Fire and Fury: My God, Do We Have to Relive 2017 So Soon?
I had originally planned to spend my free time this weekend writing the first blog in a new series about progressivism. I read my books, did my research, and had the title and outline in my head. When excerpts from Michael Wolff’s tell-all Fire and Fury were released earlier in the week, my initial reaction was probably like most observers of this White House: “Bannon is an egotistical narcissist. Trump is unhinged and desperate for approval. Those around him are enablers. What else do you have?” I mean, what new idea was Wolff peddling that anyone with an ounce of objectivism left had not already heard?
I was not going to buy what I was now referring to as “The Book.” I was half-way through a read on Edward Snowden and had Roots of Reform, by Elizabeth Sanders ready to go. This blog’s priority for 2018 is to educate anyone and everyone on progressivism: the history of progressive policies and why we need a return to them. (And to clarify – in modern parlance, ‘progressive’ = ‘liberal’). There was no time for a salacious, gossipy account of Trumpian infighting and chaos. We knew what was going on, why wallow in it?
But then, the President, in his infinite stupidity and public disgrace, ordered his attorneys to issue a “cease and desist” order against the author and publisher, effectively attempting to “ban” “The Book” from being published. In America. The United States. Of America. Colleagues in other parts of the world reached out to me first to make sure it was real and not a media hoax and upon learning that, yes it was in fact shamefully real asked: “Just what the hell is Trump doing now?” Given that we might be watching the actual mental breakdown of a president or at the very least, a very public clusterfucked administration, I decided on Friday morning to purchase a downloadable copy of “The Book” and began reading as soon as I finished work for the day. Edward Snowden (quite the odd duck I’ll say), would have to wait.
What follows are simply a few observations; certainly not a review of Wolff’s entire tome. I suspect that some of my blog followers have yet to read or finish Fire and Fury and I would not want to spoil the ending. Spoiler Alert: Trump is still President.
It struck me that if you are one of the 90% that do not list “politics” as a hobby, you may not understand how these political reviews or campaign biographies come to be. It is not unusual, not at all, for reporters to get access to a campaign or administration. Simply walk through the Current Events section at your local Barnes and Noble store and you will see numerous examples of journalists turned authors. Mark Halperin and John Heilemann made names for themselves with Game Change (2009) and Double Down (2013), their accounts of the entire 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns respectively. The 2009 book resulted in the HBO movie of the same name starring Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin. (Unfortunately, Halperin’s inability to keep his fly closed while working at ABC News years ago resulted in losing a book deal for the 2016 campaign. I’m quite hopeful that Heilemann will be able to move forward with the manuscript because trust me – they have excellent sources which allows for detailed accounts). Jonathan Allen and Arnie Parnes released Shattered, Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign, in April 2017 after being embedded in that campaign for months. It too received pushback from the Clinton apparatus, claiming inaccuracies and mischaracterizations of the truth. There were several books written about the Obama and Bush Administrations. Bill Clinton is still upset with George Stephanopolous over his accounting of the forty-second president, “All Too Human.” The list goes on.
So it’s not unusual to have access to the White House. It IS unusual to have unfettered, unlimited access which is what Wolff claims to have been granted. And I believe him. Given the President and his White House’s penchant for lying, all statements to the contrary are less than believable. Wolff has explained in various interviews that he requested “fly on the wall” access from the President himself. And it was the President, after some coaxing, that agreed to it. In any normal administration, a request of that sort would go through many levels of review and approvals. It would take months and while there is no guarantee (ask any former president), that the final result would be viewed as “fair and balanced” by its subject, there is a well-defined process in place. That well-defined process includes vetting the author and their proposal and then once approved, putting limits on his or her time in the White House. That clearly did not happen in this instance.
You might wonder why? Because it seems that the President was wooed by an earlier article (actually, the title of an earlier article) written by Wolff that was seen as complementary to the Trump. So yes. The President was tricked into agreeing to an arrangement that anyone with an ounce of common sense would have known was dangerous because he thought that Mr. Wolff liked him.
The other clarification we should make is related to the book’s accuracy. If you watch any of the pol’s, particularly those dispatched by the White House to defend the President, they will cite the author’s own words in the “Author’s Notes.” He indicates that some of the accounts are in conflict with one another and that some were “baldly untrue.” As an author and journalist, he tells the reader that he has at times, let the “players offer their versions, in turn allowing the reader to judge for themselves whether they are telling the truth.” In other instances, he looked for consistency in accounts and through sources to determine who to trust and believe. But the Trumpist has summarized this for anyone who either did not read it or did not understand it to mean, “See, even the author knows that he recorded lies” and therefore, you should not believe any of it.
