Uncollected Thoughts: ‘Fire and Fury’ by Michael Wolff


Yes, I have been out to buy, and read, the book of 2018 so far, Michael Wolff’s insider account of the Trump Administration. Though the circumstances are completely different, I confess to a certain outlaw tingle in acquiring this controversial tome that I’ve not experienced since the late Eighties, when a mate who’d been to Canada smuggled back into the country a copy of Peter Wright’s infamous Spy Catcher, and lent it to me (and to think that I could pick it up dirt cheap on eBay, thirty years later).

Fire and Fury has been denounced thoroughly by the Orange-Faced One (cue up that good old Mandy Rice-Davies quote again, please), and also by Simon Jenkins in the Guardian, a certain sign that Wolff has got more right than wrong. It’s supposedly based on multiple tape-backed interviews, with over 200 White House insiders. And it creates an interesting conundrum.

Because the contents of the book, its exposure of the reality of life in the White House under the unrealistic figure of President Donald J Trump, are at one and the same time completely believable and utterly unbelievable. This is not the dichotomy it seems to be: I find nothing in any of the accounts, starting with the unwanted winning of the Election in November 2016 and ending with the final defenestration of alt.right idealogue Steve Bannon from whatever position he had in the Administration, to be in the least bit unrealistic. That they are simultaneously impossible to credit is down to the fact that the world in which we lived has suddenly been demonstrated to be fatally flawed. Nothing in this book should have happened, and I don’t say that on any political grounds. I say it because in any rational universe, including the one I’ve always believed myself to occupy for most of my sixty-odd years, this couldn’t happen. This catalogue of supreme stupidity, naked opportunism, psychological flaws and simple but complete absence of any strategic sense or ability to recognise the world as it is couldn’t be demonstrated by anyone capable of getting to the proximity of great power.

In that respect, Fire and Fury ought to be a great ironic bellow of humour, a satirical classic. I’ve read books like that from time to time, books predicting a future of a hapless, idiot President, oblivious to the world around him, his decisions taken by cleverer but malevolent underlings pushing their own agendas.

Such books were never funny, because the writers were, basically, crap at making their scenarios remotely plausible. This time, it’s not funny because we’re living in the book, it’s events and actions are news stories we’ve lived through already. It’s a shame that Wolff does such a better job than any in making it plausible.

There are so many revelations that the Press have already seized upon (the secret of the Trump hairdo is a particularly compelling detail). The first, and which has been so thoroughly challenged thus far, is that Trump never wanted to win the Election. He was only ever in it to create a stir, to build publicity for himself, to lose (and claim the Election was stolen), and propel himself into massive TV returns with his own, newly-built Network.

This chimes with a lot of analysis I read, from the start of the campaign in early 2016, to the eve of the Republican Convention, which makes it particularly plausible to me. In this analysis, it is Bannon’s intervention in the campaign, round about the time of the infamous ‘pussy-grab’ tape, that turns the tide, and when the Presidency was secured, against a three million vote shortfall in the popular vote, and to everyone’s shock, Trump decides he always wanted it.

But Trump is the least capable person of being President, as his most recent Tweet, only today, amply demonstrates. The rest of the book is a stage-by-stage account of faction-fighting in the White House, between the triple poles of Bannon, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and wife Ivanka, and the nearest thing to an official, but in no way actual Chief of Staff, Reince Preibus.

It’s a Never-Ending, indeed Unwinnable Battle, for two reasons. One is that Trump is completely unmanageable and has no idea what he wants to do, except that he’s vulnerable to the last person to speak to him. And the other is that there is nobody in any position of authority who has even so much practical competence at the business of the White House as would you or I, dropped into the role – any role – at this exact instant, no warning.

You keep reading things and wondering how on Earth they could think that was a sensible thing to do, but the more you read of these individuals – whether they are clashing or simply trying to cope – you realise that they genuinely do not know any better.

This book depicts an insane situation, manned by those who may not be clinically diagnosable as insane but who, to any normal person’s eyes, as undeniably mad.

The fear is twofold: that we live in their world, and that this book effectively goes up to only August 2017. What the hell have they been doing since?

I’m glad to have the chance to have read this. To me, I find it all believable, and unlike others, I do not think the revelations to be outside the competence of a skillful journalist, given the kind of access Wolff was afforded, to elicit, nor do I find the direct speech to be implausible in most cases. Bannon’s rant towards the end, yes, though by this point we have seen enough of this crazy bastard for everything he ‘says’ to be directly in line with what he believes.

So, there you go. Grab a copy and read it for yourself. If you find it beyond credibility, I envy your innocence. I would rather live in your world than their’s.

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5 thoughts on “Uncollected Thoughts: ‘Fire and Fury’ by Michael Wolff

  1. Thank you Martin – I find this very strange man very worrying. I haven’t read the book, but I’ve seen a few interviews with the author and it all comes across as very plausible. Which is scary…..

    1. Unfortunately, it all is plausible. And I’ve just this minute discovered that the long conversation quoted at length at the start of the book between the likes of Bannon and Roger Ailes is also likely to be completely authentic: they were talking in Wolff’s house!

      You should read it, though it won’t make you feel any more comfortable.

  2. Excellent account Martin. I was toying with the idea of buying this but you’ve convinced me to do so. It does feel like we’ve entered the Twilight Zone.

  3. Unfortunately, the Twilight Zone was entirely too literal and down to earth to be truly comparable. All this of course pre-dates the ‘paid-off-prostitutes’ story. The true horror of it all is the knowledge that no-one will do anything to end it.

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