Blowback A warning to save democracy from the next Trump

Miles Taylor

Book - 2023

"Donald Trump will be president again, whether he is on the ballot or not. That is because Trumpism is overtaking the Republican Party and will mount a vigorous comeback, potentially in the hands of a savvier successor--The Next Trump. This prophecy will come true, according to Miles Taylor, if we do not learn the lessons of the recent past. With the 2024 election approaching, the formerly "Anonymous" official is back with bombshell revelations and a sobering national forecast. Through interviews with dozens of ex-Trump aides and government leaders, Taylor predicts what could happen inside "Trump 2.0," the White House of a more competent and more formidable copycat. What sounds like a political thriller -- from shad...owy presidential powers and CIA betrayals to angry henchmen and assassination plots -- is instead America's political reality, as Taylor uses never-before-told stories to shed light on the ex-president's unfulfilled plans, the dark forces haunting our civic lives, and to show how we can thwart the rise of extremism in the United States. Blowback is also a surprisingly emotional and self-critical portrait of a dissenter, one whose own unmasking provides a vivid warning about what happens when we hide the truth from others and, most important, from ourselves."-- Page 4 of cover.

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New York : Atria Books 2023.
Main Author
Miles Taylor (author)
First Atria Books hardcover edition
Physical Description
335 pages ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
  • Prologue
  • Chapter 1. The Faction
  • Chapter 2. The Deputy
  • Chapter 3. The Judge
  • Chapter 4. The Assembly
  • Chapter 5. The Shield
  • Chapter 6. The Sword
  • Chapter 7. The Citizen
  • Chapter 8. The Angel
  • Epilogue
  • A Note on Sources
  • Index
Review by Choice Review

Among the increasing number of books and articles written about the Trump presidency, Blowback is one of the most revelatory. A former insider in the Trump administration, Taylor provides insights into both Donald Trump's personality and the manner in which he made everyday policy decisions. The book is also a cautionary tale about the fate of American democracy should Trump, or another Trump-like politician, be elected in 2024. Taylor, a national security expert, served in the Department of Homeland Security from 2017 to 2019, including as chief of staff. In 2018, he published an anonymous essay in The New York Times detailing Trump's misconduct as president. Subsequently, he agreed to write a piece for The Washington Post entitled, "At Homeland Security, I Saw Firsthand How Dangerous Trump Is for America." In his prologue, Taylor argues that if Americans want to save democracy from the "Next Trump, we need to fully understand the threat he or she will pose" (p. 9). In the course of explaining this threat, Taylor relies on his own experiences, "first-person interviews with the people who know the MAGA movement's plans," accounts from Trump's former inner circle, and "insights from the country's leading democracy doctors" to understand "how dire the situation has become" (p. 9). Summing Up: Recommended. General readers, advanced undergraduates through faculty, and professionals. --Jack Robert Fischel, emeritus, Millersville University

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Booklist Review

National security expert and whistleblower Taylor (A Warning, 2019) presents another alarm about the authoritarian turn in the Republican Party. In this sprawling memoir about his time inside the Trump administration and as an opponent to the MAGA cause, Taylor repeatedly states that a future Republican administration will be even more chaotic and cruel. Blowback is a blueprint of what to expect should Trump or another MAGA Republican become president again, drawn largely from internal conversations. Americans will hope that Taylor is relaying obvious anti-democratic actions and not giving MAGA ideas. One thing he is certain of is that competent conservatives like himself won't be tempted to join in the next Trump administration, leaving swaths of the federal government run by ideologues and hacks whose primary qualification will be loyalty to the boss. This book presents a standard list of reforms to safeguard democracy, but with no innovative strategy to enact them over MAGA obstruction. Taylor's cautionary narrative has a place in library collections for its compelling backstory and for its guidance for dissent against MAGA extremism.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Taylor, the former Homeland Security official who anonymously denounced the Trump administration in 2019's A Warning, returns with a mixed-bag thought experiment on what would happen if the "Make America Great Again movement does the unthinkable and retakes the White House." Noting that Trump got pushback from the "adults" in the room, Taylor claims that those guardrails would not be present in a second term. Even if a "savvier successor," rather than Trump himself, wins the presidency, distrust of the federal bureaucracy and the instinct to distort reality will rule the day. Taylor identifies numerous areas of concern, including an October 2020 executive order that would have allowed Trump "to strip large parts of the federal workforce of their employment protections." Though President Biden repealed the order, it could be revived by Trump or a "Trump-like figure," leading to a "mass exodus" of competent, experienced, and law-abiding officials. Throughout, Taylor interweaves snapshots of his life before and after he went public as the author of A Warning, revealing how his relationships and mental health suffered. Unfortunately, the book's rhetorical flourishes, including a scene set in 2019 in which Taylor suggests that Trump was about to push the "nuclear button" in the Oval Office, then reveals he was simply ordering a Diet Coke, undermine its core message. This is a disappointment. (July)

