Graeme Wood: John Bolton knows what he’s doing
Maybe Bolton is betting that Republicans will fall back in love with him once they fall out of love with Trump. But three years into Trump’s presidency, no evidence suggests that is happening. And Bolton is too widely reviled among progressives—and too warlike—to reinvent himself as a Never Trumper with a gig as a contributor at MSNBC. So it’s hard to see how Bolton’s attack on Trump works to his advantage. Even if Bolton did time his truth telling to maximize book sales, the fact remains: He appears to have told the truth about Trump, something few prominent Republicans have had the courage to do.
To defy their bosses, friends, and allies, people need to have faith in something larger. In his 2012 book, Beautiful Souls, the author Eyal Press suggests that people who put themselves at risk to challenge injustice are often true believers who cannot bear to see the institutions they serve violate their ideals. Press tells the story of Paul Grüninger, a Swiss policeman in the late 1930s who lost his job, and became a local pariah, for violating Switzerland’s policy of denying entry to Austrian Jewish refugees. What motivated Grüninger, Press argues, was “his unshakeable conviction” in Switzerland’s self-conception as a “sanctuary whose citizens had always extended a welcome hand to castoffs from more troubled lands.” That self-conception, Press notes, was largely a myth. But because of Grüninger’s obsessive devotion to it, he risked his livelihood and reputation to prove that the legend was true.
Press also recounts the actions of Leyla Wydler, a Houston investment broker who, in 2003, mailed a packet filled with incriminating documents about her employer to the Securities and Exchange Commission. Wydler’s action, Press argues, stemmed from her unusual idealism about the American financial system, which she considered “untainted by the corruption that flourished” in her native El Salvador. Whistle-blowers, Press notes, quoting a study by Myron Peretz Glazer and Penina Migdal Glazer, “invariably … believed that they were defending the true mission of their organization”—even when the organization’s actual mission wasn’t nearly as high-minded as they believed.
Bolton fits this pattern. He believes strongly—even recklessly and obtusely—in hyper-aggressive, hyper-nationalist foreign policy. And he’ll defy anyone who deviates from that vision.
David Frum: Speak up, John Bolton
Before Trump, Bolton’s presidential patron had been George W. Bush, who endured a bitter battle with congressional Democrats for nominating Bolton to be his ambassador to the United Nations. But after leaving the job, Bolton turned on Bush for being too dovish. “Nothing can erase the ineffable sadness of an American presidency, like this one, in total intellectual collapse,” he wrote in a 2008 Wall Street Journal op-ed castigating Bush’s diplomacy with North Korea. In his 2007 memoir of his time in the Bush administration, Surrender Is Not an Option, Bolton trashed influential former colleagues for straying from his hard-line views. The criticism infuriated Bush. Key Bush advisers such as Condoleezza Rice, Robert M. Gates, and Stephen J. Hadley subsequently got their revenge by lobbying the nascent Trump administration to deny Bolton a job.