'So wackadoodle outlandish; you have to keep reminding yourself this is real life' - Fire and Fury shocking exposé on Trump's rise to White House
I once interviewed a psychologist who contended that the reason conspiracy theories are so enduring is because, to the human mind, anything is preferable to chaos. We can’t bear the thought that there’s no grand plan, even a malevolent one.
So believing, say, that our world is ruled by evil interdimensional aliens, bent on subjugation of the human race, is better than thinking it’s all (or mostly) random; that major events and individual lives are at the whim of, well, whim. Dame Fortune. Sheer luck.
His words came to mind from almost the first pages of Fire and Fury, Michael Wolff’s sensational (in every way) account of Donald Trump’s ascension to the highest office on the planet. Any notion of that election being some fiendish right-wing masterplan are dispelled from the jump.
Masterplan? They didn’t even think they were had a snowball’s chance of winning.
Literally up to the day of polling, everybody in the Trump camp – including the famously self-regarding Donald – assumed Hilary Clinton would be the next President. Kellyanne Conway, the woman most credited with steering Trump over the line, would roll her eyes when asked about his chances, or his abilities.
Many of his people felt that not only did Trump have no prospect of winning, he ought not to win. He was stratospherically unqualified for the job, even friends agreed.
He ran one of the most inept political campaigns of all time, at least by normal standards. Trump fired and rehired and fired again. He handed out important strategic positions on nothing but a gut instinct on first meeting. Steve Bannon, the alt-right guru co-credited with Trump’s unlikely success, only came on-board in August, and the two men don’t even seem on the same page, ideologically speaking.
In some senses, not winning had been the whole idea all along. Trump would parlay his newfound fame/infamy into a blockbusting media empire. Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner would become major players in business and entertainment. Conway had her sights set on a TV career.
Everyone involved would get something out of this “successful defeat” – whatever’s the opposite to a Pyrrhic victory, I suppose – but none actually thought they’d land the biggest prize of all: the White House.
Yet they did. The self-proclaimed “winner” had lived up to his billing, despite the cold fact that, by all logic of political science, Clinton should have walked it.
On election night, Trump passed through an electoral equivalent to the stages of mourning – Bannon described it as befuddlement morphing into disbelief and finally horror – before the final transformation: he simply convinced himself that he knew he’d win all along, and what’s more, he wanted to win. More than that, he would now become a great, great President.
If the Trump administration was born in confusion, ambivalence and disorder, it’s got steadily worse since inauguration. Wolff details how shambolic the first months were, when nobody seemed to know who was doing what job, primarily because few of them had the vaguest understanding of what jobs needed to be done. It’s remarkable, really, that the US didn’t collapse into total entropy, considering this randomness and amateurishness.
Amid all the shocking revelations of Fire and Fury – and it’s glutted with them – perhaps that’s the most genuinely shocking of all. There was and remains no grand plan. There appears to be no plan at all. Everything is off the cuff. Anything is possible and nobody knows nothing.
It’s as though a group of hyperactive children had been asked to manage a factory. Trump’s government has often been called a clown-show, but surely even clowns put some modicum of organisation into the mayhem.
Oddly, all of this madness casts Trump in a better light than you might expect. He’s been lambasted as a racist, a capitalist zealot, a Nazi. I’m not so sure he’s any of those things, purely because he doesn’t seem to have the intellectual capacity for it.
Ideology bores him. Almost everything bores him. The only thing that doesn’t bore Donald Trump…is Donald Trump.
What he does seem to be is extremely weird. Narcissistic, infantile, needy, self-aggrandising, grasping – also, in fairness, capable of (a little) charm and warmth. It’s as if the buffoonish caricature of public imagination has now completely replaced the human being who once stood there.
Above all, he comes across as completely delusional, about virtually everything. The stand-out example is that row over inauguration attendance: Trump, in an early speech to CIA staffers, maintains the crowd was a million-and-a-half, and shots of empty spaces had been doctored. You feel he has convinced himself this is the literal truth.
Others fare a little better (though not Bannon, another primo weirdo and a properly scary one). Ivanka and Jared seem relatively alright, for pampered rich kids. Conway and Melania too.
I must say, as someone who ordinarily only approaches political books in a hazmat suit, Fire and Fury is thoroughly enjoyable. It’s just so wackadoodle outlandish; you have to keep reminding yourself this isn’t a cartoonish satire, but real life.
And it’s packed with great stories. (God, if only they were just that, stories, as in the made-up kind…)
Trump’s rambling monologues, to everyone and anyone, like Aaron Sorkin rewritten by Beckett. Melania crying tears of misery after the election. Sean Spicer. Alternative facts. Trump’s gorilla-ish “golf face”. The toothbrush. Ivanka’s dreams of the Presidency. The mechanics behind the great orange comb-over. Rupert Murdoch calling Trump “a f**king idiot”. Bannon’s two shirts. Going to bed at half-six. Golden showers. Telly, telly, telly. Trump refusing to fund his own election campaign. “Priebus is a midget.” Trump trying to read the Constitution and giving up, pulling on his lip and rolling his eyes like an infant. His hilarious lack of discretion. His unwillingness or inability to read books. Mar-a-Lago. Anna Wintour asking to be made US ambassador to Britain. The Egyptian dictator’s shoes.
It goes on and on, this surreal and – in ways you mightn’t expect – disturbing fever-dream somehow willed into existence by the American mind.
Oddly, but in keeping with the general air of surpassing strangeness, George W. Bush provides maybe the most succinct encapsulation of the Trump phenomenon. After that disjointed , apocalyptic inauguration speech, Dubya apparently commented, “That’s some weird shit.”
You said it, cowboy.