Written without much hindsight and without access to official papers, Michael Wolff’s new book Fire and Fury is more than journalism, if less than history

A reckless and undignified spectacle

January 7, 2018

Michael Wolff’s new book, Fire and Fury, is an unforgettable ringside view of the reckless and undignified spectacle of the Donald Trump presidency so far.

It will not surprise anyone that the U.S. president comes across as a vain, delusional and unstable character whose public utterances could mostly be disproved by provable facts. Unable to master the presidential mien, Trump has chosen to defile it. Without experienced advisers and consiglieres, Trump’s White House was divided into two camps: one led by his daughter, Ivanka, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and the other by Steve Bannon, a Mephistophelian figure credited with channeling passions that more conventional politicians have been careful not to exploit. Bannon, once Trump’s chief strategist, is the book’s unkempt star. It is through his rise and fall that we learn how unsuited Trump is to the world’s most demanding job.

Bannon’s view is that Trump is not likely to make it to the end of his first term. On this analysis Bannon gave Trump equal chances of staying in office, being removed by Congress or being declared mentally unfit for office.

If the government couldn’t stop publication of the classified Pentagon Papers, the U.S. president certainly could not stop a book that offends no one but himself.

The last option seems far-fetched, but the U.S. constitution’s 25th amendment allows for a president to be removed if he is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office”. Such is Trump’s divisiveness that a social movement of mental-health professionals has sprung up which argues Trump suffers from incurable malignant narcissism and this renders him unfit for office. This is a break with conventions adopted in the wake of the failed rightwing U.S. presidential candidate Barry Goldwater’s successful legal action against a magazine after it published a story in 1964 saying medics declared him so “severely paranoid” that he should not be able to become president. Since then psychiatrists have largely refrained from giving opinions about figures they have not personally examined.

It is a measure of how troubled the White House is seen to be that senior Republicans openly worry that the president is unravelling. Yet however erratic Trump might be and however unsuited for high office, Republican voters remain loyal. Despite the rhetoric, Trump’s base is largely made up of well-off and rightwing citizens rather than white, working-class voters struggling in a rapidly shifting global economy. This explains why his singular accomplishment, the Trump tax cut, will hurt poorer voters more than the Wall Street fat cats he railed against on the campaign trail.

Time will tell whether the details in Wolff’s book are completely true. Trump lived up to his billing as a thin-skinned political neophyte by having his lawyer threaten the author with a lawsuit. Written without much hindsight and without access to official papers, Wolff’s tome is more than journalism, if less than history. He has collected raw gossip and spiky insights in the court of King Donald. Historians will make more authoritative assessments. Viewing events from a distance makes it easier to decide what is a chapter of history and what is a footnote. Fire and Fury is not the definitive book on the Trump presidency, offering instead a worrying glimpse of its chaotic early life.
(Source: The Guardian)

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