I sat down and read Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff last night. It was one of those books that I had to read just to see what all the fuss was about.
It isn’t great, but it’s not full on “tabloid trash” either. The biggest revelations have already been discussed in the media, namely Bannon’s Betrayal and Melania’s Election Night Tears, but I still managed to be surprised by how plausible much of it was.
First thing’s first. This is a stridently anti-Trump book. The author detests Trump with every fiber of his existence and it seethes out of every single page. Like, literally, Wolff seems to have worked in a gratuitous personal attack on Trump on almost every page. Overall, I feel like Wolff’s complete lack of objectivity weakens the overall message of the book. There really is an interesting story to be told, but I can see a lot of people putting it down when they can’t get past the nonstop ad hominems in the first few chapters.
Wolff argues (many times…so many times) that Trump is a complete idiot who never wanted to be president at all. His election was a complete fluke. The Republicans hated foreigners and Trump just happened, by sheer chance, to have also been hating foreigners in 2015 and was able to win the primary. He was lucky. No, wait. He was unlucky because he won and didn’t really want to. Laugh if you want to, but that really is the essence of the book. It’s as if Wolff would be pained, not only to compliment Trump, but even to fail to insult him at a perfectly good paragraph break.
Unfortunately for Wolff, the book has more than its fair share of typos. Pro tip: When you’re writing a book all about how the subject of it is a complete and careless idiot, you might want to take the time to check your work to avoid looking like a smug idiot.
Not that I mind that Wolff is anti-Trump. If you remember my review of Shattered, I complained that the authors were clearly sympathetic to Hillary Clinton and they didn’t want to write the book that they did. They wanted to write the story of Clinton’s victory instead. The lack of any real emotion or deserving tragic figure (“Damn you, Mook, and your flawed analytics model!”) left the book feeling flat. Fire and Fury is never dull, by comparison.
The Trump Derangement aside, what you should know going in is that the overarching theme of this book is that Steve Bannon is the True Prophet of Trumpism and Trump failed him.
I could go on and on about how Wolff constantly attacks Trump to give liberals hard-ons, but that would just distract me from addressing the real story. See Bannon, not Trump, is the real main character of the story. Most of the narrative is from his point of view and the story ends just after Bannon is finally let go. Bannon, for his part rarely criticizes Trump in any quote (he’s almost the only one), but he blames everyone else for how things turned out.
Basically, Trump wanted to keep his inner circle restricted to family members. Bannon detested Jared and Ivanka Kushner (Jarvanka) and he strove against them, their stupid ideas, and their influence with all of his might. But Trump just wouldn’t listen to him. It’s because of Jarvanka that Trump’s presidency is already doomed, as Bannon sees it, and so Trumpism must be served by a new champion. One who can defend the faith, courageously and honorably. Who might that be? Why, Steve Bannon, of course.
Full disclosure: I’m not against Bannon, necessarily. On pretty much all of the policy issues described in the book where he struggled with Jarvanka, I agreed with his positions. I don’t even disagree with him that Jarvanka probably played an extremely oversized role in sowing so much of the chaos in the first year of the Trump Administration. Where I break with Bannon is that I think he’s far too ambitious for his own good. I agree with Bannon on policy and disagree with Bannon on Bannon, I guess.
Thing is though, is that as I read the book, I found that Bannon wasn’t generally wrong. Maybe that’s not the best way of putting it. He was wrong about the big picture. I don’t agree with his pronouncement that Trump’s presidency is dead. But his interpretation of individual events and trends? Yeah, I this is where I find the book to be plausible.
Wolff provides a fine narrative on just a few of the most newsworthy events we discussed here on RVS and he offers some perspective on just what in the hell was going on. Spoiler: It was Ivanka’s fault. Except when it was Jared’s. Which was always because of how often Trump listened to him. Here’s just one incident, though possibly the most consequential:
Admittedly, there is some confirmation bias at work on my part. The Comey firing, Afghanistan strategy, and Obamacare repeal collapse are all described in the book similarly to how I imagined them in my posts on those topics. Oh, Wolff also agrees that the Russia collusion didn’t happen (yep), though he places most of the blame for the myth’s endurance on Trump’s own actions and statements.
The real action mostly centers around the conflict between Bannon and Jarvanka with hapless Reince Priebus caught in the middle and even if none of it is true, it’s a great story. The chaos, the leaks, and the missteps could have been controlled much earlier but the President struggled to choose sides between ideology and family idiocy. Nobody feared or respected Priebus. Pence, who as Vice President might have instilled some discipline in a different White House, is barely mentioned and that’s only to note that he stayed clear the whole time. I’m sad that the book ended when John Kelly took over as CoS (and fired Bannon) because it looked like the situation was finally about to improve. But Wolff didn’t want the book to have a happy ending, did he?
I think the Trump Administration reacted appropriately to Fire and Fury by smoking Bannon. This book is baldly an effort by Bannon to begin creating a new power base by stealing Trump’s.
Forget “baldly”. Let’s go with “explicitly”.
Having read the book, I understand that Trump had to put Bannon down because he correctly identified it as a mutiny. Any Administration would be wise to crush an incipient movement that threatened to split its supporters. It has nothing to do with Bannon being right or wrong. At the moment, it looks like Bannon is finished but I’m not sure. If Trump fails, then Bannon will certainly rise again. Oddly, if that isn’t what Wolff was really trying to achieve with this book, I have no idea what else it could have been.
I’m willing to break with all of the conservative commentators claiming that Fire and Fury is a collection of lies that should be ignored. To the contrary, I recommend reading it. Anti-Trumpers should read it because it has so much of that mindless and repetitive hatred of Trump that they love so very much. Seriously, that enough alone should do it. I’m sure Wolff has a few adjectives to describe Trump you haven’t heard more than once.
Just remember as you read this book or listen to media coverage about it that everything in it is intended to portray Trump as a failed leader who never really believed in his own ideological cause and that he was just John the Baptist for Bannon’s Jesus Christ to deliver the Gospel of Trumpism. The intended fanbase for this book is tomorrow’s Alt-Right, not today’s Democrats.
Pro-Trumplicans should read it too. Calm down, I didn’t say you have to buy it. Read it. Now is the time because the Trump Administration is at a crossroads. If Bannon is right, then Trump doesn’t really believe in Trumpism and will inevitably betray his base as he further surrounds himself within the Jarvanka faction and Deep Staters.
It’s over the next few months that we will see this materialize–or not–as immigration and health care reform efforts emerge in Congress. Will Trump formalize DACA as law? Forget the Wall? Offer Medicare for everyone? That is, if Mueller doesn’t put Trump out of the White House first.
If it all happens, Fire and Fury will tell you why it did.