(President Trump and Stephen Bannon)
By this time everyone in America has probably heard of Michael Wolff’s new book, FIRE AND FURY: INSIDE THE TRUMP WHITE HOUSE. Wolff has appeared on every cable news or network program and ‘talking heads” couldn’t get enough of the material he presented. The question remains is what affect will the book have, and what percentage of what is presented is accurate or factual. What is clear is that Wolff has written a sometimes gossipy account of the first nine months of the Trump White House. In fact, the first third of the book is an insider account with intimate details of the Trump family, the attack of Steve Bannon on left-wing liberalism, a chapter that tries to put Jarvanka (as Bannon describes Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner), in their respective places, and an attempt to explain what the roles are for Kellyanne Conway, Steven Miller, Hope Hicks, and a host of “supposed” Trump friends and advisors. Trump himself comes across as a germ phobic megalomaniac, who like Louis XIV sees himself as the “Sun King,” in which his universe and acquaintances revolve around him. The question one must ask after dealing with the “Muslim Ban,” the similarities between Trump and Kushner, an explanation of Bannon’s world view and other topics; can Wolff’s sources be relied upon?
(Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump)
As one reads on you hope to emerge from what Kurt Vonnegut described as “cloud-cuckoo land.” In Trump’s world his associates conducted business as usual. Michael Flynn could accept money from the Turkish and Russian governments, Paul Manafort could make millions managing accounts in the Ukraine, and family members could proceed as usual because they never thought he could win. Perhaps Wolff’s most interesting analogy was comparing Mel Brooks’ hit Broadway show “The Producers” to the Trump campaign. In Brooks’ story the protagonists would write a script and attract people to over invest in the show, knowing it would be a failure and they would reap the profit – the problem would be if the show was a success! The same is true for the Trump campaign, for the candidate, even if he lost, would make money as his brand would be accentuated. Problems would only arise if he won.
As far as the organization in the White House, there was little during the first three months, if any. Wolff best sums it up by quoting Katie Walsh, White House Deputy Chief of Staff, “Steve Bannon was running the Steve Bannon White House, Jared Kushner was running the Michael Bloomberg White House, and Reince Priebus was running the Paul Ryan White House,” (117) each person was a polished leaker, and Trump was in the middle. In fact there was so much leaking from within the Trump administration that it was probably the most transparent administration in history.
The Syrian chemical attack of April, 2017 is a case in point when dealing with White House dysfunction and decision making. Trump, apart from his bragging of how intelligent he is does not read and has a very short attention span. Since he has no knowledge of most issues when a crisis occurs that calls for his input that in of itself, is a crisis. For Trump any decision that he arrives at rests on how it affects him personally, not what is best for the country or the American people as a whole. When National Security advisor H. R. McMaster tried to advise the president concerning the actions of the Assad government, Wolff points out that what occurred was “an exercise in trying to tutor a recalcitrant and resentful student.” As Trump has stated, McMaster “bored the shit out of me.” (189)
(General H.R. McMaster and President Trump)
One of the major questions that has arisen of late is whether Trump is a racist, a question that has been exacerbated by his recent remarks characterizing African and other regions of the world as “shitholes” (Freud would characterize Trump as stuck in the anal stage, age 2-4), in addition to remarks concerning white supremacists after the events in Charlottesville, Va. Wolff discusses Trump’s racism in the context of antisemitism in a chapter entitled, “Goldman.” Here Wolff encapsulates the Bannon (anti-Semite) and Kushner (orthodox Jew) battle to influence the president and establish their own power base. According to Wolff, Henry Kissinger described the West Wing as “a war between Jews and non-Jews.” Bannon ridicules Kushner’s Israel portfolio, and the sentiments are returned in the context of the racist alt-right. This represent further evidence of dysfunction with this type of conflict just to get the ear of the president, an important component of decision making as Trump’s conclusions are in many cases based on the last person he has spoken with.
A major sub heading for Wolff is his biographical narrative that deals with Bannon, a man who sees himself as the protector of the nation’s soul. Wolff follows Bannon from crisis to crisis, through lost influence and then a comeback, and his wars with Jarvanka and their supporters. Bannon is central to the book as a source, as well as putting forth his own opinions. In reference to the June, 2016 meeting between Don, Jr., Paul Manafort and company with the Russians, Bannon commented that “the chance that Don, Jr. did not walk these jumos up to his father’s office on the twenty-sixth floor is zero.” Further, Bannon accused Don, Jr. of treason and being unpatriotic. Bannon’s comments would eviscerate Don, Jr. saying “this was all about money laundering,” and “they’re going to crack Don, Jr. like an egg on national TV.” (255) As far as Ivanka was concerned, Bannon referred to her as “dumb as a brick” and even called her “a fucking liar” in front of her father. In Bannon’s mind he was setting up the firewall to protect Trump from the Russian investigation which was caused when Jarvanka recommended firing FBI Director James Come. Wolff describes a war between Stephen Bannon and the First Family which could only end poorly for Bannon.
(General John Kelly)
The problem with what Wolff describes is that it is difficult to believe that you couldn’t make this stuff up! The discussion of H.R. McMaster trying to get Trump to make a decision on Afghanistan, the Anthony Scaramucci episode, Trump’s personal war with the hosts of “Morning Joe,” General John Kelly’s attempt to reign in the president and bring structure to the West Wing, the war of words between Trump and Kim Jung un, and an almost daily bombardment of chaos is a description of the reality that is currently the Trump presidency.
Wolff describes a president who has little interest in the detail that is needed to be president. Much of what he tells us is not new and many of his judgements are quite vague, a strategy he probably adopted to protect himself from libel laws. But taken as a whole, stripping away the gossip, Wolff’s narrative is very scary. All one needs to see is what has happened since the book came out. Bannon has been banished, the president’s loyalists have gone after Robert Mueller, and Trump’s launching a campaign to undermine the FBI and the Justice Department. Yesterday, we learned that Trump ordered the firing of Mueller last June, but the White House counsel refused to carry out the order and threatened to resign. For me, each day is an adventure that produces further angst. Hopefully in the near, as someone once said, “our long national nightmare [will soon] be over.”
(President Trump and Stephen Bannon)