2018, Books, Non-Fiction

House of Trump House of Putin (2018) by Craig Unger

Please note: I did not finish this book.

A hell of a lot of smoke, very little fire.

Unger seems to think allegations amount to truths and spends the vast majority of the part I read (the first fourteen chapters) piling allegation on top of allegation on top of allegation. It’s the Gish Gallop of writing styles – there are so many things to fact check it’s exhausting.

But I did a few times and I found most of what he alleges extremely tenuous. Much of his seemingly most “damning” allegations come from lawsuits which were thrown out of court or dropped or settled, or come from journalism in which Unger is merely credulously repeating quotes from stories. (The claims Sater was an operative for the DIA and CIA, for example, come from an interview in which people with no proof allege Sater was doing this. A quick investigation reveals that most journalists do not take these claims seriously. But Unger does, because it suits him.)

It’s the author’s job to assemble a good case for the argument, not mine. But every chapter contained something that smelled fishy, that felt to me like I had to do additional research. That becomes really tiresome at some point.

But it doesn’t really matter because, as of chapter fourteen, he’s still not established much of anything we don’t already know. Yes, Trump is bad at business, just good at branding. Yes, Trump doesn’t care where the money comes from as long as someone gives him more money. Yes, Trump and his organization get involved with shady people as a matter of everyday business. Yes, Trump and his organization do things that are unethical and sometimes illegal in the US and similar countries. Yes, there are ties between Trump and the mob.

But none of this proves that Trump is an agent, willing or otherwise, of the Russian government. Now we have four years of a Trump presidency. If Trump was a willing agent of the Russian government, shouldn’t we have seen more evidence of this while he was in power? And if he was an unwilling agent, you might argue the same thing. (Where is that tape that supposedly exists? To pick just one example of a claim that has never been substantiated.) And if he’s an unknowing agent of Russia, did they really get what they wanted out of hm? As of December 2020, Russia seems to have spent far less resources trying to influence the 2020 election (to the best of my knowledge). And, if that’s true, it would sure suggest he didn’t behave like they wanted him to.

The point is, there’s no evidence. Sure, Russia preferred Trump to Clinton. Sure, Trump is unscrupulous. But there is no evidence in the first fourteen chapters of this book that actually shows Trump is a Russian agent. The idea that he is a Russian agent appears to be a complete fiction. And if Unger waits to the latter half of the book to prove this, after piling unprovable allegation after unprovable allegation for hundreds of pages, he’s buried the lede to an extent I didn’t know was possible.


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