There's rarely a reason to read a political book about a presidential administration produced while that president is in office. Former staffers write a couple of hundred pages to say, "If only they'd have listed to me!" Others let Bob Woodward quote them, by name or otherwise, saying the same thing. Or they're about things that just happened a couple of years ago and can still be looked up.
Donald Trump's presidency provides even more incentive to avoid books supposedly detailing its inner workings, adding only to the wonder the reader must feel: If he was indeed so awful, why did you agree to work for him? It's not like he was secretly vain, pompous, boastful, etc...
Byron York's Obsession fulfills one of the few real needs for books about the Trump administration: A clear look at what the hell happened with one or another particular feature of it. York, a reporter for The Washington Examiner, traces some features of the buildup to the impeachment investigation and probe from late 2019 and early 2020 and their relationship with what's usually called "the Russia probe" connected to the investigation by Robert Mueller.
Large amounts of the book come from York's reporting on Mueller, impeachment and related matters at the time, as well as later interviews to add perspective. Since the Examiner is a conservative-leaning news outlet and York is a former staffer at National Review, one might be tempted to dismiss Obsession as a an exercise in Trump apologia. And frankly, Regnery Publishing's subtitle "Inside the Washington Establishment's Never-Ending War on Trump" doesn't help. But York outlines clearly the way some of the president's own deficiencies -- hubris, narcissism, unwillingness to believe someone else might know something he didn't -- contributed to his problems. Interviews with former staff, members of the legal team, campaign and transition team officials make clear that all too often, the president did not know what he was doing and should have listened to others who did.
On the other hand, his opponents seemed little better. Obsession's title is probably aimed at them and the way that several of the leading figures against Trump made it clear early on that they would take whatever steps and grab hold of whatever pretext presented itself to not just work against him and his policies but destroy his ability to even attempt them. Impeachment is an excellent example. Was there ever a chance that House Democrats could produce evidence that would make Senate Republicans remove a president of their own party from office? Perhaps slightly, at the beginning, but the secrecy, missteps and bungling of Reps. Adam Schiff and Jerry Nadler in their respective areas snuffed it out. It could not succeed yet extensive and expensive efforts were still poured into it, occupying both Congress and the administration while the COVID-19 pandemic was beginning to take shape in China.
York offers another example, perhaps even more telling, in his second chapter. On January 6 following a presidential election, members of Congress are sworn in for their new terms and they help certify the results of the Electoral College. Since those votes have already been sent to different federal and state officials, the certification is almost always ceremonial. But not in 2017. With then Vice-President Joe Biden presiding, Democratic Representatives rose time and time again to debate the results of the election. Well of course, one might say. There was considerable room to do so. But none of the complaints were co-signed by a Senator as they needed to be in order to be heard. In other words, none of the Representatives who rose to speak intended to legitimately object to the totals. They only want to say they were objecting, rather than directing energy and effort toward things the president might want to do that they could stop.
Reading Obsession, we watch Democratic leadership and others opposed to the president who try to bend any process at hand to the end of removing him from office, whether it has any chance of success of not and no matter what happened to that process through their efforts. It calls to mind the possibly apocryphal Vietnam-era quote about destroying a village in order to save it.
Like most books written from a point of view, Obsession tends to emphasize things that support the point and elide some of those that don't. But it still prompts a question. President Trump is cast by his opponents as a man of little character, unfit for the office he holds. They predicted before he was elected and have pointed out since then that his bad character and lack of discipline and competence would damage our political culture and possibly our republic. Whether those qualities have done so to the degree claimed may still need to be resolved, but that he has seems clear.
But as Obsession explains, what isn't clear is why the people who swear they oppose him have helped him do so.