The reckless, gossip-addicted Michael Wolff is the perfect Trump biographer. And there's a chance the President knows itby Sam Tanenhaus / January 22, 2018 / Leave a comment
Published in February 2018 issue of Prospect Magazine
Donald Trump’s administration keeps giving us firsts. One year on from his inauguration, we now have what is the most unflattering account of any sitting president in US history. The book is Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff. Its picture of a dysfunctional White House ruled by an unfit president instantly leapt to the top of the New York Times bestseller list and then hurtled far beyond. The numbers were record-breaking: 1.4m hardbacks on order; 700,000 already shipped to bookstores. More remarkably, Wolff’s revelations have prompted a national debate on Trump’s mental competence—a debate the president failed to settle by declaring himself “a very stable genius.” Thanks to Wolff, too, we’ve had the spectacle of a televised cabinet meeting meant to show Trump as alert and well informed—though the magic dimmed when, in a follow-up session, he reportedly blurted out the phrase “shithole countries.”
All this is owed to a book that includes less discussion of policies and programmes than you’ll find in a single day’s edition of the New York Times or Washington Post. The 300 pages include only passing mentions of Trump’s big tax cut—the most far-reaching policy of its kind in 30 years; the months-long effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act also known as Obamacare; business deregulation, including Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accords. There is little more on North Korea and Syria.
There’s plenty, however, on Russia, most of it via Wolff’s main source, Trump’s former political guru Steve Bannon, who describes the alleged collusion of “the three senior guys in the campaign”—Trump’s son Donald Jr, his son-in-law Jared Kushner, and his campaign manager Paul Manafort—as “treasonous” and “unpatriotic.” This sensational accusation alone created many hours of fodder for cable news speculation and commentary.
The Russia investigation is as cancerous as Watergate. And Wolff describes a White House in which the guilty look to save themselves and stab others in the back. “The lawyers, in disgust and alarm, saw, in effect, each principal becoming a witness to another principal’s potential misdeeds—all conspiring with one another to get their stories straight,” Wolff writes. “The persistent Trump idea that it is not a crime to lie to the media was regarded by the legal team as at best reckless and, in itself, potentially actionable.”