Let me be clear. I don’t like Donald Trump, and I wish he were not the president. But it does no good to call him names. Americans, especially Republicans, must understand what propelled Trump into the White House and make a plan on where we go from here.
“Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” is a good place to start. In the tradition of Bob Woodward, author Michael Wolff attempts to write contemporaneous history. In the fast-paced Trump White House, that’s a challenge.
Given the quotes in the national media, I expected Wolff’s book to be a hit job on the president. Surprisingly, I found the book to be well-crafted and insightful. And although Trump threatened to block publication, he is treated sympathetically – if you accept two premises:
- Donald Trump never expected to be elected president, and
- He came into office with slogans, not plans. You remember: build the wall – lock her up – drain the swamp – repeal and replace.
So, the construct of Wolff’s book is that Trump’s White House was roiled by three incompatible, competing factions represented by: Steve Bannon (the dark side); Ivanka and Jared Kushner (the lighter side); and Congressional leaders and lobbyists (the swamp). Rather than lifting up the president, working for him, the factions were quick to belittle and attempt to manipulate him to advance their own visions of how things ought to be.
Let’s digress from the book for a minute to reflect on how Trump won the election.
Insight: Trump did not need Bannon to write his stump speeches. He understood viscerally the disconnect, frustration and anger the average citizen felt toward politicians and government. He understood it because he shared it.
Not since Richard Nixon has a Republican candidate for president demonstrated such keen intuition, punching emotional buttons to move voters. Nixon: law and order – silent majority; Trump: build the wall – drain the swamp. In 1968, Nixon spoke in code what Alabama Gov. George Wallace said out loud. In 2016, Trump spoke out loud what Marco Rubio and the others said in code.
Image: Also, Trump simply looked presidential. He choreographed his announcement with a triumphant descent on the escalator at Trump Tower, trophy wife on his arm and wildly cheering fans. We only learned later all were hired and paid to be there.
He dominated the GOP debates, standing center stage, towering over his foes, mocking them with demeaning nicknames. Trump turned their governmental experience against them until, one by one, they dropped out.
Back to the book:
Wolff writes that Barack Obama “couldn’t really command much interest,” while “Donald Trump produced daily an astonishing, can’t-stop-following-it narrative. … That was the radical and transformational nature of the Trump presidency: It held everybody’s attention.”
On possible collusion with Russia, Wolff writes, “(the meeting at Trump Tower) was a case, not of masterminds and subterfuge, but of people so guileless and unconcerned that they enthusiastically colluded in plain sight.”
Now it’s March 2018 with mid-term elections ahead and chaos in the White House. Steve Bannon is gone. Jared Kushner is diminished. There’s no wall with Mexico, Obamacare lives and Hillary roams free. The swamp remains.