Midway through President Trump’s turbulent first year in office, he went to the Pentagon for a briefing with Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The two cabinet members had planned to “educate the president” about the importance of staying loyal to America’s partners and allies at a time when Trump was disparaging NATO. But the meeting quickly went off the rails, Guy M. Snodgrass, Mattis’s chief speechwriter, recalls in “Holding the Line: Inside Trump’s Pentagon With Secretary Mattis.” A bored and distracted Trump, scowling with his arms crossed, dismissed what he was being told, declared that America’s allies were ripping it off, meandered into asking whether they had seen the French president’s aggressive handshake and then free-associated into his enthusiasm for France’s Bastille Day military parade — demanding a “Victory Day” parade of his own, with tanks rolling through Washington.
“Both men — Mattis and Tillerson — were despondent,” Snodgrass writes. “We had just witnessed a meeting with Trump, up close and personal. Now we knew why access was controlled so tightly. For the remainder of the meeting, President Trump veered from topic to topic like a squirrel caught in traffic, dashing one way and then another.”