‘I’ll be watching, because history is going to be made,’ President Trump told his supporters on January 6 as they started their march to Washington’s Capitol Building.
History was made that day, and no amount of airbrushing by US conservatives can diminish the horror we saw on the TV, in the papers, via Twitter and Facebook. It’s a reminder that we are blessed to have fearless reporters, photographers and filmmakers in our midst—men and women who are committed to presenting the news the instant it happens.
Future historians are also blessed. Without these important documents-of-record, their ability to interpret seismic events is encumbered.
‘All of these frightening things that we saw happen are now being denied, or being or being laid at the feet of Antifa or the FBI or some other source, which just seems at this point ludicrous,’’ Monika McDermott, a political science professor at New York’s Fordham University, told the Guardian in July.
McDermott added: ‘This was an unprecedented historic event—and it is not one that should be wiped off of the history books or hidden away as though it didn’t happen or be minimised in any way. What happened was very real.’
Along with all the media sources reporting the Washington beat, we also have books. In recent weeks the publishing industry has launched a plethora of new titles dedicated to the November presidential election, Donald Trump’s tenacious grip on the Republican Party, and the ‘Stop The Steal’ movement that fuelled the angry mob outside the Capitol Building.
Top of my list is I Alone Can Fix It: Donald Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year, by multi award-winning Washington Post journalists, Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker. Weighing in at just over 500 pages, this brick of a paperback presents exceptional journalism by two masters of their craft.
Taking its title from then-candidate Trump’s 2016 election campaign boast, ‘I am your voice; I alone can fix it. I will restore law and order’, this is a worthy finale to the authors’ January 2020 bestseller, A Very Stable Genius.
I Alone Can Fix It concludes with a two-hour interview between both reporters and the former president at his Mar-a-Lago headquarters in Florida last March. During that meeting, Leonnig and Rucker let Donald Trump do the talking (is there any other way to converse with him? I wonder). But it’s their reporting of the incidentals that delivers readers a compelling epilogue to a fine book, and a curtains-down on Trump’s own annus horribilis.
‘On March 31, 2021, we ventured to Mar-a-Lago, where he still reigned as king of Republican politics,’ the authors explain. ‘We arrived late in the afternoon for our audience with the man who used to be president and were ushered into an ornate 60-foot-long room that functions as a kind of lobby leading to the club’s patio.’
‘A model of Air Force One painted in Trump’s proposed redesign—a flat red stripe across the middle, a navy belly, a white top, and a giant American flag on the trail—was proudly displayed on the coffee table facing the entrance. It was a prop disconnected from reality. Trump’s vision never came to be; the fleet now in use by President Biden still bears the iconic baby blue-and-white livery designed by Jacqueline Kennedy.’
Their conversation with Donald Trump is as riveting as it is crazy-scary. ‘We have had so many, and so many are coming in. It’s been pretty amazing,’ Trump says of the visiting Republican politicians who flock to Mar-a-Lago for an audience with the kingmaker.
‘They need the endorsement. I don’t say this is a braggadocious way, but if they don’t get the endorsement, they don’t win.’
Later, Trump considers his own place in American political history. ‘I think it would be hard if George Washington came back from the dead and he chose Abraham Lincoln as his vice president. I think it would have been very hard for them to beat me.’
Of events on January 6 he calls the rioters ‘a loving crowd’, adding ‘in all fairness, the Capitol police were ushering people in, the Capitol police were very friendly, They were hugging and kissing. You don’t see that. There’s plenty of tape on that.’
Trump goes on to throw verbal brickbats at former Vice President Mike Pence, former Attorney-General Bill Barr, his own Supreme Court pick, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the late John McCain, former House Speaker Paul Ryan, Chief Medical Advisor Anthony Fauci—and all the while Carol Leonnig and Phil Rucker are doing what news reporters do best: listening, asking questions, recording their answers, reporting what happened.
There are many bombshell moments in I Alone Can Fix It. But if you read it over one weekend, as I did, and immerse yourself in Trump World 2020, you quickly learn what Washington-based reporters have known for years: in Donald Trump’s world, there is no pattern, there is no plan. There are no norms, there are few examples of decent behaviour, and there are many, many breaches of inappropriate behaviour across all government departments.
Leonnig and Rucker’s story is as compelling as it is nuts: a badly-managed administration that survived two impeachments; a global pandemic and the leadership deficiencies it exposed (including inside the White House where dozens of staff—the President and First Lady included—tested positive); that chaotic first presidential debate with Joe Biden; the legal challenges to November’s election result; and a whipped-up supporter base hell-bent on causing mayhem. It all provides rich pickings for a couple of ‘objective reporters who seek to share the truth with the public’.
Leonnig and Rucker also spoke to 140 current and former officials, many of whom were prepared to go on the record to present their version of events. Their recollections of strange occurrences and disturbing conversations—leaked by the book’s publisher, Penguin, in time for its international release—ensured that I Alone Can Fix It sold more than 90,000 copies in the US in its first week.
As MSNBC host Nicolle Wallace said when introducing the book to her TV audience, ‘we are learning that the Trump presidency was much, much worse than any of us imagined and that the people around him all knew it.’
The extent to which Donald Trump and his administration were prepared to lie and discredit to stay in power is breathtaking. His speech immediately after November 3 is well-documented: no concession, no grace, no reassurances about the vote-counting process, no calming the waters. (‘Frankly, we did win this election … This is a major fraud in our nation’).
More fascinating than the President’s bluster is its impact on other respected US politicians, including Republican Senator Mitt Romney, who spoke for many colleagues when he noted, ‘saying something and doing things that would suggest …we can’t have a free and fair election, would have a destructive effect on democracy around the world not just to mention here’.
Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi described Trump’s speech as ‘a complete, total manifestation [of] insanity’. The authors write: ‘At that moment, Pelosi said she thought that if Trump were willing to claim victory when he had not won, there was no telling what he might do in the weeks ahead to try to hold onto power.’
The climax of the book is the January 6 attack of the Capitol Building. Once again, Leonnig and Rucker’s reporting is a masterclass example of news story reconstruction, and the suspense they convey still packs a punch, eight months after the event.
I Alone Can Fix It is an important book, an explosive book, and should be read by all observers of American politics.
Even Donald Trump appears to have been won over. ‘Good conversation’, the 45th President tells Leonnig and Rucker in March as they leave Mar-a-Lago. ‘I’m getting the word out.’