THERE are 10 days to go for the first anniversary of Donald Trump’s inauguration as the president of the US, and the run-up has hardly been propitious.
Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, rush-released last Friday following a threat to seek an injunction against its publication after juicy extracts appeared in The Guardian and New York Magazine, prompted a presidential meltdown, with Trump tweeting that when his chief strategist Stephen Bannon lost his job he also lost his mind and that, contrary to the claims attributed to a wide range of his closest aides, he himself “would qualify as not smart, but genius … and a very stable genius at that!”
If this were to be a part of legal proceedings, the prosecution could at this point safely rest its case. No one needs to read Wolff’s book to realise that the president is as far from being a genius as any of his predecessors. And that’s saying quite a lot, given the mental acuity of recent incumbents such as George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan. As far as stability is concerned, there’s a Twitter feed going back to 2009 that more than suffices as incontrovertible evidence to the contrary.
Petty-minded sniping against Barack Obama consumes much of Trump’s tweeting energy beyond 2011, but there is also frequent kowtowing to the Clintons and, in 2012 — after his favoured candidate, Mitt Romney, had lost to Obama — this little gem: “The electoral college is a disaster for democracy.” It was followed by: “He lost the popular vote by a lot and won the election. We should have a revolution in this country!”
Trump’s slow-motion car crash could continue.
The latter tweet was deleted not long afterwards. Obama did not lose the popular vote in 2012: he had an advantage of well over four million. In 2016, by contrast, Trump gained the electoral college but was almost 3m votes behind Hillary Clinton in the popular count. A disaster for democracy indeed. Claiming that Clinton’s popular advantage was based on fake votes, he instituted a probe which was unceremoniously wound up recently.
The vintage tweets come from an annotated collection, published last year, called How Trump Thinks. In a nod to Mao Zedong, perhaps a better title would have been ‘The Thoughts of Chairman Chump’. After all, the stream of semi-consciousness that finds its way into Trump’s Twitter feed, ranging from ad hominem attacks to international policymaking — not least the cessation of security assistance to Pakistan based on complaints about Islamabad’s duplicity — tends to substantiate some of the worst fears about his presidency’s predilections.
For the most part, Wolff’s book reiterates much of what is already known about the Trump White House. It contains considerable detail, though, and some interesting revelations. Wolff has a bit of a reputation for sexing up what he knows and occasionally using his imagination to fill in the blanks. Yet, although the White House has predictably damned the book as fiction and fantasy, most of the attributed quotes have not been denied.
Bannon, cut off not just by Trump but also by the Mercer family that parachuted him into the Republican presidential campaign in 2016, has sought to clarify that his accusation of treason in the context of a Trump Tower meeting with Russian representatives who offered the campaign dirt on Clinton was directed at then campaign manager Paul Manafort rather than Donald Trump Jr. He did not, however, mention Jared Kushner, who was also present.
The president’s son-in-law, whose responsibilities stretch from bringing peace to the Middle East (notwithstanding his family’s business interests in Israel) to overseeing the modernisation of the US economy, despite a lack of experience, was Bannon’s chief adversary in the West Wing, alongside his wife Ivanka, and remains a bête noire for the far-right Breitbart ideologue who, according to Wolff, sees himself as a presidential contender for 2020 who could carry on the Trump ‘revolution’ without the burden of coping with Trump himself.
The president, meanwhile, is reportedly keen on UN ambassador Nikki Haley as a replacement for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. For whatever it’s worth, Wolff’s book, based on insider access quite possibly on false pretences, is just the prologue. The slow-motion car crash could carry on for at least another three years.
But let’s not forget, as someone recently put it, this presidency is a case of the cartoon running alongside the main feature. The latter ranges from tax cuts for the rich, the lifting of environmental controls and belligerence towards immigrants to sordid understandings with Israel and Saudi Arabia. Wolff, like many of us, is mainly focused on the cartoon. But, who knows, the main feature might end with a mighty bang before the cartoon limps to a conclusion.
Published in Dawn, January 10th, 2018