Fire, Then Fury

Michael Wolff has made a career of skewering powerful people, newsmakers like Rupert Murdoch. That is his journalistic M.O. You can look it up. To expect anything different from him re: President Trump, is mistake number one in your thinking.

A profile of Wolff was written back in 2004 for New Republic. The writer, Michelle Cottle, wrote that he “is the quintessential New York creation, fixated on culture, stye, buzz, and money, money, money.” Perhaps better, Wolff might be a quintessential American creation of sorts, mirroring America’s obsession with flash, trash, and cultural detritus. A writer “willing to dish the dirt.” Of course, it’s dangerous to hold the mirror up to others—especially if the mirror reveals their idol/president/emperor is a cartoon cutout. It pisses them off, too. Say what you will about Mr. Wolff: he’s been laughing all the way to the bank for a while.

Since Wolff’s pretty well-known in what he does, the fact that the current handlers of Mr. Trump, and Trump himself, must have known that Wolff was going to write what he saw and what he thought he saw. And yet, they feign indignation. Didn’t something tip you off when he was playing a fly-on-the-wall, talking to a gaggle of inner-circle cronies? He spoke to Trump, too, for God’s sake!

Michael Wolff on the Trump White House.

That’s why for me, it rings incredibly disingenuous when ideological Kool-Aid-drinkers get indignant about Wolff’s book. Kind of lame, in my way of thinking.

Here’s what you need to know. The administration provided Wolff with a blue press badge. What’s with the color-coding? Well, most of the press people covering the White House have grey badges. These get them into press events, like Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ daily lie-session, but they don’t get to camp out on a couch in the West Wing and have carte blanche in terms of access. Wolff had this.

Also, Steve Bannon, Trump’s brain and chief handler until the president sandbagged him, signed off on Wolff’s work. Whatever Bannon’s reason for wanting this information to come out, he clearly knew that the release of Wolff’s Fire and Fury was going to be “a thing.” A very, very big thing. And it has been.

I’ve read the book. The first third reads well because there’s so much shit about Trump and the rubes running things that you just sit there incredulously turning the pages and thinking, “we’re so fucked,” at least if you haven’t polished off the last drop of conservative Kool-Aid.

After awhile, however, Wolff’s book begins to drag. Kind of like the daily drumbeat of Trump’s lies, obfuscations, and the flood of swamp water sloshing out onto your living room carpet from consuming any of the usual suspects—MSNBC, CNN, and even Fox News. Trump is good for ratings, if for nothing else.

Most Americans don’t read. Some of those non-readers have ordered and read Wolff’s book. Maybe Wolff will launch a renaissance of reading and critical consumption of information. That’s highly unlikely.

Sorry if you were expecting a traditional book report from me. If you require a blow-by-blow on Wolff’s presidential assessment, might I recommend this one?

We are living in the midst of the worst presidency in recent memory. The first president I vaguely recall was Johnson and the nightly news death totals from the Vietnam War. Then, of course, came Nixon. I realize that with our two-second attention spans, it’s possible that even people my age don’t really remember Watergate. Young people have no clue about any of that period of time. It was well-documented. There have even been books, like Rick Perlstein’s excellent chronicling of Nixon’s perfidy. I’m guessing that Perlstein’s book sold fractionally, compared to Wolff’s barnburner.

The other night, when Trump was standing behind the podium with Republicans genuflecting before his hypocrisy, dodging the lies falling out of his mouth, I couldn’t help thinking about what I’d just finished reading. Of course, I read a lot, and Wolff’s book was simply a detour from the usual assortment of books I prefer that have a bit more intellectual rigor and tend to be more deeply-researched. That’s not a boast, it’s a fact.

As I’m typing this out, I’m listening to the archive of David Pence’s Radio Junkdrawer show, broadcast yesterday, on WMPG. He’s covering the musical career of the Fall’s Mark E. Smith. Smith died a week ago on Wednesday. Those of us who’ve been followers of indie rock dating back to the days of Reagan know who Smith was and what his work with the Fall meant to the young, suburban kids who formed their own Fall-influenced bands, like Pavement, Archers of Loaf, and others.

Reagan (along with Britain’s Thatcher) and Nixon were so much more interesting historical figures than our two-bit carny barker of a president. What they all have in common, however, is a disdain for people like me and other members of the hoi polloi, who they masterfully manipulate to reach the pinnacle of power that becomes their defining epoch. Thatcher’s Britain actually spawned many other artists besides Smith and the Fall. The fertile 1980s underground music scene in the U.S. was fueled by solidarity against and even hatred, for Reagan. What will Trump be credited for being a catalyst for? Who fucking knows at this point!

In my opinion, Smith’s long career of producing cutting-edge music (four decades worth), a certain “sartorial sense,” and that unique voice (as Pence said, “he wasn’t a great singer, but he was a great vocalist”) were spades more interesting than our current president/emperor being paraded around, sans clothing, by Wolff and others.