What Wolff is telling the reader (and he explains this when asked during interviews), is “here is all the information that I have. I have sourced and verified information as I was trained to do as a journalist. Read the book and decide for yourself.” Some can handle that statement, other cannot.
There are also issues with small details that have been noted by the White House and independent journalists alike. Apparently, the author did not get a few of the key players’ ages correct. I noticed one or two events in the wrong chronological order. Neither of these mistakes had an adverse impact on the overall message, but it does lend credence to those who do not want to believe that the administration is a mess and the President is unfit for office. To me, these oversights were a sign of a publisher trying to rush a best seller to print. Given that the epilogue was written in October 2017, a mere three months prior to the book’s release date, there was little time for editing. I think that, more than anything, explains some of the noticeable errors.
If you are interested in the “dirt,” then you need not read the book. All of the salacious quotes and digs are public. The only thing that a read of the book would add is the vulgarity that the media bleeped out. Yes, according to Wolff, the President called Sally Yates a ‘cunt.’ But more importantly, Wolff describes a President and many of his “outsider” staff members including Bannon and his family, as openly antagonistic to career civil servants. This is a thread that I found deeply concerning and one that progressives must address with voters and perhaps overcome if they are to win back the majority of Americans.
The Trumps (and I will loosely define them here as the President, his kids, and the Bannonites), have no respect or understanding for those who have made a career in public service. Yates is only one example. Trump found it odd that anyone would stay in public service that long commenting that her salary likely “maxed out” at $200,000. In his mind, why would anyone stay in a job that only paid $200,000 per year? Throughout the book, Trump and his acolytes are always looking for the “real” motive behind career bureaucrats and their actions. Serving the public good and defending the U.S. Constitution does not even cross their minds as a reason for their behavior. And to the President specifically, Yates – a woman – was an Obama holdover and was “out to get him.”
Trump is a media whore. This is not news. But what might be not wholly grasped by the casual observer is the degree to which Trump is uncomfortable in his own skin. Trump has the most powerful position in the world and yet, his utmost desire is to be accepted and acknowledged by The New York Times and Morning Joe co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski. Or at least, so says Michael Wolff – I actually believe the part about The New York Times. If he really thought they were “failing,” he would not constantly give their reporters impromptu interviews that made him sound like a complete idiot. Trump just wants to be loved by the media and needs the media (apart from FOX), to acknowledge that he is doing a good job. That’s all. Think of the danger and national security risks associated with having a president with all the powers that go along with that job, with these insecurities. It is mind-numbing.
His first year was not just chaotic, it was factionally divisive and at times an all-out civil war. For most of the year, the administration was divided into three factions: the Democratic moderates “Jarvanka” (this was Bannon’s name for Ivanka – Jared and their ‘allies’), the Bannonites (Bannon, his assistants, Steve Miller) and the Republican establishment, (Priebus, Spicer). Each faction hated the other factions and blamed each other for their personal policy failures. Now, this is a part of politics and presidential history of which I am not very familiar. There is always a little infighting and healthy competition between cliques within a White House. Sometimes it is East Wing versus West Wing staffs; I believe this occurred during part of the Obama Administration. Presidents will always have staff disagreements on policy and alliances that form to influence the commander in chief. In that respect, the Oval Office is not unlike any other private enterprise and sometimes it can resemble a grade school playground. It’s just usually at that point, everybody realizes they are being stupid.
But the first year of the Trump Administration, as Wolff describes it, felt much different than say the Clinton, Obama or Bush years. The difference was that in the latter examples, everyone’s overriding goal was the same: execute the President’s agenda. The players may have disagreed on the execution method, but they agreed on the end goal, which was the policy objective (aka – usually a campaign pledge). But in the Trump case and because no one in the immediate circle (the family, Bannon, the President, etc), seemed to care about the public good, the infighting was much more dramatic and virulent. I cannot overstate this enough: if Wolff’s account is even half true, then our President and his most trusted advisors, have no connection to the people they serve (aka – the public), the U.S. Constitution that grants them legitimacy, or the policy that they champion. The administration is an empty vessel, none more so than the president. Even with Bannon gone, there will be factions and people to blame for policy failures. Everyone is looking out for their own careers and reputations – the public good is not even on their priority radar. That is a big red flag.
