In 2015 and 2016, more than half of Republican poll respondents were still saying that they believed Barack Obama was a Muslim, and probably not born in the US” (p. 159).
The Mueller Report “was plenty damning to those who bothered to read it—which was not many people in the scheme of things. By contrast, many more people were privy to Attorney General William Barr’s predistilled, pre-scrubbed, and misleading summary of the report. … Even Trump’s fiercest critics held out some hope at first that Barr could serve as a quasi-honest broker to a White House deeply in need of one” (p. 161).
Chapter 14: The Fifth Avenue Crowd, November 2019. “Outrage fatigue was his best enabler. … Elected Republicans acted as if the president’s impunity extended to them. … His strut of cavalier disregard for oversight became their own” (p. 170).
Soviet-born “fixers” Parnas and Fruman spread rumors that Ukraine ambassador Marie Yovanovitch had been bad-mouthing him and not helpful in destroying Biden via Kyiv. She was fired. They were arrested for campaign finance violations. Trump had his “perfect phone call” to Zelensky to demand dirt on Hunter Biden. Pelosi announced an impeachment inquiry.
Chapter 15: Troublemaker, February 5, 2020. “Trump fired off a six-page harangue likening his impeachment to an ‘attempted coup,’ ‘an election-nullification scheme,’ and a ‘lynching.’ He compared his impeachment to the Salem witch trials” (p. 179). To win Romney over: “He called him a ‘pompous ass,’ ‘a fool,’ and a ‘bitter loser.’ He called for Romney to be impeached” (p. 180). Romney was a “rarest of breeds: the Republican with enough spine to criticize Trump” (p. 182).
Chapter 16: Hell, In Review, February-March 2020. Trump called his political enemies; “the crookedest, most dishonest, dirtiest people I’ve ever seen” (p. 192). “Biden was a known quantity who seemed to scare the fewest number of people” (p. 195). Then Covid. “The 45th president fell into a tailspin in which he became his absolute worst self at the worst possible time and made everything more terrible for everyone. … I had wondered how Trump would handle a genuine crisis like this. … Trump’s daily coronavirus calamity made for the single worst Rose Garden strategy in history. … HE turned the once universally revered infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci into a culture war bogeyman who required a security detail. If Trump could have demonstrated a bare minimum of competence and compassion, the pandemic might have benefitted him politically, as it did governors of both parties” (p. 197).
Chapter 17: Caracas-on-the-Potomac, June-August 2020. Trump cleared the crowd and walked across Lafayette Square for a photo op in front of St. John’s Church. Trump accepted the nomination on the South Lawn of the White House. “The speech was the familiar litany of Trump 2020 fictions. It described a country where the coronavirus had been fully eradicated by the president’s own brilliance and the economy hadn’t tanked—as opposed to the reality where the US was approaching 200,000 COVID deaths and had just seen a third of its GDP vaporized. … ‘The only way they can take this election away from us is if this is a rigged election” (p. 207).
Chapter 18: “Will You Shut Up, Man?’ September-November 2020. “The GOP’s central objective—to comfort Donald Trump and afflict his enemies. … As for Democrats, they had more ground to cover—progressives to heed, interest groups to pander to, and Trump-averse women in the suburbs to accommodate” (p. 209). In the debates, Trump kept interrupting Biden: “Will you shut up, man?” “The line was seemingly born on a bumper sticker” (p. 210). There was the post-death contempt for McCain, John Lewis, and John Dingell. Then he called American combat troops “suckers and losers.” Hunter Biden was a criminal, Fauci a disaster, government scientists idiots, and the media real garbage. Trump labeled Marjorie Taylor Greene (“loony-tunes local congressional candidate and QAnon enthusiast whose long history of racist, anti-Semitic, and generally harassing conduct” p. 216) and Herschel Walker “future Republican stars.”
Chapter 19: ‘What is the Downside for Humoring Him? November-December 2020. “The race was too close to call for a few days, but Biden was ahead late on election night and clearly trending toward a win. … This is a fraud on the American people” (p. 223). Rich Perry claimed the close states with Republican legislatures should send their own electors. Perry according to Bush 43: “People thought I was dumb. Well, wait till you get a load of this guy” (p. 226). Cruz had the reputation of “a towering and self-interested conniver. … What Donald does, when he loses, is he blames everybody else” (p. 227).
Trump kept losing in court: “He had to keep losing, never got tired of losing, and kept finding fresh and innovative ways to lose and new courtrooms to lose in. … The final count always held firm: Biden won by more than seven million ballots and 74 Electoral College votes. … The president’s ‘elite strike force’ of attorneys, as they called themselves, led by Rudy Giuliani, filed documents claiming voter fraud in Michigan … Giuliani unleased a spigot of conspiracy theories, wild claims, and made-up charges. … Rudy’s mental state was seemingly unraveling in full view, right along with his client’s (p. 229).” Hair dye running down his face became a meme. “The president was screaming at officials and constructing his own alternate reality about endless election conspiracies” (p. 229).
“Trump turned his focus on persuading Mike Pence to disrupt the once-routine process of counting electoral votes, which was scheduled for January 6—the next Big One. … Trump advisors later observed: the guy hasn’t stood up to anybody for four years and now you want him to stand up illegally, unconstitutionally to the US Senate and the House of Representatives? Are you nuts?” (p. 235).
