“Just another day at the office.”
This is the defeated phrase sighed several times by blowhard hack…I mean, former National Security Advisor John Bolton in his recently published, not-quite-bombshell book The Room Where It Happened. Treading water in the eye of the shitstorm of daily impeachable offenses, hourly obstruction of justice, minute-by-minute clownish ridiculousness, and split-second bad decision-making, Bolton’s woebegone, fatalistic, given-up, ho-hum phrase is possibly his only utterance in his memoir that makes him the least bit relatable.
Who can’t understand being resigned to a berserk whirlwind of insanity and malfeasance in this fourth year of Trump’s roller coaster of a presidency? Isn’t Trump’s retweet of demented white supremacist senior citizens squealing “White Power” in their STD-riddled elder community The Villages just another day at the office for all of us at this point? Not to mention the deadly pandemic sweeping the nation as Trump and his band of not-so-merry anti-maskers squeeze together in rallies and bro-breath-filled bars. Just another day in the office.
Consistently fascinated with the dissolution of our country, I naturally had to dive into Bolton’s The Room Where It Happened. Now, I didn’t do so with too much enthusiasm. First off, I refused to pay for it since I’m not awarding a former Trump administration flunky who shirked his responsibility to testify before Congress in the impeachment proceedings for a book deal, no matter how quintessentially American that decision may be. Luckily, the weekend before the book’s release, some proud patriot leaked the book, allowing me to read it without the guilt of throwing money at the undeserving. Email me, dear Filthy Dreams readers, if you’d like a PDF. Fuck Bolton and his mustache (which he wants you to know as early as the first chapter was not a factor in Trump’s reticence to bring him into the administration, despite copious reports otherwise).
Armed with a stolen copy, I needed to sift through every detail to find–what exactly? Perhaps something that would explain how the hell this Trump presidency happened? Nah. I really just desired yet another glimpse at the man who represents everything wrong with America all balled up inside one bloated orange carcass. Trump is like a rat king of capitalist excesses, fragile white masculinity, shallow media frenzy, and narcissistic personality disorder.
And in providing lurid details about the interworking of the Trump administration, the book doesn’t disappoint. However, The Room Where It Happened is objectively not good. Unlike other Trump administration tell-alls such as Fire and Fury or Fear, The Room Where It Happened isn’t an objective look at our national freak show. Instead, it’s a nearly 600-page attempt to restore Bolton’s national and international reputation. Sorry, Mary, it doesn’t work like that!
From the first chapter, Bolton has the gall to try to paint himself as a heroic figure–someone who transcends the chaos of the Trump White House like a phoenix rising out of a burning bag of dog shit. But, he doesn’t quite pull this off. Largely, this has to do with his long-winded explanations about his godawful foreign policy views, out-hawking even some of the most bloodthirsty warmongers imaginable. It’s hard to take Bolton seriously as he brags about pulling out of the Iran Nuclear Deal and the Paris Accord, and rags on Obama’s perceived flaccid foreign policy.
And this makes Bolton and perhaps his publisher’s attempt to paint him in a historic light laughable at best, in particular through the book’s title and cover. The title is taken from a song in the musical Hamilton, but rather than expressing the experience of being present in the founding and early days of our country, Bolton narrates the dismantlement of its loftiest goals by a rabid, foam-mouthed, porridge-brained wacko whose IQ is the only thing lower than his ethics. Not exactly an apt comparison. Even the book’s cover seems to convey a patriotic-hued austerity, which clashes with, what we know is, the golden toilet bowl of a presidency.
From the first chapter, it’s clear that Bolton is, put bluntly, profoundly unlikeable. Not even his lame attempts at sarcasm–as subtle as his Colonel Sanders stache slapped on a Muppet–could enliven this stinker. He comes off as someone whispering his traumatic work story to you on an Amtrak quiet car from DC after spending too much time drinking watery gin and tonics in the cafe car.
In defining himself as the wry hero, even with cringe puns for chapter titles like “Thunder Out Of China” and “The Singapore Sling,” Bolton is blatantly trying to avoid what we can all see plainly from the beginning of the book. He desperately wanted this position! Bolton was so obsessed with attaining proximity to power that he’d do almost anything to get there, like serving in the Trump White House. Like Scaramucci before him, Bolton loitered around the Oval Office for months, taking any meeting he possibly could, in the hopes of eventually landing his dream job. And once he got it? Surprise! It turned out to be a circus!
