889 Fire and Fury

I had stopped writing about Trump. For a while now I have felt just like ...

… a hefty chunk of America and the world has greeted this spectacle by grabbing a bag of popcorn, plonking down on a couch and waiting for the next instalment of the reality show.”


Yet, the Trump soap-opera is irresistible; I turn on the 6:30 News and it’s like: What has he done today?


“On election night, Melania wept with despair. ‘Now I’ll have to stay with the creepy pussy-grabber for at least another four years’, she sobbed.” 

(Hmmm, I think it's safe to say we're in the land of satire here, see The Guardian; soo funny) 

Reading about this book is interesting, to say the least (I don’t think I’ll bring myself to actually getting it and reading it in full). But here’s The Times review in full ...


The most significant claim in Wolff’s book is one that well-sourced Washington reporters already know: that every single member of Trump’s senior staff believes he is incapable of functioning in his job. They regard him as a moron, an idiot, a spoilt, delusional brat.


The core reason to believe almost everything in Michael Wolff’s devastating exposé of the Trump White House is that we knew all of it already.


We’ve watched for an entire year as a delusional, belligerent know-nothing has careened and plunged through what’s left of American constitutional norms. If you came across Trump’s Twitter feed without knowing whose it was, you’d assume it was a crazy old geezer, slumped on a couch, remote in hand, venting at Fox News all day, the orange powder from his constant snacking visible on his fingertips. But you’d also be unable to ignore how vindictive, vain, bullying and cruel this pensioner is. I’ve tried for a couple of years — I really have — to find some redeeming characteristic in Trump, and have come up empty.


Wolff is a dodgy player. But his sleaziness is usually with respect to ground rules: sneakily turning off-the-record quotes into on-the-record ones, using second-hand sources and gossip, rather than the meticulous and somewhat dry journalism of the Washington press corps, and creating great narrative, even if the strict chronology defies a simple story.

Yet this White House is so dysfunctional that he didn’t even need to employ any shenanigans. He was allowed to do what he wanted, talk to anyone (directed by the White House itself), and the new players were so disorganised and naive he got away with it.

And Wolff doesn’t make stuff up from whole cloth. His main source, Steve Bannon, has not repudiated any of the astounding quotes from the book — including the view that the Trump campaign engaged in “treasonous” dealings with the Kremlin’s emissaries.


The pushback from the White House has, in turn, largely been a vague denial of everything — rather than a clear refutation of anything in particular — along with the insistence that Trump is, well, some kind of mad genius, whose shameless lying, massive ignorance of policy, constantly shifting alliances, staggering laziness and contempt for liberal democracy have nevertheless achieved important policy goals. The “mad king” White House, in this view, is supplemented by a “sane cabinet” White House, and therefore the damaging charges against the president may be true, but are largely moot. This is not, it is important to note, a refutation of Trump’s unfitness or of Wolff’s sourcing. It is a changing of the subject.


The weakness of the book is that it concentrates on drama, personalities and the spectacle of a self-described “very stable genius”. It fails to note something arguably more important: that in the month before the book’s publication, Congress passed a tax bill that was a Republican fantasy — drastically cutting taxes on corporations and the super-wealthy, adding a trillion dollars to the national debt, and opening up the Alaskan Arctic to oil drilling, a goal that the Republicans have tried and failed to achieve for the past 30 years.


Last year, Trump allowed the most extreme elements of the GOP to add countless judges to the federal bench, and so shift the judicial branch to the hard right for decades. This new year has seen them expand offshore oil drilling beyond anything Reagan dreamt of, continue the crackdown on illegal immigration (200,000 Salvadorians are now being deported after living in the US for decades), and wage a new war on widely popular, legal cannabis. In other words, the Republican Party is finding a way to cordon off Trump as far as is possible from actually running the country, but is using him as a base-pleaser and an antagonist to everyone they hate.


And the core truth of the book remains: the American republic is now well into its decadent Roman phase, where unqualified celebrities and reality-show stars become figureheads of the idiocracy (Oprah is the Democratic alternative), and where brutal polarisation means that each party, if dominant, focuses on undoing every single thing done by its rival. For this moment in American decline, Trump is the perfect president: driven by hatred of the other tribe, and by incoherent prejudices and conspiracy theories.


And this is the story of the moment. Trump’s goal is to normalise this insanity, and Wolff simply refuses to play along. (It’s worth noting that it’s hard to dismiss Wolff as a typical left-liberal journalist. He has made a career of baiting liberal media types, is largely shunned by them, and began last year as an anti-anti-Trump polemicist.) It is not normal for a president to read nothing, and to spend hours a day tweeting at live cable news. It is not normal for a president to assail his own intelligence services, to threaten and belittle private citizens.


The most significant claim in Wolff’s book is one that well-sourced Washington reporters already know: that every single member of Trump’s senior staff believes he is incapable of functioning in his job. They regard him as a moron, an idiot, a spoilt, delusional brat: “Bannon described Trump as a simple machine,” writes Wolff. “The On switch was full of flattery, the Off switch full of calumny. The flattery was dripping, slavish, cast in ultimate superlatives, and entirely disconnected from reality: so-and-so was the best, the most incredible, the ne plus ultra, the eternal. The calumny was angry, bitter, resentful, ever a casting out and closing of the iron door.” You never knew which of these crude binaries would show up each day.


And that’s why very little in this book shocks. Every single senior Trump staffer has been leaking like a colander from the moment this farce began. As Wolff notes, this White House has achieved “landmark transparency”. And so we should be in no way surprised that Bannon, only recently lauded as a great friend, is now in Siberia. An unstable, disloyal, mercurial and vindictive boss will tend to attract unstable, disloyal, mercurial and vindictive staffers.


Despite all this, a hefty chunk of America and the world has greeted this spectacle by grabbing a bag of popcorn, plonking down on a couch and waiting for the next instalment of the reality show. Some of this rather staggering complacency is due to a near golden age in some respect: Trump arrived on the scene as a whole bunch of indicators turned upward. Eight years of growth in America have brought unemployment to a seven-year low, the Dow to 25,000, and median household income to a record high. Crime rates continue to plunge. More Americans now have health insurance than ever before. Isis has been destroyed in its heartland. Thanks to Obama, the US is no longer bogged down in occupying ungovernable failed states. Everything on the surface looks fine. The more drastic changes that Trump proposed — a trade war with China, an end to Nafta — have all disappeared down the plughole of what passes for his attention span. There’s a growing sense that perhaps we can ride this out, that we can get through the next three years without nuclear catastrophe, a constitutional crisis, civil unrest or an economic downswing.


And maybe we can. Maybe the drunk driver, squinting through the car window, skirting the kerb, swerving sharply around potholes on black ice, can avoid killing someone or trashing the car on the rest of his journey home. But the question that now hangs in front of America, and most specifically the Republican Party, is whether this risk can really be afforded, whether the stability of the world is worth a tax cut or some oil drilling, or whether it is the responsibility of those in Congress to acknowledge the emergency that is upon us.


We’ve known all about this shambles for a long time now. The real merit of Wolff’s book is that it brings it all together in one riveting narrative, with the truth coming directly sourced from the president’s own mortified advisers. The emperor’s clothes were falling down, but now they have vanished. And so we enter this new year suspended in surrealism: an emergency that still isn’t an emergency, a crisis that is not a crisis, while the opportunists make their moves, the irrational emperor steams forward, and we all wonder if reality will ever actually intrude on this farcical reality show.