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Fear and Loathing in the White House
on 11 September 2018
High grade dynamite from a credible journalist - Fire and Fury volume 2
Whereas Michael Wolff’s credentials may have been questioned and he has been accused of fabrication and sensationalism, the journalistic qualifications of Bob Woodward are impeccable. This is the highly respected, heavyweight Pulitzer Prize winning and long serving Washington Post journalist who covered Watergate. He has spent over thirty years astutely documenting the Presidency since Nixon in a fair and non-partisan way. He has now turned his laser sharp focus on the Trump administration and with devastating and unflattering effect. Culled from hundreds of hours of interviews with first-hand participants, official documents, personal diaries, his own personal on-the-spot observations and phone calls, insider contacts - this is a polished, credible glimpse behind the curtain based on the accounts of those who were there to witness the insanity and the shambolic chaos. He can quote times, dates, who was in attendance, what they said or did, backed up by official records or multiple corroborating witnesses. He is putting his considerable reputation on the line. This is history in the making documented as it happened, by the people who were there.
My own views and prejudices (which will no doubt colour this review) are that this is by a very long way the worst US Presidency - certainly in my lifetime. A grisly car crash that I cannot draw my eyes away from, as horrified as I am by it. The racist, misogynistic, hate filled rhetoric. The low personal attacks which degrade the office against blacks, gays, grieving gold star widows, the press, specific journalists, opponents, fellow politicians, his own staff, the security services, lawyers, investigators, sports stars. The self serving, the nepotism, handing out jobs to corrupt billionaire lackeys and the most inadequately qualified. People who are dismantling the departments they run, removing hundreds of public attorneys or career diplomats. Removing employee, consumer, health, financial and environmental protections. The trade wars instigated without consultation with economics or business advisers. The demonising anyone who dares to hold the administration to account as it forcibly tears children from their parents arms as “fake news” “bad people” or “enemies of the people”. The conflicting policy statements and defences by staff who have not been briefed or consulted and clearly have no idea as their boss embarrasses them with contradictions and demonstrable lies. The clear obstruction of justice in ongoing investigations, the insistence the President is above the law. The unparalleled staff burnout and turnover. The infighting, insults, suspicion and paranoia.
The parallels with the Michael Wolff book Fire and Fury are obvious. We see in depth how this administration is run, the chaos, incompetence, petulance and sheer insanity of a Presidency going over a cliff, dragging the careers and reputations of others with it. We see those around Trump not as advisors and policy experts but as embarrassed or frustrated child minders and nurses trying to rail him in and save the country from his worst excesses and bitter impulsiveness. We hear of their views of their boss, how they have to slow walk bad policy or hide official documentation to prevent an unhinged, Ill-informed, petulant man-child from doing greater harm. Many though hating their jobs believe that they are obliged to continue in order to save the country. These clearly include now departed H R McMaster, James Mattis, General Kelly, Gary Cohn, Rob Porter, God’s anointed hero Mike Pence and even the much maligned Sarah Huckerby Sanders. There are parts that are laugh-out-loud tragically funny like the pre-election conversation between Bannon, David Bossie and Trump in which Trump barely understands what is being said to him.
We have heard much of this before through leaks and “fake news” but who can doubt the veracity or truth of such claims in a tsunami of reports, from too many sources over a sustained period of time to not have a seed of truth. The recent anonymous New York Times editorial by someone claiming to be a senior in the Trump admin backs up and corroborates the claims made in this book of an unhinged, inattentive, amoral President bouncing off the walls. What is alarming is that if everything written here is true then Trump is absolutely unfit in intelligence, mentality, temperament and character to hold the highest office. Even more alarming is this seems entirely credible and likely. In any other administration a fraction of the scandal and turmoil would be unbelievable but under Trump they are the new norm. Not only has the bar been lowered - it seems to have been removed altogether.
In the face of multiple ongoing scandals, tell all accounts of increasing numbers of indictments and mounting damning evidence in the Mueller investigation it is increasingly difficult to understand how the Trump admin, Republican Party or Trump supporters continue unflinchingly to back this awful, incompetent President - even against their own best interests or that of the country. The politicians fear him with his Twitter megaphone, cannot control him and dare not challenge him. They could have had (and still can) a respectable President Paul Ryan or Mitt Romney to swerve the scandal and sleaze but they failed in their duty in their desperate grab for power and instead went for the vile populist demagogue with no moral compass. Trump has said that he could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue and not lose support. I wonder if he could stamp babies, or worse puppies, to death and these cultish followers would continue to support him and make excuses.
I found this book a compulsive page turner, at times tragically funny: an entertaining but horrifying read. We are watching history in the making. I highly recommend it if you have views, an opinion of the Trump Presidency or an interest in current affairs. Normally a book on politics might be a bit dry and dull but this one is full of unhinged fire and fury.