Speaking of the big top, much of the press surrounding the publishing of Bolton’s book, naturally, focuses on his final chapter on Ukraine–the contents of which he should have presented in front of Congress if he gave a shit about the country, despite his excuses that the Democrats turned impeachment into a partisan sideshow. This is a mistake. After sifting through hundreds of pages full of batshittery, the Ukrainian quid pro quo seems like, well, just another day at the office. The only thing spectacular about the Ukraine fiasco seems to be the George Soros conspiracy theories from bug-eyed, Bloody Mary-guzzling, open fly, multiple cellphone owner and lunatic Rudy Giuliani whose unhinged ramblings seem to be the only reason Trump ended up on the impeachment circuit in the first place.
Rather than just one shocking chapter of impeachable offenses, the book succeeds in painting a hysterical picture of a daily “hall of mirrors,” as Bolton describes, or as I’d say, some sort of carnival ride produced by speed freaks. Over and over again, Bolton details Trump’s advisors meticulously producing strategy, conducting meetings upon meetings upon meetings to prep Trump and collectively agree on plans, which then are derailed like clockwork by a broken, dementia-riddled, Adderall-addled clock as he blurts out random thoughts to Twitter, the press, and perhaps most worrisome, his beloved authoritarian leaders. After which, of course, everyone in the White House has to scramble for damage control.
Even within these countless meetings, Bolton portrays a merry-go-round of Trump’s compulsive thoughts and repeating refrains. As Bolton explains, “In fact, Trump’s favorite way to proceed was to get small armies of people together, either in the Oval or the Roosevelt Room, to argue out all these complex, controversial issues. Over and over again, the same issues. Without resolution, or even worse, one outcome one day and a contrary outcome a few days later. The whole thing made my head hurt.” Trump rambles on and on about the reason we fought in the Korean War or how we have to get troops out of Afghanistan. And those are just the thoughts he has that aren’t complete non-sequiturs that get lodged in his brain like a bee stuck in his hairspray-shellacked bonnet.
And while this is anything but a fun read, this isn’t to say there aren’t certain parts worth remembering for posterity or at least, a good laugh. I mean, there has to be a reason the Trump administration tried to halt its publication. And because I can’t turn away from our national trainwreck, let me be the one to suffer for you, faithful Filthy Dreams denizens (Look at what I do for you!!). As I’ve done with previous Trump-related books, I’ve picked out my twenty favorite moments in The Room Where It Happened, which are as hilarious as they are mortifying and terrifying, so you don’t have to read it. We’re doomed! So might as well laugh as we go down in flames and a pile of ventilators:
1. Don’t Forget You’re A Cunt, Nikki!
In all the memoirs from the Trump administration, one of the standout classics is the in-fighting between the monsters that signed on to participate in this national dumpster fire. While Bolton’s book sadly doesn’t divulge all that much fuckery from some of my favorite sidekicks like Sarah Huckabee Sanders or Kellyanne Conway, it does feature this lovely moment between then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who Trump later described as having a mind like a “block of granite,” and Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley:
While waiting in the Oval for the Macron call, Trump railed away about Tillerson and how much he disliked him, recalling a dinner with Tillerson and Haley. Haley, said Trump, had some disagreement with Tillerson, who responded, “Don’t ever talk to me that way again.” Before Haley could say anything, Tillerson said, “You’re nothing but a cunt, and don’t ever forget it.” In most Administrations, that would have gotten Tillerson fired, so I wondered if he ever actually said it. And if he hadn’t, why did Trump tell me he had?
2. Dead Men Tell No Tales
Trump’s hatred for Maverick and Sarah Palin’s benefactor John McCain wasn’t exactly a secret. So it’s no surprise that former White house aide Kelly Sadler dancing on McCain’s soon-to-be dug grave was a boon for her career. However, my favorite part of this story is the sad, head-hanging response from then Chief of Staff Kelly. Sure, McCain might have been almost dead, but Kelly was already dead inside:
Her comments, dismissing McCain and how he might vote on Gina Haspel’s nomination as CIA Director because “he’s dying anyway,” leaked to the press, immediately creating a storm. Trump wanted to promote Sadler, while others wanted to fire her, or at least make her apologize publicly for her insensitivity. Sadler refused and got away with it because Trump, who despised McCain, allowed her to. Sadler turned her own insensitivity into a weapon by accusing others of leaking, a frequent offensive tactic in the Trump White House. In an Oval Office meeting, Trump rewarded her with a hug and kiss. Although this debacle was hardly my issue, I went to see Kelly at one point, figuring that surely rational people could get an apology out of this insubordinate staffer. After a brief discussion, with just the two of us in his office, Kelly said, “You can’t imagine how desperate I am to get out of here. This is a bad place to work, as you will find out.”
