Team of Five: The Presidents Club in the Age of Trump
By: Kate Andersen Brower
Format/Source: eBook; my purchase
After serving the highest office of American government, five men—Jimmy Carter, the late George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama—became members of the world’s most exclusive fraternity. In Team of Five, Kate Andersen Brower goes beyond the White House to uncover what, exactly, comes after the presidency, offering a glimpse into the complex relationships of these five former presidents, and how each of these men views his place in a nation that has been upended by the Oval Office’s current, norm-breaking occupant, President Donald Trump.
With an empathetic yet critical eye and firsthand testimony from the Carters, Donald Trump, and the top aides, friends, and family members of the five former presidents, Team of Five takes us inside the exclusive world of these powerful men and their families, including the unlikely friendship between George W. Bush and Michelle Obama, the last private visits Bill Clinton and Barack Obama shared with George H.W. Bush, and the Obamas’ flight to Palm Springs after Donald Trump’s inauguration. Perhaps most timely, this insightful, illuminating book overflows with anecdotes about how the ex-presidents are working to combat President Trump’s attempts to undo the achievements and hard work accomplished during their own terms.
Perhaps most poignantly, Team of Five sheds light on the inherent loneliness and inevitable feelings of powerlessness and frustration that come with no longer being the most important person in the world, but a leader with only symbolic power. There are ways, though, that these men, and their wives, have become powerful political and cultural forces in American life, even as so-called “formers.”
This is not the first book I’ve read about the Presidents Club; it’s a fascinating piece of American politics and the fabric of the nation, of wht role former Presidents serve after they leave office. This book caught my attention as I was interested to read how much has changed–or stayed the same–with Trump becoming president, and his interaction with the Presidents Club. This is also not my first Kate Andersen Brower book, having read her book on the First Wives (review).
I read the book a day, lol, that’s how absorbed I was by this book. I knew a lot of the anecdotes–of George H.W. Bush’s friendship with Bill Clinton, of how Carter has irked all of his successors following his presidency (amusing, but also annoying). Where this book gets really interesting is each of the former Presidents’ relationship/interaction/contrast with Trump (and how Trump has managed to smear each and every one of them), and perhaps more importantly how each of the men have defined their post-Presidency that, upon reflection, really are the case: the Bushes have chosen retirement, living quietly, whereas Clinton and Carter have tried to remain relevant and in the spotlight through various activities, engagements (and in Clinton’s case because Hilary was senator and later pursued her own Presidential campaign). Obama is still defining his post-Presidency, which Brower described as a middleway between Clinton and Carter’s path and the Bushes. Their post-Presidencies were interesting in contrast to the highs and lows of their Presidency, but there was no doubt that at the end of the day they did what they thought was best for the country.
Reading this book made me think about the state of American politics and how it’s come to this point of polarised partisanship. The political climate of the previous presidents’ was nowhere as vitrol and puritan orthodox as it is now, where bipartisanship is seen as some mythical thing. By no means is this only an American problem, as polarisation is occurring in other countries, but it’s sad to see a political environment where individuals are more inclined to act in a way that’s good for their party and ideology as opposed to the good of the country and uniting under one common goal regardless of the differing ways of achieving it. I hope this doesn’t continue to be a mainstay and that there is some return to moderation and bipartisanship in the future.
Overall I enjoyed reading Team of Five. It was well-written and engaging, provided some new insightful anecdotes, and a different perspective on what it means to be in the Presidents Club. Makes me also wonder about the future and how Trump will be treated post-Presidency considering how much he’s already ostracised himself from his predecessors and the institution. In any case, I highly recommend this book!