Confidence Man (2022), by Maggie Haberman (book review)

The anxiously awaited book by Pulitzer Prize winning, White House correspondent Maggie Haberman, who covered the subject of this book for years writing for various New York publications. She interviewed more than 200 sources, and the subject himself several times. He called her his psychiatrist; later, he referred to her as a third-rate journalist.

If you accept the challenge of reading this book, all 500-plus pages, you will stare into the abyss of American society and wonder how the hell can this be true? How can someone thrive and become president who is so morally and ethically bent? He’s an American “success” story, whatever that means. Some very bad people have achieved great wealth and status, clawing their way atop the carcasses of others.

The author and the subject.

It’s ironic, a friend posted this quote by author Isaac Asimov recently; and it rings true as I read my way through Haberman’s book:

Page after page, Haberman recounts the journey, many of the stories we all know, but we get additional facts and insights into what becomes a knotted rope of a man’s life, always the victim and his own cheerleader. The characteristics of lying, misrepresenting facts, bullying and a constant drive to win, are consistent and more well-defined throughout his life. His modus operandi is to weave enough doubt, confusion, obfuscation and conspiracy that his narrative makes enough sense, and is plausible enough, to gain followers. If it wasn’t despicable, it would be admirable.

Haberman’s book is so detailed that I found myself skimming sections because I felt that I had read these events before. This detail is both appreciated, yet difficult for the reader. It’s a lot to process, but difficult to turn away from. The book feels very repetitive, like same song, different verse. Much of what she writes about has been covered many times. What Haberman adds are what those present felt or said in those meetings or in reaction.

Haberman had great access to sources to get inside White House discussions, communications and what principle actors were thinking. The depth of her information underscores both the interest inside people had in talking, and her deft hand at reporting.

So what’s the business about calling her his psychiatrist? She wrote that everyone was his psychiatrist as he used people to vent, test his thoughts and get a reading on something before he does it.

“I spent the four years his presidency getting asked by people to decipher why he was doing what he was doing, but the truth is, ultimately, almost no one really knows him,” Haberman writes at the end of the book. “Some know him better than others, but he is often simply, purely opaque, permitting people to read meaning and depth into every action, no matter how empty they may be.”

Early in the book, Haberman lays his behavior patterns and playbook, the consistency of how he operated all through his life. There will be many who dismiss the book because it reveals in excruciating detail what they won’t accept. Lies, fakery, character assassination, people with axes to grind, misinterpretation, whatever reasons to avoid the unpleasantness of the man they worship. Others will simply brush it aside and say, so what. Like a worm, a confidence man burrows into a person’s critical thinking, capturing their ability to sort reason from treason.

Hear from Haberman in her own voice about interviewing, and interpreting the Confidence Man.

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