Former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama‘s first project for Netflix will be an adaption of a scathing book about President Trump‘s administration, The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis, according to the latest episode of Katie Couric’s podcast.
“[President Obama] optioned the book to come up with a series for Netflix to help people better understand the government,” Katie Couric said during her interview with Lewis, who broke the news.
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In May, the Obamas announced their decision to produce a variety of content for Netflix through their company Higher Ground Productions.
“We hope to cultivate and curate the talented, inspiring, creative voices who are able to promote greater empathy and understanding between peoples,” the former president previously said, according to a Netflix press release, “and help them share their stories with the entire world.”
The Obamas’ adaption of The Fifth Risk will be their first endeavor in a series production. And it will serve as an entertaining and necessary “civics lesson,” explained Lewis, who is the author of other bestselling books that have been adapted to film, like The Big Short and Moneyball.
As with his other books, in The Fifth Risk Lewis informs and entertains readers about topics that can sometimes be considered tedious. During his interview with Couric, he explained how his book delves into what he sees as the huge issues that Trump’s administration is creating across departments in the federal government — issues that Lewis says are endangering the very stability of the country.
Despite Lewis’ condemnation of Trump, a spokesperson for the Obamas’ production company, Higher Ground, said that The Fifth Risk Netflix project would center around the “civic lessons” it presents and not attack Trump, according to The New York Times.
It will be a “humorous series demystifying the little-known ways in which federal agencies improve our lives and serve our nation, from the food we eat to the planes we travel on,” the spokeswoman told the Times.
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According to the author, problems in the administration began before and during the transition.
“Most everyone involved with [Trump’s election campaign], including Trump, were not prepared to win,” Lewis said. “He had not taken seriously the idea that he had to take over this operation.”
According to Lewis, the new president decided to appoint people into government office based on “appearance,” rather than experience.
As a result, many of the briefings that Obama’s team had prepared “for the better part of a year” to present to the new administration were not even seen, Lewis says. For instance, the Department of Energy would typically show incoming officials how to “manage the nuclear arsenal,” so they can “test atomic weapons without actually blowing one up,” Lewis explained.
“Three months ago, I was still getting briefings from very important people in the government that had never been given because no one had ever showed up to hear it,” Lewis said during the podcast. “It’s just a loss of knowledge. Who can run anything that way? There’s no decent argument for not learning about the thing you need to run.”
Lewis revealed that his book also delves into Trump’s alleged ties with Russia and how that affected his decisions during the transition. Specifically, Lewis addressed Trump’s decision to appoint Michael Flynn as national security adviser, despite then-senior aide Chris Christie’s warnings against the idea. Lewis argued that Flynn’s own ties to Russia are a “plausible explanation” as to why Trump wanted him on his team. (Flynn has since pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his connections with Russian officials.)
“I think [Trump] had positive reasons for wanting chaos. I think they were friends of his… people who had connections to Russia like Mike Flynn, who he wanted to be able to put in important positions,” Lewis said. “I think [Trump] thinks he functions better if things are not orderly.. [He] was just kind of attracted to, ‘Let the chips fall where they may.’ ‘I’ll take care of all of this. I’ll decide who is going to be in the cabinet,’ mainly by casting them by appearance.”
Those type of staffing decisions have huge consequences, Lewis argued. The government is being dangerously mismanaged, according to his book. Lewis’ hope is to reframe Americans’ understanding of how government works.
“Trump is a symptom, not just cause here. We don’t elect someone who is so ignorant and negligent unless we have gotten to the point where we so misvalue and misunderstand the thing he’s running,” Lewis told Couric. “If society understood the government, if we all had a good civics lesson, we’d all say that person shouldn’t be running that because it’d be a catastrophe because that enterprise, the government, is really important.”
He continued: “The narrative needs to change first, that’s why I wrote the book… So people stop seeing the government as the problem and start seeing it as a tool, as a solution. If this society is going to survive, it’s got to happen.”