Danyl Mclauchlan on ‘Fire and Fury’

Some observations from Danyl Mclauchlan in Michael Wolff’s book ‘Fire and Fury’: Wolff’s tale of the Trump clusterfuck is an instant classic, and strangely comforting

Journalists are supposed to protect their sources. But not all sources deserve to be protected and the best journalism, Janet Malcolm famously observed in The Journalist and the Murderer, often comes from reporters who seduce and then betray their subjects.

The seduction comes in the promise that in return for access the journalist will portray the source “fairly”, ie nobly, heroically; the way they imagine themselves; the way they desperately want to be seen.

The betrayal comes when the journalist uses their access to reveal the subject as they really are, or, at least, as the journalist prefers to depict them for the sake of a good story, which is never quite the same thing.

And any list of journalists most likely to stab you in the back for a story would have Michael Wolff’s name somewhere near the very top. A witty, talented gossip and media columnist and author with a nasty reputation for breaking embargos, burning sources, attributing off-the-record quotations and generally breaking all the rules of professional journalism, Wolff is the reporter the Trump administration bafflingly entrusted with inside access during the transition and first year of his presidency. Because he was one of the few journalists to write a flattering profile of Trump prior to the election – a device Wolff has used in the past to lure in previous victims – the White House communications team advised everyone in the new administration to cooperate with the journalist because the result would be “a positive book for the president”.

Wolff interviewed Trump, his family, Steve Bannon and more than 200 Trump insiders or members of the administration, taking up a “semi-permanent couch in the West Wing” where he became “something quite close to an actual fly on the wall,” because, Wolff explains, there was no one person in Trump’s White House who had the authority to ever tell him to leave.

Wolff took advantage of a dysfunctional administration.

One of the strengths of Wolff’s book is that it acknowledges the role the media ecosystem plays in enabling and enraging Trump, filtering out all the exaggerated nonsense and focusing on the most epic disasters.

The first half of Fire and Fury is a gossipy dissection of the White House’s key players, tragic flaws and bitter divides while, the second documents their doomed attempts to engage with the rest of the government, run the country and lead the world.

(Shortly after the election) Timothy Synder, a historian at Yale published On Tyranny, which became a bestseller. Synder specialised in the rise of totalitarian regimes and his book was a warning to the people of America. It was happening again, Synder warned, tyranny was nigh, and it would move with astonishing speed and ruthlessness to take over America’s institutions. Believing that this outcome was a foregone conclusion, Snyder advised his readers on how best to resist a totalitarian dictatorship.

In the final chapter of Fire and Fury Steve Bannon – who would have loved to do all of the terrible things Snyder warned about, but would surely have failed even if the president’s children hadn’t fought him to a standstill at every opportunity and eventually forced him to resign – puts Trump’s chances of making it to the end of his term at 33%. Either he resigns (33%), or is impeached (33%), or he limps to the end of the fourth year. No way would there be a second term. Never happen.

Many said a Trump nomination would never happen, or an election win would never happen. There are suggestions Bannon wants to stand for president in 2020 – and also that Ivanka Trump wants to stand.

I hope Snyder reads Wolff’s book and takes comfort in it. Terrible things are happening in America and in its foreign policy, but that’s been the case for many decades now, under both Republican and Democratic Presidents. If anything, Trump’s presence in the White House makes it harder for the Republican Party to deliver on its deranged and radical policy agenda. Instead of seizing control of the criminal justice system and the deep state, Trump and his dwindling rabble of supporters are under siege by them.

For a book about the worst people in the world occupying the most powerful positions in the world, Fire and Fury is oddly reassuring.

It is oddly unsurprising in the main because most of Trump’s foibles and excesses and utter bull are already well known.

But I wouldn’t call it reassuring. The Trump regime isn’t over yet, and under pressure Trump gets even more unpredictable.

8 Comments

  1. Kitty Catkin

     /  January 7, 2018

    I am hoping that Uncle Lye will buy it. A friend and I have agreed that whoever gets it first will hand it on to the other.

    As unfavourable reporting has been around since the printed word has-and before-people can’t be surprised that it still is.

  2. David

     /  January 7, 2018

  3. David

     /  January 7, 2018

    I would not be in the least surprised to find Trump paid Wolff to write this book, it’s brilliant for him.

    • Zedd

       /  January 7, 2018

      anythings possible..
      they say any press (Media Attention) is better than fading away, with none.. 😀

  4. Alan Wilkinson

     /  January 7, 2018

    I would guess it is 30% true, 40% embellished/slanted and 30% sheer fantasy. In other words: politics as usual.

  5. jh

     /  January 8, 2018

    The more destructive this book the more it seems that the media hydra is what is wrong with society.

  1. Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury – a NZ perspective (1) | The Inquiring Mind