Reviewed by Ian Lipke
I Alone Can Fix It is a monumental work that heralds the final year in the presidency of Donald J. Trump. It is a descriptive, but also clinical, probe into a president that nobody can really understand even today after millions of words have been spoken or written. This is a figure who wanted to lead his country but was himself not wanted. Rejected by a majority of his nation’s citizens, he, nevertheless, made his departure his own. When speaking of a recent long interview, he quipped, “I enjoyed it actually…for some sick reason I enjoyed it” (519). He might just as well have been speaking of his presidency.
Carol Leonnig is a national investigative reporter at the Washington Post. As such, she can rightly claim to have contacts across the nation, each providing her with the groundswell of public opinion. Philip Rucker is a senior Washington correspondent whose beat is the views and activities of Washington in microcosm. As a team, Leonnig and Rucker were exposed to the detritus of the Trump years in power and used the experience of many years to know where to look for information, relevant to their multifaceted investigation.
While the focus of this account is Trump’s final year in office, a second layer exists. It is hinted at in the title of the Leonnig and Rucker’s book, I Alone Can Fix It. None of the tumultuous four years covered by Trumpism could have happened without the “I” of the storm. The title is so appropriate because it points directly at Trump, the instigator of his own troubles, the man responsible but also the vocal denier. As Leonnig and Rucker report so many times, Trump, with his overbearing manner and overly loud voice, smashed strategies devised by others.
Leonnig and Rucker repeat ad nauseam the articles we’ve all read about staffing the White House with aides, agents, cooks and service people whose task it was to see to the president’s needs or safety. Among this group were others whose brief was security. Advisers holding senior positions record that their efforts to persuade Trump to follow certain agreed guidelines were so often thwarted by a quixotic and irrational president whose interest was immediately elsewhere. Hundreds of support personnel pass through Leonnig and Rucker’s book, touch history and then are gone, their destinies altered by a president who was not ready to believe them ‘good people’.
An administration, whose senior members bickered and squabbled among themselves hoping to score points with the president, was the circus Trump led. There are numerous instances recorded in Leonnig and Rucker’s book. One of the nastiest is revealed on page 60. It concerns perceptions of the Corona virus. All but Trump were beginning to realise the urgency of the need to combat this scourge. One faction attempted to lay the findings of their research before a senior officer but were told that, “We’ve got plenty of smart people working on this but none of them have numbers that agree with yours…Thanks for your call. We’ll figure it out” (60).
Information, that later proved to be correct, failed to reach the president. There was little urgency in the White House on account of the disease. Trump did not attempt to join task-force meetings, no one was coordinating a nationwide response to the impending disaster, and the president knew best anyway. He was forever reminding everybody of that. These are the sorts of situations that are described in full and recorded for posterity. The book is not a personal attack on a weak president, but rather, a carefully recorded account where facts, and facts only, detail Donald J. Trump’s catastrophic final year.
Leonnig and Rucker do not write to terrify, nor do they write to apply a balm. They write to inform and, something rather quaint during Trump’s presidency, they write to present truth. Can writing be ugly and honest at the same time? I refer you to I Alone Can Fix It.
By Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker
$26.99; 592 pp