2018 started off with a bang: the publication of an insider’s peek into the tremendously dysfunctional Trump administration. Michael Wolff, the reporter responsible for its conception, toured the internal White House for several weeks. He spoke to many staffers within the administration, including Trump allies and the since-alienated Steve Bannon.
Reports have indicated that small pieces of the book were potentially blown up for comedic effect. However, the basic facts are there. And while the president himself denies most of the allegations, we all know Trump’s interesting relationship with the truth. Despite claims constructing Wolff as a political hatchet-man or attention-seeking liar, many aspects of the book corroborate whispered rumors and leaked stories coming from behind closed doors.
Book of Revelations
What makes this book particularly fascinating — and grim — is Wolff’s claim that literally everybody around the president has lost faith in his ability to lead the nation. While this might be overly apocalyptic, some of what Wolff paints rings true, particularly during the president’s public appearances. After all, this book is named after the terrifyingly surprising comments President Trump made about North Korea and impending nuclear war.
At the time, these comments came amid confusion and fear across both the US and the Korean peninsula. While a mad king spouting rhetoric from his mouthpiece in North Korea was nothing new for the rest of the world, similar rhetoric coming from the White House turned heads across the globe. It also called into question the sort of scenarios popularized by Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove”: what happens when the chain of command ends with a crazy person?
Fire and Fury weaves a narrative from the outset. According to the book, Trump did not expect to become president — he intended the 2016 campaign as more of a springboard for publicity. Following the results, Wolff describes a visibly shaken Trump and a campaign utterly at a loss for what to do. From there, the administration slowly developed, adding cabinet nominees at a dramatically sluggish pace and entirely ignoring other high-level vacancies to this day.
In the following months, staffers became increasingly frustrated with the president’s inability and unwillingness to grasp simple presidential duties. Memos the staffers presented during meetings were uniformly ignored, issues glossed over from not keeping his attention, and presenters commonly had to include the president’s name throughout to increase his interest in the subject. This sort of childlike gratification returns again and again throughout the book.
Beyond these troubling depictions, the crème de la crème of the book comes when former campaign strategist and political ally Steve Bannon refers to the Trump tower meeting — Trump, his son-in-law and a bizarre crew of international actors — as both unpatriotic and treasonous. He followed this up with the infamous “They’re going to crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV.”
Directly following the book’s release, Trump responded with one of his infamous Twitter tirades. He referred to the book as “phony” and the contributing quotes as either fabricated or lies on the part of disloyal former staff. He also threatened legal action should publication continue. Even from a president renowned for his erratic and kneejerk behavior, this instance stands out. It might even be funny if he wasn’t the leader of the free world.
The president also turned on Bannon, swiftly distancing himself from his former friend and ally. Given Bannon’s fiery condemnation of Trump’s Russia meeting — a move Bannon once defended — the president has sought to staunch the bleeding by delegitimizing Bannon, both on Twitter and during public speeches. His tactic seems to be working, as Bannon finds himself without a job at his familiar Breitbart News post.
The Verdict on “Fire and Fury”
Even for the politically informed, Fire and Fury is a tough read. Someone attempting to conquer this book should go through the ordeal with a few things in mind. First, several quotes used by Michael Wolff throughout the book were later rescinded by the source. Other sources have claimed Wolff misquoted them or used their words out of context. Keep these facts in mind when reading.
The truth is, if even one percent of the material is accurate, the country should be worried, and we could face some significant trouble in the near future. As Americans, we should be vigilant of the machinations of our government, and this book offers a rare glimpse under the hood. Regardless, it’s definitely one of the many great political books that came out of the mayhem that was Donald Trump’s first year in office, and a must-read for those interested in the current state of affairs.