Fire and Fury – inside the Trump White House
by Michael Wolff
Pubs. Henry Holt and Co.
The furore surrounding Wolff’s book is unsurprising because he lifts the lid on the foetid cesspit that is Trump’s White House. In the tradition of scandal-mongering journalism, he reveals the back-stabbing, in-fighting and squabbling of this ramshackle administration of bigots, ignoramuses and incompetents.
Successful Lid-lifting exercises are not new and offer their authors rich rewards, even if what they reveal is less rewarding for the reader. Trump’s election and administration have been mired in controversy from the start and already he threatens to compete with Roman emperor Caligula’s antics. Wolff’s insider’s revelations embellish the tale, but does little to reveal the political and economic factors behind Trump’s elevation? The collapse of Trump’s flagship aim of repealing Obama’s Affordable Care Act, for instance, is given less than a single sentence in the book.
Unlike Hillary Clinton, Trump came to be the soundboard for the widespread discontent in the US, and that deserves greater examination. Among the book’s chief shortcomings is its failure to explain how in the world’s ‘greatest democracy’ someone like Trump became president.
Wolff’s book rips off any remaining veils, allowing those who know Trump best to reveal his obscene nudity in full. But Wolff is more consumed with the news media and personalities than policy issues. He says he’s not interested in politics but people and power … and while what he writes is compulsively fascinating, he does exclude facts and fudges specifics. He excoriates the entire Trump entourage and is a keen judge of character. Much of what he says, though, has to be taken on trust, as few sources are cited.
Wolff didn’t write this book because he abhors Trump’s policies. He is a journalist who, like Trump, is not squeamish about bending the truth in favour of a good story. His book opens with a dinner conversation that included Bannon and Ailes, former Fox News boss, before the inauguration, offering verbatim quotations. He says the dinner took place ‘in a Greenwich Village townhouse’, but omits to reveal that it was his home and he was hosting it.
Bannon has the loudest mouth – a spurned lover invariably becomes a most vitriolic critic. He brands the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower, attended by a number of Russians, as ‘treasonous’, unpatriotic and bad shit’. Wolff also quotes Henry Kissinger’s take on the internal feud between Kushner and Bannon as ‘a war between the Jews and non-Jews’.
As Jonathan Martin in the New York Times (8 Jan) puts it: ‘Wolff is unsparing in his portrayal of Trump as an aberrant chief executive, not only detached from governance but barely literate. He summons withering on-the-record assessments from ostensible allies of a seemingly infantile president.’
Fire and Fury has ignited a war that will leave its share of ‘collateral damage’. In essence the book underlines that Trump is simply Trump, he has no clear ideology, no political cause, he is simply an extreme egotist.