Trump and Republican candidates for Georgia senate seats called for the resignation of secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger: “citing unspecified failures in the vote counting process and setting off the requisite hail of death threats against Raffensperger and his family” (p. 235). The phone call was recorded and made public. “We’ve all victims, everybody here, Trump said. … That was as good a summation as any for what the Republican Party had become under Donald Trump” (p. 237).
Chapter 20: The Big One, January 6, 2021. “The terrified included McConnell, McCarthy, Graham. … Before January 6, they were terrified only politically: the office holders feared Trump because he could end Republican careers just by tapping out a few disparaging words about them to his 88.7 million Twitter followers. … Now the terror had moved into the realm of physical harm. As the president’s rhetoric became more bellicose, his herd followed suit. Reports of death threats to Capitol offices were through the roof” (p. 239). “This was a case of governing by intimidation, which is the essence of authoritarianism” (p. 245).
“Republicans up and down the ranks have adopted Trump’s ominous strongman rhetoric. … Gingrich had said on Fox News that if Republicans won a majority in Congress, the members of the January 6 committee could face a real risk of jail” (p. 246).
Trump expected total servitude. “The one-way nature of Trump’s loyalty is so glaring it barely needs mentioning” … including “contempt Trump quite clearly reserves for those most devoted to him” (p. 249). The people were arrested in droves. Hundreds of Trump supporters were rounded up across the country. … The initial rationale of those arrested was Trump sent us” (250). Trump pardoned lots of people, but none of the January 6th rioters. Presumably, because they failed. Someone compared Trump monologues to Tennessee Williams A Streetcar Named De-Liar.
Chapter 21: Have a Good Life, January 20, 2021. “The main menace in early 2021 still resided at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Trump remained in full command of the government and military, if not of his senses. He was a seething, desperate, and dangerous leader, as volatile as ever. … Just land this plane became the key phrase among what remained of the administration. … While Graham’s legacy as a feckless charlatan was safe, his involvement at this point was probably helpful. … Toddler-in-Chief terminology was never in greater evidence” (p. 257).
Leibovich considered the oddity of a presidential inaugural held at “the biggest crime scene in America—with the outgoing president as the main Person of Interest. … If January 6 was Trump’s culminating disruption, January 20 was Biden’s attempt to restore regular order” (p. 255).
James Mattis said: “Trump’s disgraceful actions were enabled by pseudo political leaders whose names will live in infamy as profiles in cowardice” (p. 258). Kevin Williamson: “Maybe turning your party over to Generalissimo Walter Mitty, his hideous scheming spawn, and the studio audience from Hee-Haw was not just absolutely aces as a political strategy” (p. 259). “Trump was easily the sorest loser, most prodigious liar, and most insufferable whiner in presidential history. … Everyone had seen the repeated pattern of Trump’s never-ending outrages met with the same pattern of never-ending denial and cowardice up and down the Republican ranks” (p. 260).
Chapter 22: The Lifeline, January 28, 2021. This was the day House minority leader Kevin McCarthy made his “fateful makeup trip to Mar-a-Lago to check in on his wounded emperor” (p. 267). Liz Cheney: “Her scorn for Trump after the insurrection had easily been the harshest among Republican leaders. … There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the US of his office and his oath to the Constitution” (p. 273). The party of Marjorie Taylor Greene, not Liz Cheney. “The GOP was MAGAfied” (p. 276).
Chapter 23: The Unraveling, June-December 2021. “Senator Rick Scott made his own ring-kissing pilgrimage to Mecca. … He brought a trophy: Champion for Freedom” (p. 279). Pompeo described as: “like a heat-seeking missile for Trump’s ass. … which remained a pertinent descriptor for much of the Republican Party” (p. 280).
“The twin Big Lies—(1) that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump and (2) that the January 6 insurrection was a) the Democrat’s fault, b) the work of antifa, c) a normal tourist visit, d) legitimate political discourse, or e) the work of great fighters and beautiful patriots” (p. 282).
“Trumpism perpetuates, like a virus. It mutates, from its Alpha version (ensconced in Florida) to its variants (DeSantis, also in Florida). It metastasizes down to the small cells of American civic life. … At least five people who are now running for House seats were present at the Capitol on January 6. Roughly six in ten Republicans said the 2020 election was not legitimate. … Trumpism becomes more of a style and an ethic. It is not tethered to a particular set of ideas so much as an expansive code of denial and openness to lies” (p. 282).
“Parallels to cults come up frequently with regard to MAGA World, usually among disdainful Trump opponents. … Rigid and irrational belief systems tend to thrive in the presence of group affirmation and absence of critical dissent” (p. 290). Herd mentality.
Epilogue: The House of Submission: Still Open, March 2022. “Surveys of Republican voters continued to show higher regard for Putin than for Biden. … Like Trump, Vladimir Putin takes what people let him take. He will do what he can get away with” (p. 297).
Former members of the Trump cabinet all seemed to write memoirs and the books were “full of these Captain Obvious critiques” (p. 300). One reviewer of the book coined: “Trump’s sycophants: the brigade of dutiful turd-polishers” (p. 306).