It’s almost impossible to avoid hearing about Donald Trump’s latest exploits via rolling news headlines every day, but until now, I hadn’t read any books detailing the whole sorry saga of the Trump administration to date. However, ‘Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House’ is very much the book of the moment and seeing its author Michael Wolff in conversation with Armando Iannucci (creator of some of the best TV political satires including ‘The Thick of It’ and ‘Veep’) at the Friends House near Euston in London on Friday night was simply too good an opportunity to miss.
The book itself became a major news story when Trump tried to block its publication in early January. This attempt failed miserably, as evidenced by its massive sales figures in the weeks since its release. Trump’s proclamation on Twitter at the time that his “two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart” didn’t really help him win any arguments either.
Both in person and in writing, Wolff is very good at articulating Trump’s personal foibles, contradictions and unique perception of reality as well as how totally unprepared and unsuitable he is for the role of President of the United States – a view which appears to be held by many of the people who form part of his administration. Wolff also draws particular attention to Trump’s use of flattery as a means of influence. Iannucci posed the question “Is Trump an idiot?” to which Wolff replied that Trump has virtually no attention span but is not as complex as a goldfish. “Is Trump mad?” Iannucci asked. “Well, he’s certainly peculiar,” said Wolff. I think we can all agree that this is something of an understatement.
‘Fire and Fury’ isn’t just about “the Donald”. There is a whole cast of beleaguered aides in the West Wing of the White House who have contributed to the omnishambles that is the Trump administration including chief strategist Steve Bannon, policy advisor Stephen Miller and communications directors Sean Spicer, Anthony Scaramucci and Hope Hicks. Wolff writes that before the election: “Donald Trump and his tiny band of campaign warriors were ready to lose with fire and fury. They were not ready to win.” Trump had envisioned setting up a whole new TV network on the back of losing the election with jobs lined up for all his key campaign staff. Instead, they found themselves in the White House. According to Wolff, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump have “not one scintilla of relevant experience” and he describes Vice President Mike Pence as “another dimension of moronicness”. Another key figure in Trump’s life who wasn’t mentioned in the discussion is his wife Melania. My personal favourite anecdote from the book is the image of her sobbing on election night when she realised that her husband had won the presidency against all odds.
Wolff is an experienced journalist and his behind-the-scenes account of the first nine months of Trump’s presidency is undoubtedly sensationalist. The juiciest gossip in ‘Fire and Fury’ was widely reported at the time Trump was attempting to block its publication so there isn’t a lot of content that is especially new anymore. Indeed, so much has happened in recent weeks that it already feels like a sequel is well overdue but sadly, it doesn’t seem likely that Wolff will be invited back to the White House any time soon to write it himself.
Towards the end of the discussion, Iannucci asked Wolff if he thinks Trump will remain in office for a full term, and if we will all be alive in three years’ time given some of his foreign policy rhetoric. Wolff believes that Trump is incapable of thinking so far ahead in the future and that wreaking the kind of havoc which could end the human race requires a level of concentration that Trump doesn’t appear to possess. It’s not exactly reassuring to think that Trump might be too stupid to unwittingly sabotage his own presidency, but at least Wolff’s controversial exposé is entertaining to read in the meantime.