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review

An urgent alarm about the nation's future. In a New York Times op-ed piece in 2018 and again in his book A Warning, both published anonymously, Taylor exposed the lies, corruption, and craziness within the Trump administration--of which he was a member--and argued vehemently against his reelection in 2020. Now facing the 2024 contest, Taylor reiterates his dire predictions. "The MAGA movement--or Trumpism, which I use interchangeably--remains the fastest-growing political coalition in America," he contends. Even if Trump himself is not the Republican Party's standard bearer, "the rule of a savvier successor" will promote the same policies, authoritarian postures, vindictiveness, and hatred. Taylor had an inside view of the administration, serving as a national security adviser under John Kelly at the Department of Homeland Security; when Kelly became Trump's chief of staff, Taylor stayed on at the DHS. He witnessed a president who was impulsive, raging, and out of control, focused on building a wall on the southern border, to the exclusion of most else. Trump demanded protestations of loyalty, and he was quick to fire anyone who dared to cross him. Taylor predicts that "appointees in the next GOP White House will be heavily vetted for obedience," and career civil servants will be ousted in favor of lackeys. There will be "what might be called the Two Houses of MAGA (the White House and a right-leaning House of Representatives)" that would "do each other's bidding." The culture wars--"guns, gays, and girls"--a GOP operative told Taylor, "will be the primary legislative agenda," and the "Next Trump…will exacerbate political violence and push the nation to the brink of a Second Civil War." The author urges citizens to speak out against extremism. "Social fear," he writes, "is creating a mass bystander effect in our politics," but "the final guardrail of our collective democracy," he declares, is truth. Another rousing plea to all Americans to stand against authoritarianism. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

