This weekend in the comments, I said something disparaging about Michael Wolff’s book on the Trump administration, mentioning I was only half finished with it. I’ve finished now, and I would change my reaction from “meh” to “huh.” That is, it got better, but I’m still not sure if it’s worth reading since its general thesis was pretty evident before it was published. I did laugh out loud once (more about that later), but mostly I had a Stengal-like reaction: “Can’t anybody here play this game?” The following is not a review–this book has been reviewed enough–it’s a reaction to a description of the executive branch of our government that Monty Python would spit on as being too absurd.. A dead parrot would be a step-up in this administration, according to this book. At least it wouldn’t tweet.
For those of you mercifully unaware of Fire and Fury, it’s a recounting of the first nine months of the Trump administration by Michael Wolff, who is not considered a reputable journalist, but who is considered a damn good collector of gossip. Wolff was invited to the Trump White House because he defended the President in print. Then because the place was so disorganized, he just stayed, sitting on a couch near the Oval Office for months, taping conversations and interviews, a kind of journalistic Man Who Came To Dinner. The Trump admin has declared this book all lies (Pot, meet Kettle), and the journalism world has warned that Wolff is capable of making stuff up, so many grains of salt should be needed, except . . .
It’s all too believable.
The stuff I can’t believe is the stuff that’s been on the news, the stuff that’s been proven true. I started to list all the incredibly dumb things this administration has done, but the list was too long and too depressing. These are the people who held meetings with Russians to discredit Hilary Clinton and then defended themselves by releasing e-mails that proved they’d had meetings with Russians to defeat Hilary Clinton. How bad is the Gang That Couldn’t Govern Straight? According to this book, Steve Bannon is the closest thing they have to a voice of reason, and he’s insane.
I knew it was bad on Pennsylvania Ave. (everybody knows that), so I wasn’t caught up in the book at the beginning. And aside from a few new bits of info, I didn’t really learn anything important by the end, although that may be because the news has been doing excerpts for a week. What I did get was a much greater sense of doom: Nobody is driving this train. If this were a novel, there’d be a hero or heroine who worked behind the scenes to save the country, and there are plenty of people working behind the scenes, but they’re all out for themselves. In the entire book of quotes and conversations, not one person is quoted as saying, “This is what America needs.” It’s all about what they need. Steve Bannon comes the closest when he talks about the need to get out of Afghanistan, but even he frames it in terms of Trump’s base: it’s their kids who are cannon fodder in the war. And of course, he’s right. He’s just right for the wrong reasons, trying to keep Trump in power so he’s in power, not to save blue-collar kids. In that sense, this book is not only depressing as hell, it’s terrifying..
So I could take comfort in the fact that Wolff is known for playing fast and loose with quotes and conclusions. Except that even the journalists who warn about his dodgy history have said that nothing in this book rings false, plus Wolff says he has tapes. He must be praying that Trump sues him so he can play those tapes in court. There are things in here that answer questions I’ve had all along; suddenly many inexplicable things make sense, if you’re living in a Trumpian world.
For example, the Trump admin is notorious for being the leakiest in history. Who, I wondered, would leak around a paranoid President? Turns out, everybody. Jared and Ivanka leaked about Bannon and Priebus, Bannon leaked about Jared and Ivanka and Priebus, Priebus leaked about . . . you get the picture. And of course, the loosest lips of all belong to Trump and his Twitter finger. There’s so much infighting in this book that it’s a war story more than a political book: they’re all knifing each other and cancelling each other out, and while they’re doing that, the country is careening toward the edge.
Another example: What the hell was Anthony Scaramucci thinking when he made that call to the New Yorker journalist? Turns out he wasn’t thinking, he was drunk on his ass because he wasn’t getting what he thought he’d get from Trump and his personal life was coming undone. That’s the place where I laughed, by the way. He told the New Yorker reporter that he wasn’t like Steve Bannon, “I’m not trying to suck my own cock,” and the next sentence from Wolff is, “In fact, Bannon learned about the piece when fact-checkers from the magazine called him for comment about Scaramucci’s accusation that he sucked his own cock.” I couldn’t help it, I laughed out loud trying to imagine that conversation. “Mr. Bannon, Mr. Scaramucci has made a statement about your ability to self-pleasure yourself, and we were wondering if you’d confirm . . .”
The book ends in October, 2017, and of course since then Bannon, who reportedly intended to run for President in 2020 because he knew Trump wouldn’t make it that far, has since been defenestrated for criticizing Jared and Ivanka, who come across as more venal and stupid than evil here, and are now facing down prosecution because money laundering is allegedly a hobby of theirs. Then there’s the host of evil henchmen who have now been indicted and are cooperating with the special prosecutor who is in turn being targeted by Republican congressmen who evidently can’t remember Watergate even though most of them were around for it and therefore have no worries about being on the wrong side of history. Meanwhile Trump is trading playground insults with the madman on the other side of the globe by telling him that his button is bigger (men should never be given positions of power unless castrated), and . . .
So this book is sadly incomplete because history keeps happening, and even more sadly, there will undoubtedly be much more to come. One of the most depressing things about this book is that it portrays all of these people as incredibly stupid. It’s also one of the most reassuring things. They have immense power, and they ‘re ignoring it to play picayune power games in the White House. If there was a governing intellect up there, we’d be in trouble. Instead we have Trump who will most certainly have destroyed the ascendency of the Presidency over the other two branches of government to bring us back to three equal branches, Sessions who is singlehandedly making national legalization of marijuana a probability, and a Republican congress who have greatly increased the changes of a single payer health system and are currently doing their best to shoot themselves in the feet for the 2018 midterms. That’s before we get to the other clowns in cabinet positions, all of whom are taking positions that can only be described as evil while they dash about the country on private planes at the taxpayers’ expense. The final takeaway from this book isn’t just that the Trump administrations policies are bad, it’s that the administration is abysmally bad at making them a reality, and absolute genius at making voters hate them. Thank god, these people can’t play this game.
Vote in the 2018 midterms, people. If you’re not sure that’s necessary, read this book.