Michael Wolff did Trump a big favor

In the final dash to Election Day, Trump needed a Lee Atwater type — a street fighter. But once in the White House, Bannon’s role was less clear and the president chafed at claims that Bannon controlled his administration’s agenda.

..  They care about what the president and his administration can do for them. They support Trump because he articulated and, increasingly, is enacting an agenda they believe will improve their lives and secure the future peace and prosperity of the country.

.. They will still make the case to voters for economic policies that expand the middle class, for pro-citizen immigration policy and for a foreign policy that is circumspect about foreign military engagement.

Review: ‘Fire and Fury’ in the Trump White House

The author writes as if he were the omniscient narrator of a novel, offering up assertions that are provocative but often conjectural. Barton Swaim reviews ‘Fire and Fury’ by Michael Wolff.

Inside the Trump White House” is thus in a class with Salman Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses”—by itself a forgettable book, certainly not Mr. Rushdie’s best, but remembered forever as having provoked a death sentence from Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini.

.. Mr. Wolff is known in New York and Hollywood for his withering takedowns of popular public figures; he was only ever going to write one kind of book.
.. “Fire and Fury” is a typical piece of “access journalism,”
.. Mr. Wolff takes the genre to another level, and perhaps a lower level. If he has employed objective criteria for deciding what to include or exclude, it’s not clear what those criteria are. By the looks of it, he included any story, so long as it was juicy.

.. “Many of the accounts of what has happened in the Trump White House,” Mr. Wolff writes, “are in conflict with one another; many, in Trumpian fashion, are baldly untrue. Those conflicts, and that looseness with the truth, if not with reality itself, are an elemental thread of the book. Sometimes I have let the players offer their versions, in turn allowing the reader to judge them. In other instances I have, through a consistency in accounts and through sources I have come to trust, settled on a version of events I believe to be true.”

.. what to do when two sources make contradictory claims. A responsible reporter, or one more scrupulous than Mr. Wolff, would seek out corroborating evidence or do more research. Mr. Wolff simply “settles” on his preferred version.
.. Mr. Wolff often writes as if he were the omniscient narrator of a novel.
..  “Sessions was certainly not going to risk his job over the silly Russia business, with its growing collection of slapstick Trump figures. God knows what those characters were up to—nothing good, everybody assumed. Best to have nothing to do with it.”
..  It seems unlikely that Mr. Wolff interviewed Mr. Sessions, and unlikelier still that the attorney general told him any such thing about his own thoughts on recusal. How does Mr. Wolff know then?
.. Reporters, especially though not exclusively political reporters, are more interested in the meaning of facts than in the facts themselves. They’re concerned with interpretation rather than accuracy, with “narrative” rather than detail, with explaining rather than disclosing, with who’s happy or angry about a story rather than whether it’s true, with what’s likely to happen next week or next year rather than with what happened yesterday.

The Decline of Anti-Trumpism

First, people who go into the White House to have a meeting with President Trump usually leave pleasantly surprised. They find that Trump is not the raving madman they expected from his tweetstorms or the media coverage. They generally say that he is affable, if repetitive. He runs a normal, good meeting and seems well-informed enough to get by.

Second, people who work in the Trump administration have wildly divergent views about their boss. Some think he is a deranged child, as Michael Wolff reported. But some think he is merely a distraction they can work around. Some think he is strange, but not impossible. Some genuinely admire Trump. Many filter out his crazy stuff and pretend it doesn’t exist.

.. Third, the White House is getting more professional. Imagine if Trump didn’t tweet. The craziness of the past weeks would be out of the way, and we’d see a White House that is briskly pursuing its goals

.. there are two White Houses. There’s the Potemkin White House, which we tend to focus on: Trump berserk in front of the TV, the lawyers working the Russian investigation and the press operation.

Then there is the Invisible White House that you never hear about, which is getting more effective at managing around the distracted boss.

.. The anti-Trump movement suffers from insularity. Most of the people who detest Trump don’t know anybody who works with him or supports him.

.. gets viewers addicted to daily doses of righteous contempt and delicious vindication.

.. The movement also suffers from lowbrowism. Fox News pioneered modern lowbrowism.