3. Trump’s Dating Tips
Ever want to know how Trump has so much success with the ladies (other than enlisting Jeffrey Epstein’s help)? Well…
Trump began to wonder what was up, telling me, “I want to get out [of Singapore] before they do,” which sounded promising. He recounted how with the women he had dated, he never liked to have them break up with him; he always wanted to be the one doing the breaking up. (“Very revealing,” said Kelly when I told him later.)
4. Anyone Want A Junior Mint?
Naturally Trump’s entire first date…I mean, meeting…with North Korean despot Kim Jong Un was historically looney, including Trump bragging that Bolton was on Fox News frequently. But one of the moments that sticks out in my mind is perhaps the most minor:
Kim asked if UN sanctions would be the next step, and Trump said he was open to it and wanted to think about it, noting that we had literally hundreds of new sanctions poised to announce. Pompeo and I had no idea what he meant. Trump handed out mints to the North Koreans.
Wait, mints? What kind of mints? Junior Mints? Mentos? Altoids? Dusty and crusty butter mints from his pockets branded with Trump hotel logos? Did the North Korean delegation’s breath stink? Did Trump feel unfresh? How did he even make that transition? I guess you can take the hotelier out of the hotels, but you can’t take the hotels out of the hotelier! I hope he got a good Yelp review.
5. And I think it’s gonna be a long long time
Now, I’m no expert in presidential gift-giving, but I’m willing to bet that a CD of Elton John’s Rocket Man signed by–no, not Elton John–but Trump himself isn’t exactly typical. In fact, it was such a months-long high priority that Trump kept asking Pompeo if he delivered the album to Un even when Pompeo hadn’t even met with the North Korean leader:
Until the end of the call, Trump didn’t seem to realize Pompeo hadn’t actually seen Kim Jong Un, asking if Pompeo had handed over the Trump-autographed copy of Elton John’s “Rocket Man” CD, which Pompeo had not. Getting this CD to Kim remained a high priority for several months.
6. Where Is Finland?
Geography is apparently, along with history, common sense, etc. etc. not Trump’s strong-suit.
Trump really wanted Putin to visit Washington, which the Russians had no intention of doing, and we had been skirmishing over Helsinki and Vienna as possible meeting venues. Russia pushed Vienna, and we pushed Helsinki, but it turned out Trump didn’t favor Helsinki. “Isn’t Finland kind of a satellite of Russia?” he asked. (Later that same morning, Trump asked Kelly if Finland was part of Russia.) I tried to explain the history but didn’t get very far before Trump said he too wanted Vienna.
7. Bye Bye, Mattis!
When someone delivers you a lengthy resignation letter, would you bother to read it? Or would you just shout childishly that you never really liked them anyway? Well, if you picked the latter, I bet you’ve got a future career at 1600 Black Lives Matter:
That afternoon, I learned that Mattis was in the Oval alone with Trump, and a previously scheduled bill-signing ceremony was running very late. As we were talking, Mattis came out, with Trump right behind him. I could tell instantly something was up. Mattis seemed stunned to see me waiting, but he shook hands without much of an expression. Trump said, “John, come on in,” which I did, with just the two of us in the Oval. “He’s leaving,” said Trump. “I never really liked him.”
After the bill-signing ceremony, Trump and I talked for roughly twenty minutes on how to handle the Mattis departure. Trump wanted to put out a tweet before Mattis’s public relations machine got rolling. Mattis had given Trump a long resignation letter explaining why he was leaving, unquestionably written for widespread public distribution, which Trump had not actually read. Instead, he had simply left it on the Resolute desk, from which it had been removed for the bill-signing ceremony.
8. Holy Fuck!
I’m looking forward to the eventual tell-all from someone on the First Lady’s staff who Kelly refers to, according to Bolton, as “a bunch of catty, gossipy sorority types.” Case in point: their attempt to push out former Deputy National Security Advisor Mira Ricardel who only made it in that White House full of vipers for a few months. After showing Trump a tweet from the First Lady’s office slamming Ricardel, Trump answered in his ever-elegant fashion:
In the interim, an incredible tweet went out from “the office of the First Lady” that Ricardel no longer deserved to work at the White House. Talk about unprecedented. I was still digesting this when Trump called me back at about 5:30 a.m. He asked, “What is this thing from the First Lady?” and called to Westerhout to bring him the tweet, which he read for the first time. “Holy fuck,” he shouted, “how could they put that out without showing it to me?” Good question, I thought.
