A Hurried and Uninspired Memoir

Partisanship and the controversy surrounding John Bolton are not the reason I was interested in his memoir The Room Where It Happened. I am no Trump fan and am a registered independent voter. My interest lay in why he chose not to testify in the House impeachment proceedings and his experience working for the President. Since this was such a timely subject given the election in November, I decided to read it. I only made it through the first two chapters.

As you might expect, the book is very partizan, sharing the author’s very conservative perspective. This in itself does not bother me but rather intrigues me. I like to understand where people are coming from. I find that as a society we are too quick to pigeon hole someone in a box and then dismiss what they have to say. I’m interested in ideas more than party. As a result, I wanted to know what Bolton thought and how he advised the President. Unfortunately, I found the writing to be excessively detailed and overly flamboyant with too much name dropping.

The first two chapters that I read feel like he barely fleshed out his calendar based on his notes and memories. It doesn’t have the polish or introspection that is the hallmark of the modern memoir. He likes to repeatedly name the politically connected that he met or spoke with. An example of the excessive detail is that every time (yes, every time) he refers to the desk in the Oval Office he calls it the Resolute desk. That is a pertinent detail… the first time he mentions it. It just gets old and absurd after that.

It is clear from the author’s experience that President Trump was woefully unprepared practically and by disposition to act as president in the modern way. That way is to be someone who relies on his cabinet to bring him advice from which he makes informed decisions. Rather, he relies on family, friends, and his own seat of the pants judgment. Some may argue that this might have worked for him as a businessman, but it is certainly no way to govern. John Bolton was never happy with the chaos and haphazard antics of the Trump administration, eventually resigning.

After the first two chapters, I skimmed the rest of the book to see if it was going to continue in the same vein of subpar literature. It did. But I still wanted to know the author’s thoughts on the impeachment and his reasons for not testifying. This is in the final chapter of the book. I read that before laying the book aside.

Bolton’s opinion of the impeachment proceedings was that they were politically weaponized by both sides. He feels this was a dangerous precedent and a misuse of the Constitution. Interestingly, he feels that if the Democrats in the House had taken their time and broadened the scope of the investigation, they may have succeeded. According to the author, there is plenty of proof that the president regularly acted in his own personal interest or in the interest of his own re-election rather than in the best interests of the country.

As for why he didn’t testify, he anticipated having a similar experience to Charlie Kupperman’s. He was subpoenaed by the House of Representatives to testify in the impeachment proceedings. This resulted in the White House and the President ordering him to invoke “testimonial immunity”. Rather than choose which side to listen to, Kupperman filed suit in federal court for advice. Before receiving that advice, the House withdrew the subpoena leaving the court without jurisdiction. No decision was given. By that time, the House had passed the impeachment proceedings on to the Senate. John Bolton decided at that time that he would testify, if called. The Senate never called any witnesses and Trump was acquitted as expected. Given Bolton’s view of the process itself and his desire to hew closely to the Constitution, this makes sense.

In the end the overwhelming detail in this book and the author’s apparent need to brag about all the people he knows and is connected with render this memoir nearly unreadable. It seems that the author suffered from exactly what he accused the House Democrats of. He was in too much of a hurry to give the work the attention it deserved.