“With extraordinary access to the Trump White House, Michael Wolff tells the inside story of the most controversial presidency of our time.”
NO MAJOR SPOILERS
We’re only two months into 2018 but it’s already safe to say that Fire and Fury is no doubt the biggest and most talked about book of the year. A behind-the-scenes look at the Trump administration, the book studies the first 100 days of president Trump and gives readers a chance to see behind the curtain of arguably the most controversial, and indeed talked about, presidency in recent history.
It seems we ought to acknowledge the elephant in the room before we go any further. Most readers would agree that Trump, whether you love him or loathe him, has proven to be a very divisive POTUS. There are many people out there who despise him and would love nothing more than to see him kicked out of office, but there’s no denying that Trump has also cultivated a hardcore group of supporters who will back him to the hilt. Some readers may be hoping this review confirms all the negative depictions that Fire and Fury paints of Trump, whilst others may be irritated to see a book that Trump himself described as “a complete work of fiction” and “a disgrace” get reviewed. Regardless, few books receive the kind of media attention Fire and Fury has and it seems only right that a site about books review it.
Wolff claims that he contacted Trump in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election results and asked about writing a book on his presidency should he win. Wolff states that Trump was impressed by an article he had written about him in The Hollywood Reporter and agreed, however, Trump has since stated that he never authorised access for Wolff and never spoke to him about the book. One way or another, Wolff joined the Trump campaign team in mid-2016 and began documenting the run up to the election as well as interviewing members of Trump’s team. Following Trump’s victory, Wolff began documenting the first 100 days of Trump’s first term and conducted over 200 interviews with members of Trump’s administration and was present at several key events, including the firing of James Comey. Wolff himself claims that, whilst he was never asked to leave, he was never given any formal welcome to the White House and felt like a literal fly-on-the-wall during his time there.
Fire and Fury begins with a note from Wolff explaining that many of the accounts of life in Trump’s White House given by interviewees, in true Trumpian fashion, contradict one another. Some of these contradictions are caused simply by the chaotic nature of Trump’s administration, whilst others are straight up lies. As readers will learn as they progress through the book, combing through a web of lies and misinformation is very much a theme of the book, and indeed, 21st century politics in general. In some cases, Wolff has used his sources and first-hand experiences of events to publish what he believes to most represent the truth, whilst in other areas he has allowed readers to decide what the reality really is.
The book begins with election night and one thing becomes very clear; Trump and his team can’t wait to lose. Over the course of the 2016 campaign trail, Trump and his team had gained a massive amount of media attention and many of Trump’s underlings were sure that they could launch their careers off the back of Trump’s loss. Trump himself was apparently eager to lose. His name, a brand in itself, was bigger than ever and he couldn’t wait to tell his supporters how sorry he was the election had been rigged by the fake media and corrupt politicians in favour of “crooked” Hillary Clinton. The atmosphere of the room was initially light, but then Trump started to win. As the votes were confirmed, Wolff reports that Trump looked as though he’d seen a ghost and his wife Melania, was in tears. Given the number of well documented mishaps over the course of Trump’s 2016 campaign, including the infamous “grab her by the pussy” line, it’s understandable that the majority of Americans, and indeed anyone in the world with an interest in global politics, were under the assumption that Hillary would take over once Barrack Obama left office. The picture Wolff paints shows that no one was more surprised by Trump’s victory than Trump himself. For better or worse, Trump has proven himself to be a man who isn’t easily daunted and, after an initial reaction of shock and horror, Trump came to the conclusion that he was both deserving and totally capable of being the 45th president of the United States.
The book then follows Trump and his team as they move into the White House and chronicles the first few months of the Trump administration. It immediately becomes clear who the key players are when it comes Trump’s aides. Steve Bannon, who was the chief executive of Trump’s campaign is given the position of White House chief strategist. Trump’s beloved daughter Ivanka, who has always had a very close relationship with her father, and appears to be one of the few people capable of changing his mind, became an unpaid advisor, and her husband, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, also serves as a top advisor. Jared and Ivanka, both moderate in their political leanings become dubbed as ‘Jarvanka’ as they constantly battle against Steve Bannon and his alt-right politics that he’s eager for Trump to embrace. The White House quickly becomes a battlefield upon which Jarvanka and Bannon fight for the president’s ear whilst other notable figures such as vice president Michael Pence, attorney general Jeff Sessions, education secretary Betsy DeVos, counsellor to the president Kellyanne Conway, and White House communications officer Hope Hicks, try dodge incoming fire.
