Book Review: Fire and Fury reveals how three tribes go to war

Book Review: Fire and Fury reveals how three tribes go to war

by Miles Saltiel
article from Monday 15, January, 2018

MICHAEL WOLFF’S Fire and Fury supercharges conventional views of the forty-fifth President with excited goss from a fractured White House. Wolff’s sourcing is broad, but close reading reveals its imperfections – the closer you get to Trump and his family, the less first-hand is his scuttlebutt. We do, however, owe Wolff thanks for the authorial simplification of three factions vying for the President’s ear: his own family plus the Goldman’s crowd – pretty much Hillary Democrats; the alt right – Bannon, Breitbart and friendly backers; and conventional Republicans – Priebus, the Generals and the congressional leadership. All gave him disastrous counsel and at this point only the family survives. 

Wolff throws fuel on the fire of the near-unanimous take that Trump has no statesmanlike qualities whatever, indeed there are plenty in Trump’s camp who feel that the whole point is to do without them. Trump is portrayed as constantly searching for approval he will never get. Each night, he courts business grandees in the telephone equivalent of Hitler’s bunker kaffeeklatsches. He is mystified at media disapproval after a career getting journos to print his lies. He still hasn’t clocked the consequence of carrying on that way as President. 

The book depicts Trump as occupying the White House as he did Trump Tower ─ the ultimate high-maintenance boss, held in contempt by a frustrated entourage. In a striking passage, a New Yorker who knows both Trump and Clinton equates their narcissism. As to where it might end, Wolff resorts once again to convention with “it’s the cover-up, not the crime”: the burden of the Russian mess will end up as lying or suborning untruth by a Federal official, rather than real treason. But this could take the President down.

Fire and Fury is all about personalities and American tribalism. We hear little about policy, for which we must await David Frum’s Trumpocracy ─ out on Tuesday 16 January. The title’s facetious hyperbole comes from Oval Office remarks about North Korea, which Wolff presents as yet another round of the three-ring circus. As it happens, the President of South Korea has recently commended Trump’s approach as knocking Kim off-balance. Is this praise noise or signal? Less than a year in, it is too soon to say. In any event, it came after Fire and Fury went to press. Otherwise, it might have coloured Wolff’s last nod to convention: that Trump has achieved nothing other than bating his opponents. Regardless, number forty-five looks to be coming in as a sorry coda to a disastrous quartet: Clinton ─ shameless; Bush ─ reckless; Obama ─ listless; and now Trump ─ worthless.

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