It may sound like a lazy title for a teenage sleuth novel, but John Bolton’s The Room Where It Happened may just be one of the most consequential publications of 2020.
Bolton, who spent a topsy-turvy 17 months as National Security Adviser to US President Donald Trump, has written a memoir that confirms the world’s worst fears about the man who regards himself to be a “stable genius”. With over 500 pages of Bolton’s professional (and, at times, personal) minutiae and a thorough behind the scenes documentation of the Trump administration, this book is political dynamite, a blunt expose of the adolescent bullishness that has been dictating matters in the White House since 2016.
An outspoken American nationalist known for his hawkish commentaries on Fox News, Bolton had been an ambassador to the United Nations besides working in a number of administrative capacities for George W. Bush, before taking charge of national security for Trump between April 2018 and September 2019.
Bolton makes a number of sensational claims in his memoir, whose release the White House unsuccessfully tried to block on the grounds of it containing classified information. Trump castigated his former colleague by calling him “grossly incompetent and a liar”, which, ironically, would be an appropriate label for the president himself, based on the impression one gets from Bolton’s accounts in the book.
Unsurprisingly, a substantial chunk of Trump’s alleged corruption comes in relation to China. The most significant is the part where Bolton observes that Trump had requested Chinese Premier Xi Jinping to meddle in the US presidential elections of 2020, stressing the “importance of farmers and increased Chinese purchases of soybeans and wheat in the electoral outcome”. Bolton believes that Trump was “pleading with Xi to ensure he’d win”, adding with cutting edge that, “I [Bolton] would print Trump’s exact words, but the government’s pre-publication review process has decided otherwise.”
Apparently, Trump and Xi also had discussions regarding the former serving for longer than the constitutional limit of two terms (of four years each) alongside the prospect of detention camps for the internment of the Uighur Muslims in China, which Trump supported – regarding it, in Bolton’s words, “[as] exactly the right thing to do.”
Theories of Trump having a soft corner for authoritarian leaders are further consolidated by Bolton, who reveals how the president agreed to ingratiate himself to his Turkish counterpart, Recep Erdoğan. Trump had received a memo from Erdoğan about a Turkish firm that was under investigation in America, and as a response to Erdoğan’s appeal that the firm was innocent, Trump had consented to “take care of things” once the prosecutors “were replaced by his people”.
Bolton’s indictment of Trump, on occasion, also leads to an inadvertent critique of the author himself. Two instances of this involve Bolton’s steadfastness on a ruthless policy with Iran involving a total dismantling of the nuclear deal (signed under the Barack Obama regime) as well as Bolton’s reluctance for any form of negotiations between Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.
In portraying Trump as a whimsical megalomaniac who did not know if Finland was part of Russia or whether the United Kingdom was a nuclear power, Bolton convinces with ease, but in doing so he also lends credence to concerns over his own complicity in exacerbating an unhinged presidency.
Bolton, it is worth remembering, did not agree to testify in Trump’s impeachment trial earlier this year, with the caveat that he would only speak on record in the proceedings if he were to be subpoenaed – a situation he knew would be impossible in a Republican-controlled Senate. Bolton’s argument remains that his inflammatory insights about Trump would have had little to no impact on the impeachment outcome.
But instead of showing the pluck to prioritise national interest in presenting himself before the US Congress (as several other officials had done) over his self-serving ambitions, Bolton chose to earn a lucrative book deal and stoke tensions ahead of what increasingly seems to be the most important election in modern American history.
The Room Where It Happened leaves no doubt in the reader’s mind that Donald Trump is unfit for presidency. With its meticulous recounting of key moments of domestic and diplomatic decision-making, the memoir is as scathing a denouncement of Trump as any his most fervent opponent could have produced.
Bolton may not be blessed in his style of prose – which mostly shuffles between the bland and the droning – but the substance of his writing is what makes his memoir explosive. Tantalisingly placed as the last chapter of the book, Bolton also entrenches the allegations on Trump’s collusion with Ukraine, making it crystal clear that, according to Bolton, Trump sought to leverage taxpayer money as aid for Ukraine in exchange for the Ukrainian government’s promise to dig up dirt on Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden.
Curiously, the Democrats have not yet gone all guns blazing in citing Bolton’s book as proof of incriminating evidence against Trump, perhaps tempered by their own opprobrium for Bolton in the past. But with Biden reportedly enjoying a healthy advantage over the incumbent president in the lead up to the November election, The Room Where It Happened is an ideal catalyst for demolishing the glorious hallucinations that a large number of Americans, staunchly Republican or otherwise, still harbour over Trump.
As the US president continues to baffle and polarise with the exercise of his authority, the latest of which saw him deal a hammer blow to immigrant workers, it is time for the world’s most sustained democracy to take collective stock of the brutal, anti-democratic abuse of its system carried out by Donald Trump.
At this stage, when a former courtier has publicly called out the gross impropriety of his master, it is only the morally blind who refuse to see that America’s beleaguered emperor has no clothes.
And no sense, either.
Priyam Marik is a post-graduate student of journalism at the University of Sussex, United Kingdom.
Featured image credit: Reuters