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A Very Stable Genius

Donald J. Trump's Testing of America

By Philip Rucker, Carol Leonnig
13-minute read
Audio available
A Very Stable Genius by Philip Rucker, Carol Leonnig

A Very Stable Genius (2020) is the definitive account of Donald Trump’s time in the White House. After three years of silence, dozens of public officials and other first-hand witnesses familiar with the workings of the Trump administration went on record with reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker. Their testimony forms the backbone of these blinks, which reveal the forty-fifth president of the United States up close. 

  • Politics buffs 
  • News junkies looking for the bigger picture 
  • Journalists and reporters

Carol Leonnig is an investigative reporter at the Washington Post. She has won three Pulitzers for her reporting on misconduct in the Secret Service, Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, and government surveillance. She is a regular contributor to NBC News and MSNBC.

Philip Rucker is the White House Bureau Chief at the Washington Post. He and a team of Post reporters won the 2016 Pulitzer for their reportage of Russian meddling in the 2016 US election. Rucker is an on-air political analyst for NBC News and MSNBC.

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A Very Stable Genius

Donald J. Trump's Testing of America

By Philip Rucker, Carol Leonnig
  • Read in 13 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 8 key ideas
Upgrade to Premium Read or listen now
A Very Stable Genius by Philip Rucker, Carol Leonnig
Synopsis

A Very Stable Genius (2020) is the definitive account of Donald Trump’s time in the White House. After three years of silence, dozens of public officials and other first-hand witnesses familiar with the workings of the Trump administration went on record with reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker. Their testimony forms the backbone of these blinks, which reveal the forty-fifth president of the United States up close. 

Key idea 1 of 8

An outburst early on in Trump’s presidency alienated the US military’s top brass. 

On a scorching day in July 2017, Donald Trump attended a meeting in the Pentagon. It was held in room 2E924, aka “the Tank,” a secure, windowless conference room with a large table at its center. It’s here that America’s senior military leaders – the Joint Chiefs of Staff – meet to discuss confidential issues and grapple with the nation’s security. That day, however, they had a different agenda – educating the new president on America’s strategic priorities. They were in for a shock. 

The key message here is: an outburst early on in Trump’s presidency alienated the US military’s top brass.  

Trump had already been in office for five months when he took his seat in the Tank. In that time, officials had realized that the president’s attention span was limited. As they entered the room that day, Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, and Jim Mattis, the secretary of defense, knew that explaining foreign policy to Trump was going to be an uphill battle. 

Desperate to keep the president focused, they had created a short presentation with plenty of graphics, maps, and charts. Over the next 45 minutes, Tillerson and Mattis tried to convince Trump that America’s safety depended on a complex web of overseas commitments, alliances like NATO, and free trade with economic partners.

Trump wasn’t happy. Not only did he resent being lectured like this, he also objected to Tillerson and Mattis’s internationalist language. 

NATO, he began, was “worthless.” So-called allies were simply living on America’s dime. “We are owed money,” Trump said, his blood pressure rising, “and you aren’t collecting.” Then there were the troops stationed in the Gulf. “We spent 7 billion,” the president boomed. “Where is the fucking oil?”

Mattis objected, arguing that the purpose of these alliances and military bases wasn’t profit, but America’s security. Trump wasn’t interested. Why, he now demanded, hadn’t the United States won the war in Afghanistan? The president answered the question himself – because it was a “loser war.” 

By this point, he was in a rage. What he said next stunned the room. “I wouldn’t go to war with you people,” he screamed, adding that the Joint Chiefs were a “bunch of dopes and babies.” It was a grave insult, and the Tank fell into shocked silence. 

Later, when the meeting had broken up and Trump had left, Tillerson said what others were thinking. “He’s a fucking moron,” the secretary of state growled, referring to America’s commander-in-chief. 

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