Book review: Fire, fury and landmark transparency in the White House

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There’s a queue for the doorstopper version of “Fire and Fury” by Michael Wolff. So on the day of the book’s release last week, I got the Kindle version. I then decided to make my life easier by opting for a free trial of “Audible“. So, I have listened to two-thirds of the audio version of the book, read beautifully by the author and Holter Graham. I am sorry that I have not yet finished the book but I admit I am finding the latter half of it rather heavy going.

There’s no doubt though, that this book is a good read. Or in my case a good listen.

The sentences are generally very long with lots of subordinate clauses. I was grateful for the excellent narration which helped the flow of those sentences. I imagine they must be rather difficult to read in the text version (a friend tells me they are).

This is basically the tale of the first year of Trump’s presidency. The book narrates the year, blow by blow, character by character.

The book certainly presents a cohesive thesis. It is a polemic. Wolff pulls together material from an alleged 200+ interviews. He then lays out an attractive, gossipy tale.

There is no shortage of salacious detail here. Each of the characters – Bannon, Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Priebus, Donald Trump himself – is taken apart one by one.

This book has been characterised as an attack by Steve Bannon on Donald Trump. That is in the mix, but there is also an excoriating portrait of Steve Bannon. He does not emerge as an attractive character.

Most presidencies start with a wobbly first year. Trump’s first year has been very wobbly and there was obviously a dysfunction in the White House for most of it.

The biggest cause of that dysfunction (apart from a President that makes loose cannons look stable) was that there was no strong Chief of Staff. There were, as the book eloquently describes, three chiefs of staff: the actual chief of staff, Reince Priebus, Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon. They were all competing for control. As of July 2017, former general, John Kelly, has been installed as a more traditional “all roads lead to” Chief of Staff. So one has to believe that things are less chaotic now.

But some of the back room tales of the events of Trump’s first year are intriguing. The sacking of James Comey, and the end of Michael Flynn as National Security adviser. These and other episodes are told in great detail.

One phrase in the book struck me. Michael Wolff writes that there has been “landmark transparency” in the Trump White House. That is quite funny, as it is probably not intentional, but it rings true. Despite the disdain for the “fake news” media expressed by White House spokespersons, the players in the drama have been leaking to the press like nobody’s business. And the President himself has been leaking like a sieve. He has spent hours on the phone talking to random friends about what is going on, much of it not on confidential terms. Therefore, the President’s own accounts of life inside the Pensylvannia Avenue bubble have leaked out. This has all led to the White House persona being perceived as fighting like rats in a sack.

(By the way, the funniest part of the audio version is when the narrator reads out the words of Donald Trump’s speech to the CIA. It is hilarious.)

I’m not sure where all this leaves us. It is a great, entertaining book (if a little trying towards the end). It sold a million copies in the first four days of its release, mainly thanks to its chief salesman, Donald P Trump.

But I have a feeling that despite giving amusement to anti-Trump people like myself, it will actually lower expectations of Trump, thereby helping him in the long run.

When you read of the dysfunction and chaos in his White House, it then comes as a pleasant surprise when you hear Donald Trump stringing a basic, reasonably coherent sentence together without falling over the furniture and dribbling.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is a councillor and one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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