FIRE AND FURY: INSIDE THE TRUMP WHITE HOUSE By Michael Wolff 556 pages

The Book of Moron
THE X-PAT FILES - Scott Garceau (The Philippine Star) - January 14, 2018 - 12:00am

The present occupant of the White House, who recently unleashed fire and fury upon countries he deems “s**tholes,” has never been afraid of confrontation or even provoking disgust and outrage. In that light, it’s time to consider Michael Wolff’s flamethrower of an Oval Office tell-all, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.

Gathered by fly-on-the-wall scandal journalist Wolff during the Trump inauguration and transition — a period that ended up extending to eight months — it’s already generated predictable liberal media heat and froth over its scandalous quotes — with people like campaign strategist Steve Bannon (now in permanent exile) calling Donald Trump Jr.’s pre-election meeting with Russian lawyers to get Hillary dirt “treasonous,” “unpatriotic” and “bad sh*t”; not to mention countless White House staffers, cabinet members and wealthy backers questioning the mental acuity of President Trump in no uncertain terms (“moron,” “idiot” and “dumb as a rock” get tossed around a lot), and a general portrait of a president who is as attention-deficient as a two-year-old child.

But we knew all of this already. The scandal-o-meter deepened further when Trump’s lawyers sought to block the book’s publication, threatening to change libel laws, and immeasurably pleasing its publisher and author Wolff — no fan of the mainstream media — who now finds himself being labeled a “liar” and “garbage author of a garbage book” by White House proxies, even as the book flies off the shelves.

There are tons of quotable moments in Fire and Fury that make the central case: that his team didn’t actually expect to get elected (“Donald Trump and his tiny band of campaign warriors were ready to lose with fire and fury. They were not ready to win”), with Bannon noting wryly that on election night, Trump’s expression morphed from “befuddled” to “disbelieving” to “quite horrified” and that Melania cried — “not tears of joy” — on hearing that her husband had won.

This is a portrait of a gang that couldn’t shoot straight: a presidential spokesman (Sean Spicer) who immediately became more memorable as a Saturday Night Live skit than a reliable source of White House information; another spokesperson (Kellyanne Conway) who projects self-pity and grim stoicism in equal measure, even as she peddles “alternative facts”; a husband-wife team of Jared Kushner and Ivanka, dubbed “Jarvanka” by Bannon, who cleave closer to the President even as the bodies start to pile up; and a son named Don Jr. whom Bannon quickly dubs “Fredo” (as in the bumbling Corleone son).

And yet, there’s no death blow here. What we hear is the same takedown of Trump we’ve heard before. His awful disregard for woman (reportedly calling US Deputy Attorney General Paula Yates the “C” word, and describing his communications director Hope Hicks as a “piece of tail”) is on display, to remind us that Trump has always been a sexist, misogynist pig; his inability to focus on details, or even to read one-page briefings, has been amply brought to light before this book, as has his staff’s apparent fear of telling him any upsetting news, while deriding his intelligence frequently whenever out of earshot.

Trump apparently found the “idiot” insults particularly galling, serving up a tweet after the book came out in which he described himself as a “very stable genius” and “like, really smart.” And conceivably he’s right. He certainly possesses an innate strategic gift for marshaling supporters and projecting charisma. (The chance of seeing actual IQ test results certifying whether he’s any kind of bona fide “genius” are about as likely as ever seeing his tax returns.) And perhaps Trump does have a point: he was cunning enough to steer his disastrous companies through bankruptcies and still emerge a self-reported billionaire (the tax returns are not available to back up this claim); he did become a TV star on The Apprentice; and he did successfully win the presidency, even while losing the popular vote by a 2.9 million margin.

So a little credit is due here for, like, street smarts.

Then again, it’s amusing to read inside quotes from a president so vague about specifics that he blasts his staff for not making things happen around him constantly to amplify his self-perceived greatness.

“Big things, we need big things,” he said, angrily and often. “This isn’t big. I need big. Bring me big. Do you even know what big is?”

Yet Wolff fails to deliver a coup de grâce in Fire and Fury because he is obsessed with tsismis, and too committed to a single-angle portrait of this very unusual president. (Example: while amusing to read that Trump prefers the company of cheeseburgers to his wife while lying in bed, it’s kind of irrelevant next to his bigger character flaws.) Wolff’s book, for all its gossip-driven detail, amounts to a cheap shot: to get that close to this pack of slippery, would-be players, who would give the cast of any sleazy reality show or Dynasty remake a run for their money, and not come up with some actually damning material, feels like a failure of journalism. At times, Wolff does quite the opposite, an almost unimaginable feat: he humanizes the Trumps and their posse and makes them seem… almost sympathetic.

Then there’s Steve Bannon. As unpolished as they get, Bannon suffers Trump’s daily insult comic jabs (“Guy looks homeless. Take a shower, Steve. You’ve worn those pants for six days. He says he’s made money, I don’t believe it”) because he not-so-secretly believes that it was he alone who put Trump in the White House. It’s no secret that Wolff’s main source for Fire and Fury was Bannon’s unhinged motormouth: this apparently was the last straw for Trump, who hates having his spotlight stolen more than anything else.

Bannon comes off as the know-it-all canary in the coalmine, the shrill Cassandra whose grim fears about the gravity of Trump’s legal and presidential perils may all eventually be proven correct — but it doesn’t prevent him from dying in his own coalmine or being exiled from Trumpland forever (and, with this book’s publication, from Breitbart as well). For Bannon’s sins and ultimate punishment, there is no one else to blame but his own incredibly big mouth — and bad judgment when it comes to Wolff’s hovering pen.

If nothing else, the book has unleashed yet another round of circle jerk questions about Trump’s mental health, and ensured that 2018 will commence with as much distraction and drama as 2017 did for this president. Hmmm… It’s too early to tell, but maybe Oprah Winfrey will be the TV star that America ultimately deserves in 2020?

MICHAEL WOLFF THE BOOK OF MORON
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