Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White houseMichael Wolff, Little Brown, 2017, ISBN 978-1-4087-1140-8, 321pp
The furore around Wolff’s book erupted while we were away in Éire attending my son’s wedding. But we live in a global world with instant access to news and I could not resist following the excitement of the revelations in the book, of the aborted “cease and desist” attempt by Trump and then the rushed publication of Wolff’s book. Eventually I found a copy in Dubray’s in Dublin and for €16.99 it was mine. There are few, if any (and I would submit there are no) benefits of long-haul flights but you do at least have the chance to read and I had knocked off this somewhat lightweight book somewhere between Paris and Singapore. When I say “lightweight” what I mean is that it is an easy read and that it didn’t really tell me anything that I didn’t already know (or that I didn’t already think that I knew).
The 12 – 18 January 2018 edition of The New Statesman has emblazoned on its cover “Toddler in Chief: The empty rage of Donald Trump”. And that’s what this book confirms The leader of the free world (as the Yanks have always liked to see themselves) is a narcissist who cannot understand why the media don’t love him. He appears to have the attention span of a gnat with ADHD. He doesn’t take advice … or, indeed, even listen to it. His response to anything that goes wrong is to fire someone. All this we knew, which leaves the question; is it worth reading this book? The answer to that question is probably yes, but only if you are somewhat interested in the peculiar US political process and if you can get away without paying €16.99.
In many ways the story is about the people who surround Trump as much as it is about Trump himself. Front and centre of these people is (or was) Steve Bannon. Inasmuch as many one put any structure into the actions of the early months of Trump administration, it seems to have been the now largely discredited Bannon. He has decidedly right-wing views that are perhaps less outré in the US than they would be here. It was he who drove the ill-fated immigration bans somehow believing that failing to consult with anyone would be alright. The book also describes the lack of organisation in the Trump White House. As well Bannon, Wolff describes former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and Jared Kushner. Kushner is Trump’ son-in-law; he is married to Ivanka Trump and the couple became known as The Jarvanka. Priebus had been a Republican Party apparatchik though he had attempted to be elected to the Wisconsin State Senate in 2004. Kushner comes across as a privileged rich kid with no more smarts than the average bear with a father who was convicted of illegal campaign contributions, tax evasion, and witness tampering, and served time in prison. These three vied with one another for the ear of Trump, but none of them was in charge. We are left with the impression (which we could have deduced from reading the newspapers) that the Trump White House administration lacks leadership. The departure of Priebus and his replacement by Flynn in July (after only 5 months) still leaves Flynn with the problem of dealing with The Jarvanka.
Fire and Fury has been criticised for being full of mistakes and typos. It is. I suspect this is at least in part because the book was rushed out following the White House’s initial attempts to suppress it. The obvious errors are irritating but they do not stop the reader from getting the picture. One would expect that a second edition would correct them. I doubt that there will be a second edition. It’s more likely that there will be a whole new book dealing with the second year of the Trump presidency. There’s nothing in Wolff’s book that leads one to suppose that the second year will be any more structured or less divisive than the first year. And indeed, as I write, that second year is starting with a shutdown of the US Federal Government. As they say; only in America.
There was an article in the Guardian a day or so ago that commented on Melania Trump’s relative absence from public life. The article noted, as does Wolff in his book, that she cried when her husband was elected. Wolff tells us that she was only persuaded that he should run in the first place because no one thought he would win. That alone tells us much about the death of the talent pool for American political leaders. So, if you are interested and if someone gives you this book then read it … but read it within the next couple of months or the world will have changed.