Judging by the press reviews of Michael Wolff’s book about the Trump presidency, Fire and Fury, it may not be believed, but it is at least believable.
Apparently – I have not read the book and probably won’t – it depicts a Trump White House in utter disarray – an asylum in which the lunatics, led by the president himself, have taken over. That much confirms our worst suspicions based on most media accounts of the administration’s performance in its first year.
Much of it seems to be tittle-tattle, like Ivanka Trump’s comment on her father’s comb-over, but that does not make Wolff’s assertions any less true. Trump’s press spokesman Sarah Huckabee Sanders, has predictably dismissed them as tabloid fabrications. Well, she would, wouldn’t she? Trump’s lawyers have gone further by seeking to ban publication. It must be unprecedented for a sitting president to take such drastic action, but this president’s behaviour is equally unprecedented, and he is not a man to leave any stone unturned in protecting his delusional self-image. The publisher, Henry Holt & Co., says it will go ahead anyway. The motto ‘publish and be damned’ is also a fine tradition.
So, why won’t I be buying the book? It is not because I disapprove of the perfectly respectable tradition of muck-raking – assuming that is what it follows – but because I found Wolff’s prose hard going and disliked its rather breathless scurrility in a previous Wolff book, The Man who Owns the News, an expose of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, and like Fire and Fury, based on hundreds of interviews with Murdoch’s employees and associates.
Anyway, all the juicy bits have already been covered by The Guardian newspaper in Britain and New York magazine in the United States. That is the trouble with tell-all books of this type. Not that it will stop Fire and Fury from shooting to the top of the best-seller lists, to which status it is apparently already heading by topping the Amazon list.
Trump suspects that Steve Bannon, his former confidant and supposedly the master-mind behind Trump’s election strategy, who was fired as his chief of staff, is behind the book. Trump has already belittled Bannon’s role in the campaign and further denounced him in a phrase that will probably join a few other choice epithets in defining the Trump administration: “When Bannon lost his job he lost his mind”. Some of us questioned Bannon’s mental stability long before then, but that is another matter. Anyway, Trump picked him – as he picked all the presidential appointees whom he fired within months, sometimes weeks, of hiring them.
One of the questions posed by the book is whether Trump has lost his mind, with strong hints that he is suffering from dementia. Wolff claims – among other hints of a mind in decline – that Trump failed to recognize old friends at a social affair at Mar-a-Lago, his Florida retreat. I am not qualified to agree or disagree with any such diagnosis, but it is a legitimate cause for concern when the man in question ‘leads’ the free world and owns the biggest nuclear arsenal – as Trump himself boasted in facing down Kim Jong-un’s claims to have missiles that can reach the United States mainland.
I’m sorry, but this president confirms almost daily, usually on Twitter, but on other occasions as well, the suspicion that he is a terrible accident waiting to happen. The question is how terrible the accident will be, and whether it will bring him down alone or the rest of us along with him.
The storm over the Wolff book will probably blow over, as every other gale that has buffeted the Trump White House has, but the cumulative effect is devastating, a portrait of a man who is intellectually, morally and temperamentally unfit to occupy the Oval Office.
When the Murdoch book came out he remained silent. Trump would be better advised to do the same, but of course he won’t.
He is a playground braggart who must have the last word. It is a deficiency of personality that may yet cost him his job.
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