This is one I read shortly after it was published. No better time to pen a light hearted review of it than in the week where Donald J Trump (J stands for Genius) was served his eviction order by the US electorate. That memorable opening line from Dick Tuck’s 1966 concession speech after losing the contest for the California State Senate is the phrase that springs to mind: The people have spoken, the bastards.
Not that those crazed supporters amongst his voters see it that way. For them, the people are not allowed to speak. Or at least when they do, they are not to be listened to. Theirs is not to speak but to listen. It is a world inhabited by Adorno's authoritarian personality type: the need to obey and be obeyed.
Since the onset of Covid-19 and Trump's abysmal response to the virus, it seemed that the only way the Democrats could lose was to run Crooked Hillary again. Whatever we think of Trump and no matter how warped the crooked timber that makes up his own warped persona, he called it right on Clinton.
While the fate he dreaded has come to pass, Trump will show no dignity in defeat, just disgrace. In that fake world, the election will have been stolen from him; the Supreme Court, which he stacked for the very purpose of doing his bidding, will sort it all out on his behalf and restore him to his rightful place, the jester on the throne. It is beyond him to summon up the resolute firmness of Abe Lincoln who is reputed to have said when asked how he felt in the wake of an election defeat: “like a little boy who had stubbed his toe in the dark … too old to cry, but it hurt too much to laugh.”
Having seen too much horrendous US foreign policy, it has always been difficult for me to work up a passion for the outcome of US presidential elections. Some unfortunate is always going to get bombed as a result of them. The first president I remember waged war abroad. There is no reason to think it will change with the most recent incumbent. This time, however, I felt it would be an abdication to bathe in the luxurious comfort of Kissingerian sentiment: A pity they both can’t lose. It was less enthusiasm for wanting Biden in that guided me, just a desire to see Trump out and the vile grip of that deranged mob of religious lunatics that spout fluent gibberish in support of him, prized away from anything resembling power.
The flavour of the madhouse scenario that became the Trump White House was scripted by Michael Wolff shortly into the maiden journey of the Ship Of Fools. Memoirs - while they always make a useful addition to a library shelf, should only ever be opened upon reading a health warning. They are never a straightforward account. All too frequently those who author them have an ax to grind. Then there is the not so small matter of royalties.
When Richard Nixon was disrobed of the presidency it was claimed that he had $500 in his bank account. A lucrative memoir deal solved that. So, like a religious collection plate, a memoir is not thrust in your face just to intellectually enrichen you. The author of Fire And Fury had earlier faced allegations of massaging accuracy when in 2008 he published a book on Rupert Murdoch. His method for Fire And Fury, relying on a “disembodied description of events”, places him further from what he writes about than is safe. All of which added ballast to White House claims that Wolff situated himself more central to events than was merited. But then as the White House is a more than a white lie house, there is no particular reason to buy into it. Yes, Wolff reminds us of Kellyanne Conway's "alternative facts".
Just days prior to The Donald being given the heave-ho I had finished viewing the Comey Rule which, according to the fact checkers and people with an understanding of these things claimed to be pretty much on the money. So much of what Wolff wrote impressionistically chimed with Comey.
Steve Bannon who last week took to calling for the beheading of Joseph Fauci and the current FBI director – their heads to be placed on spikes in a public warning to anyone thinking of becoming a “traitor” - features prominently in Fire And Fury. His first formal political job, coming at the mature age of 63, was as part of the Trump team. Later, when Trump launched an air strike on Syria in breach of the administration's isolation policy, it was Bannon "ever scheming, ever disappointed" who would feature among the victims. Bannon was only a second choice as campaign manager. Trump preferred an old buddy, Roger Ailes, former head of Sky News. Ailes observed after Trump debated Crooked Hillary that “you hit Donald along the head, and he keeps going. He doesn’t even know he has been hit” That might be related to him not possessing the required grey matter that enables a person to “know” in the first place.
Wolff's is a narrative of complete White House dysfunction under Trump: “to say that he knew nothing – nothing at all - about the basic intellectual foundations of the job was a comic understatement.” And so Fire And Fury runs.
One reviewer described Trump as our guilty pleasure. Fire And Fury helps show why. We derided his stay in the White House – a cretin, a moron, an imbecile, a racist, holding down the number one job in the world of politics, making a complete circus out of everything that previously seemed to possess gravitas. Yet, paradoxically, we loved to see a clown convince us that he was even more clownish than we had ever thought possible, that US politics was so shallow that a certifiable bleach drinking idiot with a UV lamp metaphorically stuck up his ass was revered by so many. It sure added wind to the sails of the Frank Dane witticism, Get all the fools on your side and you can be elected to anything. Nor was it a case of Trump being in possession of the secret of the demagogue defined by Karl Kraus: which was, "to make himself as stupid as his audience, so they believe they are as clever as he." He hardly had to work hard to make himself as stupid as the pot bellied gun toting red necks proclaiming that their "jeans" are superior.
Michael Wolff, 2018, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. Little, Brown. ISBN-13 : 978-1408711408
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