By Senior Campaign Agent Luke Walpole
Despite causing a stir in Washington D.C. and beyond (though, pivotally, not in the locales where it should be most revelatory) the title of Michael Wolff’s book, Fire and Fury, hovers close to a misnomer. Though it is draws its name from the words of its subject, the picture Wolff paints is one of incompetence and misguided brio. The book itself is compelling, if frustrating. Throughout, the reader gets the impression that much of the final piece’s complexion is heavily down to the author’s own brush strokes.
The creative licence Wolff uses, and the concomitant faith we are expected to have in his creation, means that whilst we are indeed taken through the Looking Glass, the reader finds themselves much like Alice in Wonderland; questioning where reality ends and fantasy begins. Wolff’s journalistic rigour has been questioned by many, both from within the establishment and outside it. The New York Times, for instance, delivered an acerbic review. Yet, if the Trumpian Presidency has taught us anything, it’s that ideas can be more powerful than facts.
Fire and Fury does, however, provide kernels which reflect the inherent anarchy in Trump’s White House. The suggestion that Team Trump never expected to win has been repeated consistently. Accordingly, the notion that Trump Tower was agog on Election Night does seem credible. Joshua Green, in his substantially more rigorous, structured and gripping book Devil’s Bargain, takes a similar line. This was a team of political amateurs – whose appeal in some way hinged on that very fact – being told they were responsible for running one of the most complex and influential political systems in the world.
The fissures within the Trump White House developed for ideological and personal reasons. Stephen K. Bannon, the former Chief Strategist, held a populist, nativist agenda which resonated with his Breitbart-reading fans. Reince Preibus, the former Chief of Staff, had been a major player in the Republican Party machine for years, as had Sean Spicer. Additionally, Trump’s daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner were keen to expedite their centrist-slanted agenda. Combine this with the opinions of figures such as ‘Globalist’ Gary Cohn, or the far-right stance of Stephen Miller, and it’s easy to see how back-biting developed. Notice that three of those are no longer in the job, whilst “Jarvanka’s” influence has proven tepid at best.
Ideological disagreement and personal dislike made the administration’s first year a maelstrom of difficulty. Yet, at the top of the food chain was Trump himself. Capricious, sensitive to bad press, and a lack of ideological grounding meant that the President’s agenda disintegrated quickly. Instead, he chased quick victories and landmark wins. Some heralded his appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and his Joint Session speech as indicators of his growing statesmanship. However, this belied Trump’s inability to censure himself. The list of scandals to rock the Presidency in the last year are almost beyond comprehension, but when taken as a whole, they represent a shocking lack of discipline (as well as many other, less savoury assessments).
The news-storm which Trump consistently creates has hampered his ability to publicise his achievements to date, or rather, the achievements which the rest of America has experienced. Job growth remains steady, whilst there have been concerted attempts to stanch the slow haemorrhaging of manufacturing contracts abroad. The DOW Jones has risen healthily since Trump’s arrival, and abroad, ISIS’s geographical foothold has been eroded. Now, the influence of the President on these events can be debated. However, the fact remains that these victories haven’t received the feting they would’ve normally attracted. The news cycle is simply too saturated with outrage at the words, actions, and Tweets of the Commander-In-Chief.
It’s amidst this outrage where Fire and Fury finds its audience. Trump’s base will see it as a fabrication, whilst his critics will see it as further evidence of his unsuitability for office. It’s a rip-roaring read which darts from scene to scene, meaning you need to read it through a critical lens. To some degree, Wolff has told people what they already know. Or, indeed, what they think they know. Yet the fact he was able to maintain a front row seat in the White House, receive unfiltered criticism from its inhabitants and fill 300 pages, whilst still circumscribing huge events, reflects an administration still struggling to implement order. The fires are unlikely to be extinguished soon.
Sources and Further Reading:
- Michael Wolff, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump’s White House (2018)
- Jonathan Martin, From Fire and Fury to Political Firestorm, New York Times (8 January, 2018)
- Joshua Green, Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump and the Storming of the Presidency (2017)
- Kurt Bardella, Inside Steve Bannon’s ‘Fight Club’, New York Times (10 January, 2018)
- Liz Peek, Economists Agree: Trump, not Obama, gets Credit for the Economy, The Hill (15 January, 2018)
- Trump Threatens North Korea With ‘Fire and Fury - video, New York Times, (8 August 2017)
Image: Diego Cambiaso @Flickr