 .. “For Wolff’s book, the truth seems almost a secondary concern to what really matters: engagement.”
.. In every war, nations come to resemble their enemies, so I suppose it’s normal that the anti-Trump movement would come to resemble the pro-Trump movement
.. It’s a struggle over what rules we’re going to play by after Trump. Are we all going to descend permanently into the Trump standard of acceptable behavior?
.. There’s a hierarchy of excellence in every sphere. There’s a huge difference between William F. Buckley and Sean Hannity, between the reporters at this newspaper and a rumor-spreader. Part of this struggle is to maintain those distinctions, not to contribute to their evisceration.

“Fire and Fury” Is a Book All Too Worthy of the President

The problem is that Wolff’s approach is too well-matched to his material. As Andrew Prokop explains on Vox, Wolff’s writing is a rehashing of gossip. What the Times’s and Washington Post’s White House teams have been doing through painstaking reporting—producing stories in which the account of every absurd incident in the life of the Trump Administration is based on conversations with several different sources—Wolff accomplishes by absorbing the ambient noise, the self-aggrandizing statements, the overheard (or surreptitiously recorded) conversations, and reshaping them as a narrative all his own. This tone, more than the substance, is what gives the book the flavor of a peek behind the curtain

.. Wolff’s book seems to occupy a middle ground: between the writing of White House newspaper reporters, who exercise preternatural restraint when writing about the Administration, and the late-night comedians, who offer a sense of release from that restraint because they are not held to journalistic standards of veracity. That middle ground, where there is neither restraint nor accuracy, shouldn’t exist. That “Fire and Fury” can occupy so much of the public-conversation space degrades our sense of reality further, while creating the illusion of affirming it.

It’s Been an Open Secret All Along

The scandal of Michael Wolff’s new book isn’t its salacious details—it’s that everyone in Washington has known its key themes, and refused to act

But “it was an open secret” now properly seems a broadened indictment, of all those who quietly let him get away with it, rather than an excuse.

The details in Michael Wolff’s new book Fire and Fury make it unforgettable, and potentially historic. We’ll see how many of them fully stand up, and in what particulars, but even at a heavy discount, it’s a remarkable tale.

.. His functional vocabulary is markedly smaller than it was 20 years ago; the oldest person ever to begin service in the White House, he is increasingly prone to repeat anecdotes and phrases. He is aswirl in foreign and financial complications. He has ignored countless norms of modern governance, from the expectation of financial disclosure to the importance of remaining separate from law-enforcement activities. He relies on immediate family members to an unusual degree; he has an exceptionally thin roster of experienced advisers and assistants

.. He views all events through the prism of whether they make him look strong and famous, and thus he is laughably susceptible to flattering treatment from the likes of Putin and Xi Jinping abroad or courtiers at home.

.. nearly 11 million more Americans voted against Trump last year than for him, including the three million more who voted for Hillary Clinton. (The rest were for Gary Johnson, who got nearly 4.5 million; Jill Stein, with nearly 1.5 million; Evan McMullin, with about 700,000; and a million-plus write-ins.)

.. They understand—or most of them do—the damage he can do to a system of governance that relies to a surprising degree on norms rather than rules

.. The failure of responsibility starts with Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, but it doesn’t end with them. Every member of a bloc-voting majority shares responsibility for not acting on their version of the open secret. “Independent” Republicans like Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski share it. “Thoughtful” ones, like Ben Sasse and Jeff Flake.

.. When they vote as a majority against strong investigations, against subpoenas, against requirements for financial disclosure, and most of all against protecting Robert Mueller and his investigation, they share complicity in the open secret.

.. We are watching the political equivalent of the Weinstein board paying off the objects of his abuse. We are watching Fox pay out its tens of millions to O’Reilly’s victims. But we’re watching it in real time, with the secret shared worldwide, and the stakes immeasurably higher.

The Increasing Unfitness of Donald Trump

The West Wing has come to resemble the dankest realms of Twitter, in which everyone is racked with paranoia and everyone despises everyone else.

What made the Emperor Nero tick, Suetonius writes in “Lives of the Caesars,” was “a longing for immortality and undying fame, though it was ill-regulated.”

.. Many Romans were convinced that Nero was mentally unbalanced and that he had burned much of the imperial capital to the ground just to make room for the construction of the Domus Aurea, a gold-leaf-and-marble palace that stretched from the Palatine to the Esquiline Hill.

.. Chaotic, corrupt, incurious, infantile, grandiose, and obsessed with gaudy real estate, Donald Trump is of a Neronic temperament.

He has always craved attention.