9. Long As She Wears That Plain Gold Ring
While earlier in the book, he recounts Kelly remembering how Trump thought it would be “cool” to invade Venezuela, Bolton spends an entire chapter on the Venezuelan presidential crisis between President Maduro and Opposition leader Juan Guaidó. In supporting the Opposition, Trump met with Guaidó wife and well, had some thoughts about her choice to not wear a wedding ring, seeing it as some sort of failure of masculinity on Guaidó’s part. I guess Trump is a White Diamonds fanatic too:
The most unexpected outcome of the meeting was Trump’s perception that Rosales had not worn a wedding ring and how young she looked. The second point was true, although she seemed as resolute as they come, but the first I hadn’t noticed. Later, when Guaidó’s name came up, Trump would comment on the wedding ring “issue.” I never did understand what it signified, but it was not good, in Trump’s mind. He thought Guaidó was “weak,” as opposed to Maduro, who was “strong.” By spring, Trump was calling Guaidó the “Beto O’Rourke of Venezuela,” hardly the sort of compliment an ally of the United States should expect. It was far from helpful but typical of how Trump carelessly defamed those around him, as when he began blaming me for the opposition’s failure to overthrow Maduro.
All through The Room Where It Happened, it becomes clear that Trump is, well, not an early riser nor is he ever on time for meetings. But on the occasions when he does have to be shaken awake by Bolton, he seems to immediately go into his Commander in Chief role:
I had wrestled with the issue of when to wake Trump and decided to do so after arriving at the White House and quickly reviewing all the available information. I called him at 6:07 a.m., waking him for the first time in my tenure as National Security Advisor. I don’t know if Flynn or McMaster ever did so. Trump was very sleepy, but when I told him what we knew, he said only, “Wow.”
11. President for Life Trump?
Why settle for four more years of Keep America Great when we can have, well, a lifetime?
One highlight came when Xi said he wanted to work with Trump for six more years, and Trump replied that people were saying that the two-term constitutional limit on Presidents should be repealed for him. I was aware of no such chatter. Knowing Xi was effectively “President for life” in China, Trump was trying to compete with him. Later in the dinner, Xi said the US had too many elections, because he didn’t want to switch away from Trump, who nodded approvingly. (Indeed, in a subsequent telephone conversation on December 29, Xi said expressly that China hoped Trump would have another term by amending the Constitution so he could stay longer.)
12. Is it Bad If Someone Blows Up The World?
Amidst his hero worship of Kim Jong Un, Trump wondered why we even needed sanctions and seemed impressed by the answer:
While we were milling around, Trump asked me how we could be “sanctioning the economy of a country that’s seven thousand miles away.” I answered, “Because they are building nuclear weapons and missiles that can kill Americans.” “That’s a good point,” he agreed. We walked over to where Pompeo was standing, and Trump said, “I just asked John why we were sanctioning seven thousand miles away, and he had a very good answer: because they could blow up the world.” “Yes, sir,” said Pompeo. Another day at the office.
13. Twitter Fuckery
Of course, we all know that Trump’s entire approach to the presidency is via tweet, but so rarely do we hear the meticulously planned strategy from the man himself. Referring to a tweet about the accident during final launch preparations for the Safir SLV Launch at Semnan Launch Site One in Iran:
That set tongues wagging for some time, since he was implying exactly the opposite of what the tweet said. As Trump said later, “I like to fuck with them.” More grand strategy.
14. Aren’t They The Same Size?
In the same chapter on Iran, Trump muses about our Arab military allies and…what size the people are? Now, any other president you might assume he’s talking about the size of the military, but I’m pretty sure that’s not the strange eugenics-lite notion about which he’s musing:
Dunford tried to explain that, in Syria, we were continuing to do what Trump had agreed to months before, which prompted Trump to ask which of two of our Arab friends produced better soldiers. Somewhat startled, Dunford recovered to say which ones he thought were better soldiers, but Trump then asked, “Aren’t they all the same size?” Composure now restored, Dunford said there were differences in culture.
15. Sleepy Time
When he’s not acting completely unhinged in meetings, ranting, raving, and rambling about topics not even pertinent to the task at hand, he’s apparently…sleeping. Zzzzzzzzzzzz…
During Trump’s state visit, Abe and Trump got down to business on Monday, May 27, at eleven a.m. in the Akasaka Palace’s Asahi-No-Ma room, with just the two leaders, Yachi and myself, and the interpreters. Abe summarized the previous evening’s dinner with Trump, reaffirming his visit to Iran on June 12 and 13. By this point, Trump was seriously falling asleep. He never fell out of his chair and didn’t seem to miss anything important, but he was, in the immortal words of one of my Fort Polk drill sergeants, “checking his eyelids for pinholes.”
