Dysfunction we have voted upon ourselves
Wolff’s title comes from the rant tRump impetuously directed at North Korea, that it would be met with “… fire and fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen…”.
This irresponsible mouthing, a terroristic threat really, came in response to a reporter’s question about North Korea at an August 8, 2017 discussion of the opioid crisis. Trump had been reading a statement in a monotone, bored stiff, anxious to get back to his golf game.
The question perked him up and Dr. Jekyl became Mr. Hyde, a loose cannon of major proportions, hiring and firing staff as impulsively as he tweeted whatever crossed his mind, surrounded by lackeys sucking up and vying for position, trying to channel his presidential power down whatever road their particular variant of right-wing ideology demanded, using always the strategy most likely to succeed, flattery.
An email forwarded around the White House, from a disgruntled staffer, then out onto the net, summarized what working for tRump was like:
It’s worse than you can imagine. An idiot surrounded by clowns. Trump won’t read anything – not one-page memos, not brief policy papers; nothing. He gets up halfway through meetings with world leaders because he is bored. And his staff is no better. Kushner is an entitled baby who knows nothing. Bannon is an arrogant prick who thinks he’s smarter than he is. Trump is less a person than a collection of terrible traits. No one will survive the first year but his family (meaning of staff). I hate the work, but feel I need to stay because I’m the only person there with a clue what he’s doing. The reason so few jobs have been filled is that they only accept people who pass ridiculous purity tests, even for midlevel policy-making jobs where the people will never see the light of day. I am in a constant state of shock and horror.
It bothers me when people call tRump an idiot. They do it out of anger and frustration and it’s hyperbolic. The man is certainly narcissistic but a literal idiot, no. Idiot Savant perhaps, for he’s capable of charming millions of people despite his many and dangerous faults. Referring to himself in the third person as a stable genius, hard to believe he isn’t joking but since he’s apparently not, something’s screwy.
The book covers the 9 month period of Steve Bannon’s tenure, a bazaar right winger with an anarchic streak toward chaos and strangely, in favor of single payer health care! Bannon and Kushner, tTrump’s son-in-law (with partner Ivanka, the president’s daughter) acted as though they were chief of staff while Priebus, the official chief of staff, suffered their interference and a more or less constant belittling from the president. Vicious, juvenile office politics ruled the White House from day one. The chief of staff is traditionally a powerful figure since everyone must go through him to get in to the oval office. tRump by turns megalomaniac and insecure narcissist… does all the talking in meetings, very little listening and makes decisions based on his “gut” unless relentless and massive interventions are applied. Even then, he can walk out of a room having agreed on some course and suddenly tweet the opposite. The whole administration is a failed state. tRump calls his daughter and Kushner the kids, supposedly New York liberals who he humors. Their intent seems to have been to bring in the Wall Street crowd to run things while Bannon’s was more in the scorched-earth Gestapo camp. Nothing much gets done except the cabinet appointees, all anti-democracy ideologues with frequent ethical lapses, out there doing damage from respective departments. House speaker McConnell stalled federal judge appointments under Obama, saving them for tRump, who attempted to reward a business crony with a judgeship. Staff intervention turned the appointment duties over to the Federalist Society, assuring over 100, to-date, right wing extremists now sitting on the federal bench, including of course the Supreme Court. This of course, in addition to those Bush/Cheney installed. In Georgia we can be grateful that somehow progressive judge Totenberg slipped through the ideological filters.
I.F. Stone, in his book on the Fifties shows how governmental abuse is not exactly new but he also cites a 1957 supreme court decision that put an end to senate and house committee trampling of citizen rights in hearings that were truly witch-hunts. The current supreme court would doubtless come down in favor of such congressional misbehavior though they would probably protect trump’s prerogatives under Dick Cheney’s theory that if the president does it, it’s legal.
The recent movie Vice also confirms that sinister attacks on democracy are hardly unprecedented but trump’s administration is pretty unique in its clown car chaos. Fire and Fury narrates the downfall of Steve Bannon, though he is still out there in zany never right-wing land doing mischief, especially in Europe, working to birth a new fascism there. The book also provides a glimpse of billionaires who throw their disproportionate influence around our government, and it also documents the dysfunction we have voted upon ourselves which ought, we can hope, to inspire an uprising at the ballot box.
Image credit: The illustration of Trump holding his hat while riding a nuclear bomb was created by © Tom Ferguson.