PROLOGUE October 30, 2020 The sky was cloudy and sullen, as if strewn with ash plumes. I ex ited the hotel, baseball cap and sunglasses in place, and crossed the street. Aware of everyone, talking to no one. A woman walked her dog. A man in a camouflage hat smoked a cigarette at the corner, while skateboarders weaved in and out of the bike lane. The smell of firewood smoke signaled the arrival of my favorite season, though on this morning, it barely registered. Around the block, I slipped into a bakery  for coffee and a biscuit, keeping my sunglasses on while waiting at the counter. The food lived up to the description, slow-cooked. Outside again, I walked back to the hotel. A pair of eyes stopped me. The same camo-hat guy from earlier was leaning on a truck, holding my gaze down the street. Something wasn't right. I changed directions as if I'd forgotten something, rerouting toward my parked car on the other side of the road. Settling into the driver's seat, I holstered the coffee in the cupholder and watched the man in the rearview mirror. He dropped his cigarette and flattened it with a twist of his boot. I pulled out of the parking space, planning to do a lap around the block to shake the suspicion. Headlights lit up behind me, and the truck pulled out, too. It's a coincidence. Calm down. As I wound through the still-sleepy North Carolina town--knowing it no better than the distance covered by my high beams in the dim morning--the man seemed to stay with me. Right turn. Left turn. I was being followed, stalked maybe. I sped a little faster along Asheville's streets and recalled advice from an ex-CIA mentor. Time. Distance. Direction. It was a technique called a "surveillance detection route." You tested whether someone was following you by measuring how long, how far, and how directly they remained on your tail. I tried to cool my nerves by running an ad hoc route, even though I had no idea where I was. I vectored away from downtown and took unusual turns, continually checking my rearview mirror. On the outskirts of Asheville, the truck was still behind me. My heartbeat throbbed in my ears, racing so fast I worried that when it slowed I'd pass out at the wheel. I veered toward the shoulder and braked abruptly. My car shuddered to a halt over the gravel and kicked up a dishwater dust cloud. The truck drove onward and took the highway on-ramp, seemingly oblivious to my abrupt stop. I drove to a nearby parking garage and sat inside waiting, just to be sure. The street was quiet. The truck, nowhere to be seen. You're losing it, man. The paranoia was metastasizing. Before daybreak, I had received a note from a U.S. Secret Service agent: "You should get a security team, fast. I can connect you." And another from a Silicon Valley billionaire: "I'll pay your protection costs." While these were generous offers, I was five hundred miles from home, so for now, I was on my own. It had started the prior afternoon. The president of the United States launched an "all-out assault" against me (as one news outlet put it) while in Tampa, Florida, at a campaign rally. Or was it a mob riot? "Bad things are going to happen to him!" Trump warned ominously about the "horrible," "treasonous" Miles Taylor. Are you listening to me back in Washington? He should be prosecuted!" he roared, face contorted with rage, apparently directing his words at the Justice Department. The audience lapped it up. "Traitor!" they shouted back gleefully. His followers began to search for me, online and in real life. Why? Because I had just deliberately blown my own cover, revealing myself to be a longtime Trump detractor and--most infuriatingly to the president--one of his former aides. Internal dissent was one of Trump's worst fears. By his own admission, he had spent two years eyeing everyone who entered the Oval Office warily, wondering who in his midst was the elusive inside critic known only as "Anonymous." It was me. Years earlier, I had written an unsigned essay from within the Trump administration, blowing the whistle on White House misconduct. As the unknown author, I detailed the president's character defects, an administration in chaos, and the alarming views of Trump's own cabinet members--some of whom contemplated invoking the Twenty-Fifth Amendment to remove the commander in chief amid the instability. I knew these anonymous revelations would lead to a tidal wave of attacks, but I also hoped they would persuade other rational Republicans to tell the truth about the man in the Oval Office. I was right, at least about the tidal wave. As I hunkered down in a North Carolina parking garage, Trump's words from the rally--"Bad things are going to happen to him!"--replayed in my mind. I caught my breath. No one is following you. You've taken all the precautions. I had locked down my life before going public. While I will refrain from detailing the security measures or trip wires put in place (others are relying on the confidentiality of similar techniques to protect their families), I will note that I was obsessive. The process took months, and not all of it worked, as I soon found out. My accounts, devices, and phone numbers were all new, and my video backdrops became the peeling wallpaper of hotels, lest I give away my location while traveling the country to campaign against my former boss. When I drove back into Asheville, the smoke-wood fog had burned off. It was light. An optimistic blue sky allayed my anxiety, until I got back to the hotel. More vitriol had poured into my cell phone while I was gone, flooding the device. Emails, text messages, Twitter posts. They buzzed menacingly on the desk, each of them a digital grim reaper: "Hope u die a slow painful death and suffer during the entire process, then burn in hell." "Your blood will be in the streets traitor." "Snitches get stitches." My data was littered across the web--my home address, new cell phone number, new email addresses, personal details about family members, and surprisingly accurate guesses about where I was holed up. Time to go. I packed my belongings, reloaded the car, and drove several hours east to Charlotte. In the crucial swing state, I planned to get out and triumphantly persuade voters to "put country over party!" by opposing Trump. Now I was little more than a prisoner reassigned to a new cell, shuttling between rented rooms booked under fake names. Nighttime brought the first in a series of reckonings. I placed a pillow over the loaded pistol that was my sidekick on the road trip and settled in, eyes on the door. My new accommodations were cheaper than the last, marked by the permeating smell of mold and mildew and by a rust-stained sink and tub. Mattress wires poked through a threadbare comforter, and an increasingly familiar emotion--doubt--did the same. You think you're clever? This was a mistake. You did this wrong. All of this. Without the mask of anonymity, I felt exposed and, for the first time ever, hunted. Excerpted from Blowback: A Warning to Save Democracy from the Next Trump by Miles Taylor All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.