Book Review: Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff

It still shocks. Bringing to mind Donald Trump’s victory over all the other Republican candidates and his triumph over Hillary Clinton in the Nov 2016 United States presidential election still causes otherwise normal happy beings to sink their heads into their hands and begin to weep.

This egotistical, know-nothing, debauched, loud-mouthed braggart had become the Commander-in-Chief of the most powerful army in the world. We all quite understandably wondered about what a Trump presidency would mean for the rest of the world.

We had so many questions. What sort of team would Trump create around him? What would be his policy priorities? Was he really going to try to ban overseas Muslims from visiting the United States as he had declared during his campaign rallies?

As if to answer these and many other questions, the journalist Michael Wolff sought to become a fly-on-the-wall and by his own account “took up a semi-permanent seat on a couch” in the West Wing of the White House. He conducted more than two hundred interviews and the result has been a juicy page-turner of a book that has shot straight to No 1 in the Amazon bestseller charts and has infuriated Trump who tried desperately to prevent the book’s publication. Trump, of course, failed.

Wolff does not waste any time and his book hurtles along at a blistering pace. Right away Wolff sneaks us in to an exclusive dinner in a Manhattan restaurant just two weeks before Trump’s inauguration in Jan 2017. At the table is Roger Ailes, the influential former head of the right-wing news channel, Fox News, and Steve Bannon – Trump’s campaign chief and soon to be appointed as Chief Strategist in the Trump administration. Ailes wants to know about Trump – “Does he get it?”  Bannon assures him that Trump indeed understands what is required of him.

“Day one we’re moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. Netanyahu’s all in. Sheldon”—Sheldon Adelson, the casino billionaire, far-right Israel defender, and Trump supporter—“is all in. We know where we’re heading on this…Let Jordan take the West Bank, let Egypt take Gaza. Let them deal with it. Or sink trying. The Saudis are on the brink, Egyptians are on the brink, all scared to death of Persia…”

Once in office though, Trump’s ineptitude comes to the fore right away, and he curses his staff for failing to get him more positive news coverage. Trump wants to be liked and can’t understand why the liberal sections of the media are so critical of him. His staff are terrified of Trump’s tantrums and spend large parts of their time furthering their ambitions by trying to undermine other staff members. Wolff helpfully shares with us a private email he got hold of about the Trump administration sent in April 2017 purportedly by Gary Cohn – who had been drafted in from Goldman Sachs to become Trump’s Chief Economic Adviser – to some of his colleagues:

It’s worse than you can imagine. An idiot surrounded by clowns. Trump won’t read anything—not one-page memos, not the brief policy papers; nothing. He gets up halfway through meetings with world leaders because he is bored. And his staff is no better. Kushner is an entitled baby who knows nothing. Bannon is an arrogant prick who thinks he’s smarter than he is. Trump is less a person than a collection of terrible traits. No one will survive the first year but his family. I hate the work, but feel I need to stay because I’m the only person there with a clue what he’s doing. The reason so few jobs have been filled is that they only accept people who pass ridiculous purity tests, even for midlevel policy-making jobs where the people will never see the light of day. I am in a constant state of shock and horror.

Bannon finds it difficult to hide his contempt for the rival “Jarvanka” Trump faction led by Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, and her husband Jared Kushner, and warns about the FBI investigation led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller which he is convinced will ensnare Jared Kushner and his family’s alleged dealings with Russia and has a good chance of bringing down the Trump presidency.

“You realize where this is going,” Bannon continued. “This is all about money laundering. Mueller chose Weissmann first and he is a money laundering guy. Their path to fucking Trump goes right through Paul Manafort, Don Jr., and Jared Kushner … It’s as plain as a hair on your face… . It goes through all the Kushner shit. They’re going to roll those two guys up and say play me or trade me. But … ‘executive privilege!’ ” Bannon mimicked. “ ‘We’ve got executive privilege!’ There’s no executive privilege! We proved that in Watergate.”

You will have seen numerous extracts from Wolff’s book on TV headlines over the past few days. But to my (admittedly naughty) mind, the funniest anecdote has not been shared on television and with probably good reason. Back in July 2017 on the advice of the Jarvanka faction (and against the advice of Bannon and Trump’s Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus and Trump’s Press Secretary, Sean Spicer) Trump announced that he was appointing Anthony “The Mooch” Scaramucci as his Communications Director. Spicer immediately resigned. Priebus also followed him out the door within the week. Just days after his appointment, the Mooch – having drunk a bit more alcohol than usual – gave an interview to a reporter from the New Yorker magazine and proceeded to slag off some senior Trump staff including Steve Bannon. “I’m not Steve Bannon. I’m not trying to suck my own cock,” said the Mooch. Wolff informs us that:

…Bannon learned about the piece when fact-checkers from the magazine called him for comment about Scaramucci’s accusation that he sucked his own cock.

Just priceless.

The book ends with the firing of Steve Bannon who returns to Breitbart News and – convinced that Trump will not be able to stand for a second term – begins plotting his comeback – this time as a presidential candidate in the 2020 US elections.

As we now know, things to date have not gone as planned for Steve Bannon. And for Trump? Well, Mueller’s investigation continues to move forward inexorably to the evident discomfort and mounting panic in the Jarvanka camp.

Let’s all hope that justice prevails.

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