16. Art of the Deal
Trump, for most of his adult life, has defined himself as an expert deal maker. I mean, he’s the one who created and defined The Art of the Deal. So what kind of insight can we glean from some of his conversations with other world leaders? Apparently, the best way to conduct a deal is to just turn any question back on itself. And done!
Then he again recounted his first conversation with Angela Merkel, and how even before congratulating him for winning, Merkel had asked what he was going to do about Ukraine. Trump had replied by asking Merkel what she was going to do about Ukraine.
17. Can You Get A Purple Heart For Hotness?
One of my favorite things about Trump is his astounding shallowness. Case in point: his random musing about why Billy Graham’s grandson isn’t a higher rank–not because of his conduct in the military–but because he’s hot:
Have they actually changed?” Trump then referred to Billy Graham’s grandson, a major who had served in Afghanistan, who said, “We took their land.” “Why is he only a major?” Trump asked Dunford. “He’s good-looking, right from central casting.”
18. No, YOU hang up! No, YOU hang up!
A significant ongoing theme in The Room Where It Happened is Trump’s enamored love affair with any and all authoritarian leaders. And if we’re talking about his favorite macho men, his number 1 boy is clearly Putin. Does Putin have blackmail on Trump? Is Trump a Russian asset? I’m starting to believe that, in fact, none of that is true, but Putin can just manipulate Trump based on his admiration for authoritarianism alone. All this creates some hilarious moments of deflection in which Trump pretends that these leaders are really the ones who want to talk to him:
Trump called Putin on May 3, because, as he said with no apparent basis, Putin was “dying” to talk to him. In fact, Trump was “dying” to talk, having not had a real conversation with Putin since the Kerch Strait incident forced cancellation of their bilateral at the Buenos Aires G20.
19. “They tried to fuck me…I’m not fucking with them!”
Of all the details in the final Ukraine chapter, the one that stands out in my mind, other than Trump telling Zelensky that he knows Ukraine is great because they were always well-represented in his Miss Universe contests, is the account of an explosive meeting with Perry, Sondland, Volker, and Senator Ron Johnson, which sounded like an argument that would happen before a rousing game of Boar on the Floor. Johnson afterward told Bolton how shocked he was. Bolton’s response? Sounded like just another day at the office!:
“I don’t want to have any fucking thing to do with Ukraine,” said Trump, per Kupperman. “They fucking attacked me. I can’t understand why. Ask Joe diGenova, he knows all about it. They tried to fuck me. They’re corrupt. I’m not fucking with them.” All this, he said, pertained to the Clinton campaign’s efforts, aided by Hunter Biden, to harm Trump in 2016 and 2020.
Volker tried to intervene to say something pertinent about Ukraine, and Trump replied, “I don’t give a shit.”
Perry said we couldn’t allow a failed state, presumably a Ukraine where effective government had broken down, and Trump said, “Talk to Rudy and Joe.” “Give me ninety days,” Perry tried again, but Trump interrupted, but Trump interrupted, saying, “Ukraine tried to take me down. I’m not fucking interested in helping them,” although he relented to say Zelensky could visit him in the White House, but only if he was told how Trump felt in the matter. “I want the fucking DNC server,” said Trump, returning to the fray, adding, “Okay, you can have ninety days. But I have no fucking interest in meeting with him.”
20. Get Off The Plane, Bolton!
Of course, all terrible jobs must come to an end, particularly in the Trump administration. What was the last straw for Bolton? No, not any number of daily embarrassments, but some strange argument about what kind of plane Bolton was taking:
He said, “A lot of people don’t like you. They say you’re a leaker and not a team player.” I wasn’t about to let that go. I said I’d been subject to a campaign of negative leaks against me over the past several months, which I would be happy to describe in detail, and I’d also be happy to tell him who I thought the leaks were coming from. (Mostly, I believed the leaks were being directed by Pompeo and Mulvaney.)
Then he was off again, saying, “You have your own airplane,” which I explained briefly I did not. I flew on military aircraft on all official trips, following precisely the same policy that governed my predecessors and many other senior officials involved in national security. I didn’t write these rules; I followed them.
Even the day of Bolton’s resignation, Trump still couldn’t get off the subject of the planes:
Trump was still spun up about my use of military aircraft, which Walsh had tried to explain to him unsuccessfully, and said to Walsh, “You tell him he’s not getting another plane unless I specifically approve it.”