The Corner


Tevi Troy’s Shall We Wake the President?

Tevi Troy’s new book, Shall We Wake the President? just might scare the daylights out of you—in the very nicest way, of course. After reading this combination presidential history, policy primer, and self-help book on disaster management, the world’s been looking more and more to me like a continuous series of catastrophes.

It’s hard to separate the ways in which Troy’s book has changed my way of looking at things from the bad run we’ve been in. Has the world turned into a succession of disasters, or is it just the book? All I know is that during the chapter on terror attacks, there was a terror attack; during the chapter on cyber-security, Colin Powell got hacked; and during the chapter on civil unrest, Charlotte blew up. I guess when you write a book about every way shape and form of disaster, you’re pretty much guaranteed to be “on the news.”

Tevi Troy is a presidential historian, policy maven, and highly accomplished administrator who knows of what he writes. Troy was at the heart of the George W. Bush administration’s post-9/11 disaster preparedness operations at the Department of Labor, the White House Domestic Policy Council, and the Department of Health and Human Services. On top of that, he is a master of the fascinating presidential anecdote, as readers of his best-selling, What Jefferson Read, Ike Watched, and Obama Tweeted, will know.

Shall We Wake the President? reads as an extended reflection on “the thin crust of civilization” and what it takes to crack it. At times the book can be scary, as when someone with Troy’s White House experience points out the following helpful quote: “In a crisis you realized that society operated without anyone knowing deep down what the hell was really going on.” Sometimes, though, things come clear, as when Troy draws a fascinating comparison between the relatively benign 1965 New York blackout and the rioting that went on after a similar New York blackout in 1977. Troy plausibly explains the different reactions.

Then there are Troy’s trademark anecdotes. Did you know that IRS head and candidate for impeachment John Koskinen made his bones as Bill Clinton’s Y2K czar? And I’ll bet you didn’t know about the mysterious 2014 assault on Silicon Valley’s power supply (including AK 47s) that has barely been publicized, and that the FBI has been unwilling to characterize as terrorism. We’re talking serious, heavy-duty anecdotes here, delivered in the most thoughtful and digestible form.

Reading Troy’s account of the famous “long hot summers” of rioting during the Johnson administration while watching news coverage of Charlotte has been eye-opening. Compare Hillary’s reluctance to comment on the Charlotte looting with Lyndon Johnson’s amazing inability to face the reality of the 1965 Watts riot. Watch talking heads debate whether Atty. Gen. Loretta Lynch ought to fly down to Charlotte and interpose herself between the cops and the demonstrators, then read about New York mayor John Lindsay’s harrowingly dangerous visit to Harlem amidst the rioting that followed Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.

In a thousand ways, you will see the events of the day in a new light after reading Tevi Troy’s Shall We Wake the President? Passing on this book? Now that would be a disaster.

Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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