On 1 May I picked up a copy of Fire And Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff around noon and was finished before 10 PM, took about four hours to read in total. The prose flows well and has a mildly gossipy air to it; but unless you’ve been willfully trying to not pay attention the book does not reveal anything that we did not already know: Trump is stupid. And I mean that quite literally; he is genuinely unintelligent, unlearned and uninterested in learning more. He is aware of his own limitations inasmuch he does not like to work with people who are openly smarter than him. He views the world as transactional and often zero sum. Unable to understand cause and effect he desperately wants to be liked but continually does not fathom why when he does X for people they do not do Y because he did W yesterday. He demands suicidal loyalty of his subordinates but casually defenestrates them as soon as he sees no further immediate use for them. It is a damning description of the man we all know he is: an idiot.
The dramatis personae of the book are the eclectic group of lunatics, halfwits and chancers that we’ve seen in the news for the past three years. The book only portrays Bannon and the Generals (except for Flynn) as having any sort of discipline; and only Bannon came in with a vision. Bannon seems to have been the most willing to talk to Wolff on the record and in some ways is the protagonist of the book. If his politics were not so poisonous one could also see him sympathetically: a man desperately trying to impose an order, any order, to an administration built around the personal rule by an easily swayed moron. The Generals Kelly, Mattis and McMaster all tried to bring order to their initial offices but all of them realized that the man they work for is feckless and militantly opposed to listening to them. As time goes on we see how Trump’s affinity towards generals and admirals is a self-serving exploitation of Americans’ deference to men in uniform. In the end their willingness to work for him merely corrupts them; and has no lasting effect upon Trump himself, a man who proudly describes himself as the same person now at age 71 as he was when he was age 3.
Jared Kushner is described to be very much like Trump himself at a younger age, the son of an overbearing and cruel father, an education that did not stick and an unearned arrogance. Wolff, directly quoting Bannon but possibly sourced from others as well, portrays Kushner and Ivanka as prime movers in the firing of James Comey because they (and Kushner’s ex-con father Charles) feared the FBI and DOJ in their investigation of the Trump campaign would dig into the finances of the Trump and Kushner families and find something, anything that could send them all to jail or at least bankruptcy. The elder sons of Donald Trump are described as existing “in an enforced infantile relationship to their father, a role that embarrassed them, but one they also professionally embraced.” Trump was an absentee father to his older children and largely retained that role for his youngest Barron. Personally I think Trump does not see his offspring as real people but rather as dolls, mere extensions of himself; and he keeps control over them by holding the purse strings with the very real threat that he will cut them off and cast them out of the only life they’ve ever known.
Trump’s daily routine has been the most popular Washington pseudoscience since Kremlinology. The cheeseburger bit was fodder for the news for weeks before the book came out. It was merely one sentence in a paragraph that had more serious implications for me: Trump spends his evenings watching three TVs; presumably on three different channels or one channel going for a Fahrenheit 451 parlor wall effect; and calling the various members of New York’s aristocracy, media moguls and businessmen he knows and complains bitterly about his life. About how mean and awful the media is to him, how bad Senators and Congressmen treat him, how incompetent and disloyal his own staff his, he feels out his own firing plans, should he fire Bannon, Priebus or Sessions? The people on the other side of the line in turn do not take these calls in confidence and it is Trump himself who is the source of many of the leaks he obsesses about. This is an almost tragic figure, if the tragedy was not almost wholly of his own creation.
The speed and frequency of crises in the Trump administration is staggering. Reading this book, with its focus on the time period between August 2016 and August 2017, was surreal at times. This particular walk down memory lane was not the most pleasant experience; but better to remember what happened and be discomforted than to forget entirely. I realize that most people are creatures of the moment, but the pace of the past two years has been grueling. Sadly for those hoping that that pace was intentional this book does not lend much support to that theory. While difficult to discern, there is a difference between incompetence and malice. And while this administration is guilty of both it is most often the former rather than the latter.
If you can I do recommend you read the book. Pick it up from the local library, though you may have to wait a while; I signed up for the waitlist for this book in January and only received it in May. It is amusing, disheartening, annoying and infuriating. I still think this book does not tell anything we did not already know, it merely gives us details and dates to what we most feared. The man we elected to the presidency is uniquely and wholly unfit for it and even his own staff, the people who in theory should be the true believers, do not believe he should be president. He’s stupid. He knows it, his staff knows it, we know it and now we all have to live with it.