What a cocky son of a bitch. Today he apologized for his comments, which basically means that what Wolff attributes to him is correct. As much as Wolff claims otherwise, this book is about Bannon, Ivanka, and Jared. In Bannon, he found a 65-year-old, foul-mouthed prick who, aware of his own mortality, found Trump, an empty vessel, that he thought he could manipulate to promote his nationalist, xenophobic agenda, yanking America back to a time that never existed. In what little has been written about Bannon’s theology, his view of the world is apocalyptic and morbid: the world is on fire and going to hell, why not let it burn? He has rejected decades of 20th-century historical interpretation (this is Amy’s view), seeing America’s role in the world not as a leader but as isolationist and insular. Again, “it’s someone else’s problem – let it burn.” China is his enemy and thus, America’s enemy but, and I will need to Google this, I am not sure he has spent any TIME in China.
Today’s apology was uncharacteristic for Bannon and really speaks to how uninfluential he really is without Trump. Unfortunately, his need to apologize demonstrates how significant Trump has become to the Republican Party which is not good for the GOP.
Let me end with what will likely do the same to the Trump Administration: Russia. “The Book” does not shed any new light on Trump’s infatuation with Putin or his campaign’s collusion with the Russians. What it does do is highlight an aspect of the scandal that has not yet hit the mainstream in any meaningful way: the Kushner family’s likely illegal dealings (money laundering) with Russians and Israelis. This is all of course leaked from Bannon, but the argument is not that Trump has immediate exposure (although Bannon admits that it is likely), but the real concern is Kushner and the Kushner family, including Charles, the father who has already served federal time for tax evasion and other various illegalities. I found this line of argument most interesting and thought-provoking; it shed new light on what has quickly become a tired subject. If Russia’s legal exposure is in fact limited to the Kuschners (aka – Jared, Ivanka and the Kuschner family), and not the President, Don Jr. and the Trump Organization, then the panic that we have seen play out takes on a new meaning. My personal belief is that the exposure is on both the Kushner and Trump Organizations, their principles and key officers. At this point, given what has leaked, it will be difficult for Mueller NOT to find that the President committed obstruction of justice.
Oh. You know how the GOP is all up in arms over national security and FBI leaks? Well if Wolff is to be believed (and frankly, he is about as believable as anyone in the administration), the leakers are Bannon, Kushner, and Ivanka. Full stop. So I what happens if the DOJ investigates the leaks as House Members Jim Jordan and Matt Gaetz are demanding and find that the perpetrators are the President’s daughter and son-in-law? Interesting thought, huh?
Read the book, do not read the book, the choice is yours. Ultimately, this 300 plus page-turner might be a key artifact in what future generations refer to as “The Trump Miasma.” (We must find a better “name” for this disaster than just appending ‘gate’ to the ultimate scandal. This Administration is so much worse than Watergate and Nixon, Clinton and Whitewater, Clinton and Lewinsky. I should be so much better with vocabulary by now but at every turn, I come back to “clusterfuck.” It is just so appropriate). Ultimately, I think Trump is truly perplexed that the media continues to “harp” on things that he calls “fake news.” In the book, he makes the statement that the media will print “whatever, whether it is true or not.” What he meant was, that the gossip rags would print whatever he asked them to print, regardless of truth because that was their business. Thing is, The New York Times and The Washington Post are not gossip rags and this is the Presidency. He does not understand the difference.
If you do take the time to read, then you may come away with thoughts similar to what I have articulated here. You may also find yourself, as I have with the vehement resolution that this administration must end. Whether it ends in impeachment, resignation, or simply losing a re-election bid, Democrats must offer a better option starting in this year’s mid-terms. We must retake at least one House of Congress as it is critical that someone check this administration. Donald Trump, Mike Pence, and the entire lot of the administration represent a clear and present danger to this country. They are all uniquely unqualified for the jobs to which they were elected.
It is with grave regret that I call out my Republican friends for their support not only of this President but Congressional representatives and Senators. It is clear that they are ignoring what is so obvious to everyone else, and to the world: that the President and his administration are not up to the task. As Ezra Klein noted in his recent VOX article on impeachment: “we hired the wrong person.” But they will continue to go along with this sham of a presidency because Trump will sign anything they put in front of him. So far, their bet has paid off; the president has proven to sign anything – pushing this country farther and farther to the right which is far outside the majority of Americans.
I do think Wolff’s book will be historical. Not Uncle Tom’s Cabin historical, but important nonetheless.
Please cross your fingers that nothing else breaks this week. I really want to write about progressivism.