Just sitting here, my copy of the book in hand. It’ll take me time to parse it all, but Fire and Fury, by Michael Wolff, isn’t exactly what I expected it to be. Wolff weaves a narrative of political intimacy as well as psychological exploration of the book’s main players, from Steve Bannon to Kellyanne Conway to President Donald Trump, it’s all there.
These two concepts are constantly intertwined though. Fire and Fury shows us the difficulty of expressing the machinations of the various characters without also showcasing what motivations them. The dedicated right-wingers in the book are written in a way that makes you see each individual as having a very personal reaction to Trump’s victory. In other words, not all of the reactions were euphoric. Melanie Trump certainly had her reservations about the election results. Surprise was not an uncommon sentiment either.
The right-wing is populated with diverse characters, not quite human, but not quite cardboard either. Some of the character analyses add depth while also serving as idle speculation. For instance, Wolff ponders whether or not Bannon was on the spectrum, due to having a narrow focus on the issues at hand, but also due to a very mystifying, restrained communication style that constantly seemed to be putting a bridge between himself and others. It’s been a rough past couple of days for Bannon, and there aren’t very many signs he’ll be lifted from the hole of extreme presidential displeasure. It’s hard to tell if Bannon is on the spectrum, and it seems like the label was an attempt at character building.
Before the release of Wolff’s book, it was obvious that there would be accusations that the contents of the book were untrue. I think one should take the balanced viewpoint. It might offer embellishments here and there, especially with the psychological assessment of the characters, or have small errors due to the rushed release of the book, but it provides a broad overview of the various people connected to Donald Trump as they progressed from the campaign trail to the White House. It paints a picture of bitter competition, taking angst and anxiety and placing it in the nexus of the political landscape.
It seems clear early on in the book that Trump was considered the pinata of ambition. He was not necessarily respected for his intellect, but for his ability to capture attention, whether that attention was negative or positive, didn’t matter. They saw Trump as a political shooting star, rallying around a ridiculous man that would either clear the road to victory, or obscure it for the forseeable future.
So, to recap, and keep in mind my impressions might change, Fire and Fury teaches us several things.
- The audience of the book is comfortable reading embellishments and absorbing the palace intrigue-like style. The liberties taken with character assessment assume a fascination with the current White House administration, because it’s very clear many people are highly interested in the behind-the-scenes view, and how it either clashes with or reinforces their own perceptions.
- Each character is presented with their own motivations, hopes, fears, dreams, whatever. How do you say that the book has pleasant, fiction-like elements without denigrating the importance it has in the reality we live in? My focus is definitely not to disprove the contents of the book, but more to assess the reason why the book chooses the tone it does. It represents the author’s theory of mind, that again it assumes we are very interested in the characters shown in the book.
- Trump is a character seen through the lens of subjectivity. How others viewed him was seen as just as important as him having his own set of motivations and insecurities, a character almost defined by other characters’ perceptions. At one point in the book, you are made to believe Bannon imbued Trump with a unicorn-like quality. Sort of a buffoon, but possessing a strange ability that no one else could conjure. The title for Wolff’s next book: The Bannon Delusion?
- Bannon, Ailes, and Murdoch weren’t necessarily portrayed as a tightly-knit group. Murdoch was portrayed as Bannon’s enemy. Fractious but forced to unite, competition and bitter infighting contained in the luxury of the White House.
- Lastly, Fire and Fury teaches us that we’ve forgotten a lot already. It provides more context, but when you read or re-read excerpts from the book, you realize 2017 was bloated with one controversy after another, all nearly impossible to keep in your mind at any given time.
Will post more about the book as I read it!