Monday, February 19, 2018

Fire and Fury (book)

Light (before) reading.
I was sitting at breakfast in Orlando, on the third day of the new year, when I discovered and then read those first, tantalizing excerpts from Michael Wolff’s now-notorious book on the first few months of the Trump presidency, Fire and Fury.

Wolff has had the advantage of being first, if not the most accurate, chronicler of the current unpleasantness. Like many who are appalled by the current occupier of the White House and his entire cast of unsavory characters, I looked forward to buying the book when it was released, if only as another sign that the status quo was unacceptable and that we will never stop making it clear that it is.

Interesting that Wikileaks would release a PDF of the entire book the day before its release. I remember when Assange pretended to promote transparency in all governments, instead of transparency only for those he has decided are his enemies. Violating the copyright for an entire written work is not the same as releasing the Pentagon Papers, it’s just a crime, and one obviously intended to drive down sales.

Why am I writing about this now, when Fire and Fury is last month’s news? Well, the fact is, I hoped to read the entire thing in just a few day and write about it then, but I got through a few chapters and it just languished on the pile.

The fact is, it’s a bit dry. The book succeeds primarily for being first. It made the President very angry, but he’ll be angry again, and many times over, as each subsequent book is written, by journalists, his former colleagues, and his countless accusers.

Following the initial “Oh, boy!!!” factor of reading about Election Night, and how terrified the Trump camp was coming to terms with that fact that they had actually won, I realized something very basic about this book which has also tamped down my interest in reading to the end.

We know all this. We have known all of this. There is nothing in this supposedly explosive book that is a revelation. I have been saying for the better part of a year that everything that has happened makes complete sense when you consider that absolutely no one in Trump's campaign, including the man himself, thought he would win.

That’s why they were unprepared to govern. That’s why they front-ended accusations that the election was rigged -- to slander the presumptive victor, Hillary Clinton. And that’s why they blithely committed crimes against the state which would pay staggeringly great dividends -- political and financial -- after their loss, and go entirely uninvestigated. It all makes sense, and this book simply corroborates what was and is clearly evident.

It is all obvious, it has always been obvious, and it is all true. Doesn’t matter how the author presented himself to his subjects. They told him their version of the truth, and it was the same stuff  that was coming through their official channels, their constant leaking, and the president’s uncontrollable need to tweet.

As a preemptive defense, Wolff restates, again and again, how everyone in the White House desperately wanted to talk. And not just to him, every member of the staff -- not the White House staff, not underlings, but Trump’s own advisors, his inner-circle, even adjunct members of his own family -- talked, all the time, to everyone, about everything. Wolff is not presenting himself as some kind of insider with exclusive knowledge. He was just smart enough to be there and to make sure everyone had his cell number.

One of the most satisfying pleasures (if you can call it that) of reading Fire and Fury is knowing what happened immediately after its release, and that was the humiliation of Steve Bannon. A reprehensible turdshirt whose photographic image emits a discomfiting pong, his name is all over this book, his quotes are most-attributed. This man, who delighted in his own ability to send liberals to the fainting couch, proved himself to be an over-confident clown whose belief in his own magnitude left him confident enough to speak on the record, and at length, about absolutely everything.

Either that or he's so insecure he needs to constantly let everyone at the party know that he's someone. The most intimidating villains are the quietest. It's the difference between Bob ("Twin Peaks" reference) and Windhom Earle. One is scary, the other isn't. You talk too much, Windom. You never shut up.

Bannon lost his position, he lost the president’s confidence, he lost his job at Breitbart, and he lost his sugar mommy. He made a comic mistake and has paid a steep price. We feared him when he was in the Oval Office, and justifiably so. Bannon is an embittered, creepy, right-wing opportunist with angry, racist tunnel vision, and he had the ear of the President of the United States. It was awful.

Now, we can’t hope he’ll go to prison, because he's probably the only person associated with Trump who hasn't actually broken a law. But he's out, out of everything. Who can trust him? He’s a joke.

There’s one thing he did say, however, it’s a quote from the book, and it gave me a great deal of clarity and hope in this difficult time.

So Bannon’s at this dinner party (yes, thrown by Michael Wolff himself, very clever) going on about what he, or rather Trump, needs to do to roll back the tide of international American permissiveness. Halting immigration, pulling out of treaties, abandoning influence in the Middle East -- letting them just kill each other. More walls, stronger borders, America first. Yadda yadda. He mocks Obama. A lightweight, a fool.

"I don't know what Obama does," Bannon said. "What has he accomplished, what does he do?"

What does Obama do. This man, Bannon, who had a hand in electing the new president, admits ignorance as to what Obama did, what Obama does, about who Obama is, about what Obama represents.

It's not that he dismisses Barack Obama and that sizable percentage of Americans who admire him and were and are affected by Obama's Presidency. It's that Bannon doesn’t get it. He doesn't see it. He sees an America he wants to create, but he has absolutely no idea what America actually is.

Steve Bannon and his kind fear a future they cannot fathom nor comprehend and are certainly incapable of altering or controlling. That is why they are dangerous. It is also why they are doomed to failure.

Happy President's Day.

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