No host has claimed this podcast yet, if you are the host you can verify ownership by claiming this podcast
© Copyright 2021 NPR - For Personal Use Only
'The Divider' looks at Trump's years in office through the eyes of his aides
NPR's Book of the Day
Hey, it's Emperors Book of the Day, I'm Andrew Limbaugh, Susan Glasser and Peter Baker
are a couple of the most doggy political reporters on this scene, and they're out with
a new book about former President Trump's time in the White House, it's called The
But as you'll hear in this interview with Emperors Aisha Roscoe, it's not really a Trump
book, but more about the people around him.
The folks around the Emperor who said, hey, dude, this clothes you got on look absolutely
great, killer fit, keep going, and sure, a lot of these people eventually left the White
House, and a lot of them came out and tried to paint themselves as the adults in the room
keeping President Trump in check.
But what I appreciate about Glasser and Baker is that they treat that characterization
extremely skeptically, as Glasser says, there are no heroes in this story.
This message comes from our sponsor, Lincoln Financial, how much money will you need to
not worry about money?
Lincoln Financial has a suite of annuities and life insurance policies designed to help protect
you from sudden market downturns, while allowing growth when the market performs well.
So you and your family can stay on track financially.
Go to LincolnFinancial.com slash protection to see how they can help you plan, protect,
LincolnFinancial Products issued by the Lincoln National Life Insurance Company, Fort Wayne
Indiana, and Lincoln Life and a newty company of New York, Syracuse, New York, distributed
by LincolnFinancial Distributors member Fendra.
Our next guest spent four years chasing every story they could about then President Donald
Everything we learned while he was in office, we printed.
Report his Peter Baker and Susan Glasser knew there was more to learn, and recent months
they've conducted 300 interviews delving into Trump's White House years.
They're out with a book called The Divider.
It's part of a growing list of books about Trump, which led Glasser to answer a question
I didn't even ask.
I do another Trump book because having a full crack at the four years and to look at
it laid out one by one, our premise is that January 6 and Trump's attack on the election
results in 2020 was not some violent outlier, but essentially the inexorable horrific culmination
of all four years of his tenure in office.
Peter Baker says that tenure reflects how Trump tried to manipulate the institutions of
Washington for his personal use.
The military is a great example, right?
Where he wanted the military basically to be his shock troops in the streets, and we have
this incredible scene where he's talking with his chief of staff, and he's unhappy that
the generals aren't personally loyal to him.
He says, why can't you be like the German generals?
And his chief of staff John Kelly, a retired general himself, is what do you mean you mean
the Hitler's generals? They weren't loyal to him, by the way, they tried to kill him.
But that was the way Donald Trump saw the military, not as an apolitical institution of
American life, but as a series of generals who should do his bidding for what he needed
as we then saw in those final months of his presidency.
Your book includes reporting about then homeland security, secretary Kirsten Nielsen, and
health and human services, secretary Alex Azar about how they had planned to resign and protest
if Trump resumed the family separation policy.
Over and over again, we hear these stories of officials and the Trump administration who say
they were on the verge of quitting, but they don't.
Like what sense do you get about why people stayed?
You know, this is one of the enduring mysteries, right, of the whole story.
As someone pointed out to us who worked in the Trump wayhouse, by the way, there are no heroes
in this story.
So it's very complicated, right, because the enablers were also at times the constrainers.
Kirsten Nielsen, as DHS secretary, is a perfect example of that.
She internally opposes the family separation policy.
She fights against it, but when she loses, she doesn't resign and protest and ironically
even becomes for a time, the public face of this policy that she's privately worked against.
She insists to others and her confidence that she's staying in order to prevent even worse
things from happening.
In fact, we obtained an encrypted text message that she sent to one of her aids at one
point trying to resist one of Trump's wackier, more illegal demands.
She said to him quote unquote, the insanity has been loosed.
But at the same time, as you point out, she never does resign in protest and ultimately
after a series of humiliation, public and private by Trump, he forces her out.
Peter, do you think that people from the administration with a benefit of hindsight use
the idea of, well, I almost resign, well, we had a pack we all going to do it as a way
of defending their actions?
Sure, I mean, obviously there's a lot of reputation washing going on here, but it's
also what Susan said.
I mean, there was this sort of moral conundrum that a lot of people faced and they
told themselves they were the ones who were going to stop worse things from happening.