.. Future scholars will sift through Trump’s digital proclamations the way we now read the chroniclers of Nero’s Rome—to understand how an unhinged emperor can make a mockery of republican institutions

.. He was post-Freudian. (“It makes me feel so good to hit ‘sleazebags’ back—much better than seeing a psychiatrist (which I never have!).”)

.. In due course, Trump perfected his unique voice: the cockeyed neologisms and the fractured syntax, the emphatic punctuation, the Don Rickles-era exclamations (“Sad!” “Doesn’t have a clue!” “Dummy!”).

.. Then he started dabbling in conspiracy fantasies: China’s climate “hoax,” President Obama’s Kenyan birth, “deep-state” enemies trying to do him in.

.. “Stop Being Trump’s Twitter Fool,” Jack Shafer, of Politico, advised, just after the election. Trump’s volleys were merely a shrewd diversion from serious matters.

.. “you’d expect that people would have figured out when Donald Trump is yanking their chain and pay him the same mind they do phone calls tagged ‘Out of Area’ by caller ID.”

.. Sean Spicer, the President’s first press secretary, insisted otherwise. Trump, he pointed out, “is the President of the United States,” and so his tweets are “considered official statements by the President of the United States.”

.. Trump’s tweets are most valuable as a record of his inner life: his obsessions, his rages, his guilty conscience.

.. he set a White House record with a sixteen-tweet day.

.. took credit for a year without an American air crash,

.. he continued to offer respect bordering on servility to the likes of Vladimir Putin.

.. One of his signature phrases—“fake news”—has been adopted by autocrats from Bashar al-Assad, of Syria, to Nicolás Maduro, of Venezuela. To the astonishment of our traditional allies, Trump humiliates and weakens a country he pretends to lead.

.. He surrounds himself with aides who are either wildly incompetent or utterly defeated in their attempts to domesticate the mulish and bizarre object of their attention.

.. There is no loyalty or deliberation in the White House, only a savage “Lord of the Flies” sort of chaos. Each day is at once preposterous, poisonous, and dangerous.

.. And so the West Wing in the era of Trump has come to resemble the dankest realms of Twitter itself: a set of small rooms and cramped hallways in which everyone is racked with paranoia and everyone despises everyone else.

.. Trump has reacted to Wolff’s book in the manner of a wounded despot

.. Nero had hoped to last long enough on the throne to re-brand the month of April “Neroneus” and the city of Rome “Neropolis.” He did not succeed.

.. The President sees one West Wing satrap and Cabinet official after another finding a distance from him. “Where is my Roy Cohn?” he asked his aides angrily

.. He is unfit to hold any public office, much less the highest in the land.

.. The President of the United States has become a leading security threat to the United States

What Happens to Bannonism After Bannon?

The President single-handedly turned the book from a racy tell-all that would have enthused the Beltway and media crowds into a must-have consumer product—the literary equivalent of a new iPhone

.. Not only did Trump put out a lengthy statement on Thursday bashing Steve Bannon, his former senior adviser, for coöperating with Wolff on his “phoney” book, his lawyers sent a letter to the publisher, Henry Holt, demanding that it halt publication. From that moment on, every self-respecting Trump hater in the country simply had to buy a copy.

.. a separate denunciation of Bannon from his longtime financial sponsor, the hedge-fund heiress Rebekah Mercer, who is a part-owner of Breitbart, the scrappy Web site that Bannon turned into a platform for Trump and the alt-right. “My family and I have not communicated with Steve Bannon in many months and have provided no financial support to his political agenda, nor do we support his recent actions and statements,” Mercer said

.. “Bannon is resisting. He’s quite like Trump in this respect: he views any apology or admission of error as a sign of weakness.”

.. Trump thought the Mercers were as odd as everybody else thought. He didn’t like Bob Mercer looking at him and not saying a word; he didn’t like being in the same room as Mercer or his daughter. These were super-strange bedfellows—‘wackos’ in his description.”

.. not the demise of his ambitions to transform the G.O.P. into a nationalist/protectionist party modelled on the European right but the opening of a new front. Freed from the constraints of being inside the Administration, Bannon would be able to recruit candidates, raise money, and take down members of the Republican establishment.

.. Trump, in Bannon’s view, was a chapter, or even a detour, in the Trump revolution, which had always been about weaknesses in the two major parties

.. Trump was just the beginning.”