Whilst some of the claims made by Wolff in Fire and Fury could be questioned, one aspect which does seem to be unquestionable is the chaos in which the White House finds itself. Like the president himself, the vast majority of Trump’s staff had no prior experience with politics before joining his campaign, and yet found themselves in positions of considerable power within just a few months. This chaos only became worse once Trump’s presidency began, with a severe lack of coordination between Trump’s aides, which is made worse by the fact that many of them don’t get on. The general White House staff seem to have no real leadership and visitors often find themselves wandering the halls looking for someone official to check in with and tell them where to go. There were parts of Fire and Fury which were unintentionally hilarious and which were the kind of scenarios you’d expect from a sitcom like Fawlty Towers or Arrested Development. “You couldn’t make this shit up,” an aide of Trump’s is repeatedly quoted saying. Were it not for the potentially disastrous consequences that a president’s actions can have on millions, if not billions, of people, Trump’s first 100 days would make for an excellent comedy.
Whilst Trump may be the primary subject of Fire and Fury, it is arguably Steve Bannon who is the most dynamic player. Aside from his role in the Trump administration, Bannon is best known for co-founding Breitbart News, a far-right news and opinion based site which, under Bannon’s guidance, has become a platform for the alt-right movement in America. Bannon is deeply critical of the current US political system and embraced Trump for his unorthodox approach to politics, joining his campaign team in August 2016. Once in the White House, it soon becomes clear that Trump apparently isn’t forceful enough for Bannon’s taste and Trump is positively moderate when compared to Bannon. Bannon is not shy about expressing his utter revulsion for moderates, the media, and worse still, liberals and it’s clear he’s eager for Trump to wage war rather than try and appease them. Whatever one may say about Bannon, it’s clear he’s no fool. His approach to politics may be incredibly heavy handed, but the man is very well-read when it comes to history and it’s clear he has a plan and plenty of ambition to back it up. Indeed, it was Bannon alone who convinced Trump to push the Muslim travel ban, much to the shock and dismay of Jarvanka and the majority of Trump’s underlings. Moreover, it seems he did it for no other reason than simply to cause chaos, an environment he thrives in. However, over the course of Fire and Fury, it becomes obvious that he’s disappointed and frustrated that Trump doesn’t live up to the hard-hitting leader he promoted himself to be. Of all the players in Trump’s administration, it’s arguably Bannon who is the most Machiavellian. Bannon may have eventually been fired from the White House, but this hasn’t taken the edge off his ambition. Wolff reports that he intends to run in 2020.
When it comes to Trump himself, those who have either negative or positive strong opinions about him may be a little disappointed to find that he doesn’t seem to sit firmly in either camp, but often has one foot in each. The POTUS appears to be thoroughly bored by the tedium his position entails and he seems more eager to do whatever will make a problem disappear quickly rather than spend time working to push his own agenda. Wolff notes that Trump appears to be uninterested in what experts have to say and, should he have any experience on an issue, he’ll insist he’s right, whilst any problems he has no experience with sees him trusting his gut instinct, regardless of the number of experts present. There are those who see Trump as their ultimate patriot who will “drain the swamp” and save America from the corruption of Washington, whilst others regard him as the new Hitler. Fire and Fury paints him as neither. He appears to have no real plan of action that he wants to enforce and, despite his numerous, well documented, and controversial statements ranging from misogyny to racism, his words seem to stem more from ignorance and his inability to filter his thoughts, rather than from a genuine hatred for anyone in particular.
A classic example of Trump’s lack of stance is illustrated when he is forced to decide how the White House will react to the Syrian chemical attacks which occurred in April 2017. Bannon urged Trump to keep America out of it and it seemed Trump agreed. However, after being shown pictures of a number of victims, including children, Trump was apparently appalled by what he’d seen and insisted the US condemn the attack. Even after the decision was made, it was a talking point for him for days after. Despite his right-wing stance, it seems impossible to predict how Trump will react to any given situation politically. Indeed, it appears it’s something no one on his team is capable of foreseeing.
