Less than a week ago, Michael Wolff released Fire and Fury, a damning nonfiction account of the Trump campaign and first year in office, from the night of the election to the days following the Charlottesville tragedy. Since its release, the book has dominated media and captured the curiosity of the public.
The Trump administration immediately tried to stop the release of the book through a cease and desist order. Then, Trump said he never met Wolff. Later, he admitted he’d done an interview with Wolff, but didn’t recall the man. Eventually, blame landed on Steve “Sloppy” Bannon, who was ousted at Breitbart on Tuesday, Jan. 9.
The book has now climbed to bestseller lists, become one of the most pirated books in the history of the Internet (no one beats Harry Potter, even Trump) and continues to dominate conversations on political cable news shows.
Why? Partly because everyone, including Republicans themselves, so desperately want to understand Trump, an enigma wrapped in batshit insane utterances that sound like the rants of a drunk uncle at the Thanksgiving dinner table.
There’s also the appeal of seeing the real dirt under the rugs of the Oval Office. The Obama administration was, if not hostile, at least aloof towards the media. There were few leaks, and those that came out seemed carefully orchestrated.
The public craves authenticity now, and Trump recognized that early in the campaign. It’s that same desire for the ”real truth” that’s propelling this book out of the political junkie crowd it’d usually attract into a mainstream phenomenon.
The little more than 300 page book is an entertaining read. For a liberal, it’s a rousing affirmation of all criticisms leveled at Trump. A conservative can hate-read it and write it off as so much liberal propaganda. What will the independent reader take away from it, though? An almost tragic story of grandiose buffoon who accidentally became the most powerful man in the world.
“Almost everyone in the campaign thought of themselves…as a clear-eyed team, as realistic about their prospects as any in politics. The unspoken agreement among them: not only would Donald Trump not be president, he probably shouldn’t be.”
It was, as Steven Bannon, perhaps the most entertaining character in the book, a “broke dick campaign.” Then, despite all odds, they won, and a Trump team found itself completely unprepared to take the realms at a nation eager for the change promised by the candidate who defied all political conventions, snubbed his nose at basic politeness and bragged about grabbing women “by the pussy.”
Wolff details all this almost gleefully, dropping quotes that are pure gold on every other page: Rupert Murdoch referring to Trump as a “fucking idiot”; George W. Bush, on the dais of the president’s inaugural address, saying “That’s some weird shit”; Trumps fear of poison and love of McDonald’s because it’s premade; and Trump pulling down his lip and rolling his eyes back during a lesson on the Constitution.
Then there are the characters. Trump, the central figure, comes off as a mentally incompetent blowhard eager to be loved, child-like in temperament, and completely naïve when it comes to governing a nation.
Bannon, a scheming, self-serving huckster who knew when to speak and when to let Trump ramble.
Jared Kushner, a groveling son-in-law attempting to temper his father-in-law’s random policy stances and shuck-and-jive way of addressing political issues.
Reince Preibus, a Washington veteran attempting to harness an easily bluffed Trump into pushing into law Republican priorities in Congress.
Together, they create an infinitely fascinating story of people finding themselves wholly unprepared for the critical moment in history they’d seized. If it wasn’t true, it’d be the stuff of a HBO comedy show.
While reading the book, one can’t help but feel a certain disbelief that any politician would allow a writer such unfettered access to the inner workings of his administration. Yet, the narrative painted by Wolff makes such a scenario plausible.
The president and his inner circle were unlike any in modern history, stumbling day-to-day while ignoring all the rituals and principles of governance that had guided past executive branches. It was a shit show, by the book’s account, and Wolff was apparently in the right place, at the right time, with the ear of anyone who would talk.
The answer lies partly in the narrative laid out by Wolff. It shows a Trump obsessed with being liked, and an incredulity that he’s not. The Trump of Fire and Fury is a grandiose, comical figure, an emperor with no clothes, a clown who doesn’t know he’s a clown.
Most of all, though, it’s of a man desperate to be apart of an elite establishment that’s always looked down on him, thought little of him and tolerated him as more as a jester than a figure of the court. It reeks of Nixon’s anti-Ivy League conceits—the perpetual outsider looking in, despising an institution he so desperately wants to be accepted by.
Enough time has passed for the book to receive the due scrutiny it deserves. Ironically enough, Wolff now finds himself on the defense against the media, of which he wrote:
“Media is personal. It is a series of blood scores. The media in its often collective mind decides who is going to rise and who is going to fall, who lives and who dies. If you stay around long enough in the media eye, your fate, like that of a banana republic despot, is often an unkind one—a law Hillary Clinton was not able to circumvent. The media has the last word.”
The question on everyone’s mind now is what’s next. The answer is…nothing. Fire and Fury will incite the passions of liberals and centrists who have always decried Trump as a charlatan and fool. The Trump base will remain as fervent as ever. Liberal’s decrying his inability to lead, citing the 25th Amendment, are deluding themselves. Mueller’s investigation into Russian ties with the Trump campaign is moving at a glacial pace. Trump probably isn’t going anywhere. The man is Teflon: nothing sticks. This too shall pass, likely because Trump will stumble into a new disaster.
If anything, the book points at possible future moves. Early, Trump announces interest in starting a cable news network. This fits with his tactic of undermining the media, calling it “fake news,” setting himself up to one day start a channel where the Trump-faithful can get the “real” facts. Stay tuned for the Trump news channel.
There’s also talk of the “deep state” in the book that Trump mentioned last week in a tweet. There is a very real paranoia, if the book is to be believed, of an intelligence community with the ability to cripple a president’s ability to lead through a series of leaks and faux investigations into smoke and mirror crimes, i.e. Benghazi-gate.
Fire and Fury Trump fully believes this, and has gone to great lengths to point it out to the public. It’s the tactic he’ll use as Russia-gate drags on.
Ultimately, though, the book only reinforces what most already knew, or suspected. Anyone following politics since Nov. 8, 2016 won’t be surprised by the accounts. The quotes are fantastic, the characters rich, and the theme comically tragic.
As far as having a real effect on the new status quo? Doubtful. As Wolff notes, Trump changed politics forever. In another time, a book like this would have had serious implications for a sitting president. In Trump’s America? It’s so much sound and fury, likely signaling nothing.