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Have a Light Read:What was not happening in Trump's administration?

【明報專訊】From Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury to Bob Woodward's Fear, and many others, this year has seen numerous books about US president Donald Trump make into the best seller lists. Of course, in the face of a provocative leader making a mess of everything, writers like Michael Lewis could do nothing but start his seemingly dull assignment to report on the bureaucratic transition within the US government departments from the Obama to the Trump administration. The task turned into something far more compelling and vital when Lewis realised what was happening — or rather, what was not happening.

The book is about how different departments were struggling under Trump's flailing administration. What constitutes the main body of the book is the chapter titled "Tail Risk". Lewis talked with John MacWilliams, a former civil servant working at the Department of Energy, who had left the government five months before the interview. And Lewis claimed he was the first person to ask MacWilliams what he knew. Experienced in writing about financial institutions, Lewis approached reporting on the US government in the same way. His style of writing could be likened to peeling an onion. The systemic issues of the federal government are unearthed as the story unfolds. The first four of the risks — namely accidents with nuclear weapons, North Korea, Iran and the electrical grid — are only appetisers. What MacWilliams really wanted to mention is the fifth risk — "the risk we should most fear". He related it with programme management, or the way bureaucrats manage risks. He said it is an act that requires imagination, which seems to challenge government officials. People do well at evaluating crises that happened in the past but not those that have not happened.

The fifth risk is not about those "fast-moving" crises like "pandemics" or "terrorist attacks". Lewis described the risk as a bomb with a very long fuse. But you don't know whether it will really explode. Now that the US is faced with a diplomatic impasse and a catalogue of problems with its internal affairs, could the administration tackle all this by just espousing an anti-China stance? Lewis wrote, "Most of the big problems inside the US government were of the practical management sort and had nothing to do with political ideology." The blame lies with manpower issues. Heading a government whose stance remains convoluted, Donald Trump desperately needs new talent.

■Thanks: Swindon Book Co. Ltd.

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