And some cases that was the self justification and some case that was actually true.
You can see over the course of four years as he got rid of people left and right, he
would find other people to install and important positions who were more willing to do
what he wanted.
And that's why at the end you had a chief of staff, for instance, who was willing to like
have everybody come into the White House talking about martial law and seizing voting
machines and sending fake electors to Congress, as opposed to say, John Kelly, who never
would, he would throw himself in front of the door rather than let, you know, the my
pillow guy into the into the overall office, that kind of thing.
What does it say about the American presidency and power in America that basically these
unelected people just kind of stopped him from going to nuclear war with North Korea?
Essentially, if one of these people didn't ignore Trump or say, eh, I think you're going
too far, the US could be in war with North Korea.
I think it's important that you pointed that out.
I agree with you.
And in fact, people, even many of Trump's critics sort of sued themselves at times over
the four years by saying, well, the institutions held.
But in fact, Trump was constantly probing for the weaknesses in both the people who surrounded
him and the institutions and over time, he was increasingly successful at finding them.
In fact, one very senior national security officially spent a lot of time with Trump in
the overall office observed to us that he was like the Velociractor in Jurassic Park, you
know, who learns eventually how to open the door open the door and the kitchen is about
But, you know, we actually spoke with a number of officials who told us that the United
States was much closer than people understood to potential actual conflict with North
Korea before they got Trump to pivot into his negotiations with North Korea and Trump
then turned fell in love.
From fire in history to a love affair and at the very end of the administration, the
most senior national security officials and generals in this country were extremely concerned
that Trump was headed down the path of potential conflict by demanding again and again
to launch missile strikes against Iran, our Iranian interest in the final days, weeks
and months of his tenure.
You had two sit downs with Trump for this book.
What struck you about your time with him?
Well, it was really fascinating, actually, as exercise of history for authors trying to write
about a person, he's not a reliable factwitness, right?
He constantly contradicted other people's versions of what happened and even sometimes
his own versions of what happened.
The very first thing he tells us when we sit down for our second interview was completely
opposite of what he had told us in the first, right?
So was he lying when he told us the second time or the first time?
It's hard to know.
It doesn't seem like facts necessarily matter or even really apply when it comes to Trump,
especially in terms of his popularity with the base or his influence with the GOP.
So do you feel like this information will matter or make a difference?
You know, look, I think that it actually increases the urgency and we began all this reporting
after Trump left office after his second impeachment, and you know, we found that there
was indeed more to learn.
I'm sure there's still more to learn than we were able to get into this book, right?
Because unlike many other presidents, really all other presidents of any of our lifetimes,
Donald Trump is still the president of American politics.
He's not yet history.
He's not like George W. Bush, you know, retiring to the ranch and painting portraits,
he is still hoping to become potentially the only president since Grover Cleveland in American
history to return to the White House.
So we felt like it was extremely important for the historical record to understand what
went on in those four years of Trump in the White House.
Ultimately, Peter, do you think that Trump's tenure changed the institution of the presidency
Yeah, I do.
Even with Biden today struggling to figure out how to where the lines are compared
to where they used to be.
It's different than when he was Vice President of Obama, and there's an expectation
that the president can wield power in a way that Trump tried to do.
You even hear people, you know, who are supporters of President Biden is sort of pushing
him to be pressing the envelope of where power goes just from the different point of
view because Trump saw no limits, right, Trump like to use the phrase, absolute power.
So I think that's a really important legacy at this point.
What is the limits of a power of a president where those are Congress fit in anymore, and
how to balance them in the modern system?
Susan Glasser and Peter Baker, their new book is called The Divider.
Thank you so much for speaking with us.
Thanks for having us.
Experiencing the news each day can feel like a journey.
With up first from MPR, though, it doesn't have to be.
Welcome to 15 easy minutes of breaking news, clarity on international and national affairs.
And a casual tone that you can take in with breakfast.
Take in your day and form, do ready, and refresh, begin your day with up first, subscribe
to up first from NBR on the iHeart Radio app or wherever you get your podcasts.
This message comes from NPR Sponsor Capital One, offering checking accounts with no fees
or minimums and no overdraft fees.
That's Banking Reimagined.
What's in your wallet?
The Capital One.com slash Bank Capital One NA member FDIC.
Login to see and leave a comments
No host has claimed this podcast yet, if you are the host you can verify ownership by claiming this podcast