Review: “Thank You for Your Servitude,” by Mark Leibovich

THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVITUDE: Donald Trump’s Washington and the Price of Submissionby Mark Leibovich

In June 2017, New York Times chief national correspondent Mark Leibovich visited the White House and was unexpectedly ushered into the Oval Office, where he found President Donald Trump watching (what else?) “Fox & Friends.” Trump issued a perfunctory denunciation of Leibovich’s then-employer and began his familiar litany of grievances and obsessions. “I had heard all of this before,” Leibovich mused later, “and was ready to finish it after about two minutes.”

The problem Leibovich (now staff writer at The Atlantic) faced in interpreting Trump-era politics was that its main character was so drab and monomaniac (albeit dangerous and deranged) that the author’s of formula he used to have the entertaining effect of his 2013 book This Town, which profiled the Washington insiders and A-listers who circled the Obama White House. Instead, Leibovich’s new book ingeniously shifts the focus to the Trump International Hotel, the president’s “flagship payola palace,” which operated just blocks from the White House from 2016 to 2022.

Passing through the glittering atrium lounge were the Republican Party’s most important politicians, leaders, power holders and influencers – “the careerists who capitulated to Trumpism to protect their livelihoods,” as Leibovich puts it. It was the pivotal site of Trump’s deals and social advancement, and was the site of some of the conspiracy meetings that led to the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, the January 6 riot, and both of Trump’s impeachments. The hotel was the Trumpian version of the Washington “swamp”.

“Thank You for Your Servitude” focuses less on true MAGA believers — like Steve Bannon and Marjorie Taylor Greene — and more on the twisted and tortured souls in the Republican establishment who could have prevented Trump’s hostile takeover of the party, but didn’t to have . Such Republicans, in Leibovich’s assessment, “made Trump possible” and “refused to stop him even after the US Capitol fell under the control of a madman in a Viking hat.” It was always rationalization, followed by capitulation, and then total capitulation. The routine was always numbingly the same, and so was the sad core of the truth: they all knew better.”

Then why did they go? The usual Washington factors of greed, ambition and opportunism, for starters. Kevin McCarthy, who unwisely spoke at length and with considerable frankness with Leibovich, made it clear that he would endure any humiliation at Trump’s hands and sacrifice any principle to become Speaker of the House. “Once McCarthy wins,” Leibovich said, “nothing else matters: he’ll have made it.” Senator Lindsey Graham went from Trump critic to lapdog out of a desire to “try to be relevant,” he told Leibovich, and from the pragmatic understanding that his re-election depended on Trump’s blessing and base. Others submitted out of both fear and fascination; Leibovich notes the mystery that Trump, as “a pure and wild rascal,” held for rule-bound, easily shamed politicians.

“Thank you for your bondage” is extremely funny in places, although much of the humor has a whistle-at-the-graveyard quality. Like the comedian in Alan Moore’s graphic novel Watchmen, Leibovich, out of his earlier cynicism and absurdism, was shocked (at least to some degree) by the enormity of Trump’s threat. Unlike This Town, Leibovich’s new account has heroes: Liz Cheney, Mitt Romney, and the late Senator John McCain. McCain’s courage and integrity in defying Trump was in stark contrast to what Leibovich describes as “everything the White House and its wimps had become under the 45th President.”

Geoffrey Kabaservice is Vice President for Policy Studies at the Niskanen Center and author of Rule and Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party.

THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVITUDE: Donald Trump’s Washington and the Price of Submission, by Mark Leibovich | 352 p. | Penguin Press | $29

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