No book about Trump would be complete without examining his relationship with the media. Trump has received heavy criticism from the mainstream press ever since his campaign began and I was surprised to find that, despite being in the public eye for most of his life, and often seeking out the spotlight, how thin-skin Trump appears to be. Wolff reports that negative articles and stories can have Trump ranting for days about his unfair treatment by the media and he seems to feel genuinely hurt and mystified as to why the press react so negatively towards him. Trump’s war with the press seems less like a Big Brother-esque attempt to control the media and more like a puppy that doesn’t understand why it’s being punished. As Wolff notes, Trump desperately wants to be loved. The unenviable job of presenting the latest news on Trump to the man himself falls to Hope Hicks, who works tirelessly to protect the president from the negativity and present him with news that will boost his ego and reaffirm his opinion that he has the support of the American people. Trump reportedly spends his evenings watching the cable news channels and will then retire to bed where he will call his cronies (including the likes of Rupert Murdoch) and complain about his treatment. It seems Trump is unable to accept that no president in history has ever enjoyed universal approval from the media.
Fire and Fury has become one of the biggest and most talked about books in recent years, but there’s no doubting that it does have its share of issues and, as undeniably interesting as it is, there were certainly points I felt it failed to uphold the kind of integrity you would expect from a first-hand account of a presidency. I encountered a number of typos in the text, including one that describes Bannon’s first “pubic” appearance. One assumes Wolff meant ‘public’. The book has also been noted for its number of inaccuracies regarding basic facts. For instance, Wolff claims that then-Speaker of the House John Boehner resigned in 2011, when he actually resigned in 2015. Given the chaotic and intensely fast-paced nature of Trump’s first 100 days, Wolff’s errors may be forgivable, but could be regarded as a serious problem for the book when approached from a viewpoint of scrutiny. Rule one of journalism is fact checking and a book like this should certainly have dotted all the i’s and crossed the t’s.
Whilst I do believe that Fire and Fury is certainly worth reading for those interested in the Trump presidency, and it provides a generally accurate picture of life in the White House, I would urge all readers to refrain from taking every line as gospel.
Fire and Fury is certainly a book I would recommend for any readers interested in the current political climate of America, regardless of where they stand on Trump. It’s without question one of the most interesting, engaging, and unintentionally funny books I’ve read in a long time and, as I’ve said before, even Trump’s aides are allegedly of the opinion that “you couldn’t make this shit up”. When Trump’s time as POTUS is up and the dust begins to settle, no doubt a clearer picture of his administration will emerge but, for now, Fire and Fury may be the best way to take a peek behind the curtain.
Added 1st March 2018
NO MAJOR SPOILERS
You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.
I purchased this recently released book, not so much that I am interested in Trump but mainly because he went on a rant and apparently had his lawyers try and get a stop to it.
I purchased it because “I COULD”. There is not much contained in this book that I didn’t already know or assume via “the fake news” or the endless ranting “tweets”. But let’s take a view inside the office of the most powerful person in the world (although about this time I wonder if this is no longer true).
It’s run like something from Dr. Suess, could they possibly have been referring to “If I Ran The Circus”? It does sound a bit like “The Napoleon of Notting Hill” by C.K. Chesterton. It’s also been referred to a “Cluster Fuck”, no one seems to have adhered to a specific chain of command, every one surrounding Trump has their own agenda and bides their time.
We also get a lot of insight on what Jarerica (the daughter and son in law) are actually doing buzzing in and out and around. Trump doesn’t read-we’ve heard a lot about this fact…but he does get into his bed at the end of office hours, watch three televisions, phone in hand and spend the time calling and venting to various people (this is where the leaks come from according to sources) and of course “tweeting”.
I can’t deny I wasn’t disappointed with the election. I don’t respect Trump, I didn’t before and I won’t be a hypocrite even though he is the President.
Read it or not makes no difference.
Those that voted for him and stand by him wanted change or followed their own personal agenda.
Added 9th January 2018