What “Fire and Fury” Teaches Us 4


Donald Trump flickr photo by Gage Skidmore shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

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!


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4 thoughts on “What “Fire and Fury” Teaches Us

  • rezinate

    I haven’t read the book and probably won’t have the opportunity to until I run
    across a used copy, nonetheless the refrain sounds a familiar one – not much
    new under the sun ( or should I say bad moon rising) in the Trumpian world of
    Bizarro land.
    And yet the faithful will wail with a great gnashing of teeth and rending of garments
    accompanied by dutiful proclamations that they awaken each morning in a serene
    Buddha like state having slept like lambs knowing that a genius is guiding the nation.
    Someone whose like really smart with the best words who undoubtedly graduated
    magna cum laude.
    I find it more than a little amusing that Steve Bannon having been banished to the
    Elba of presidential disfavor now grovels seeking redemption – perhaps one of those
    “great turnings” he spoke so fervently of?
    What we may be witnessing is proof that what goes around comes around with
    mid term elections being further proof though I’m not sure if the Dems are up
    to task sans a serious makeover.

    • dsprague85

      I agree the amount of delusion among many of his supporters is almost palpable. A Dem takeover in the 2018 would be definitely more preferable than this mess. Of course, getting the right people in is an important part of the process too.

  • anne leueen

    Interesting. I heard yesterday that Bannon has lost the financial support of some of his backers at Brietbart. So they are circling the wagons it seems to me. I will read the book but I’m not going to queue up for it at the bookstore. I think it is interesting that you note we have already forgotten a lot. Is this a product of the Tweet universe? We no longer retain information for more than a few days or minutes. Or do we suffer from information overload and just cannot retain all of it. Anyway….whatever…I shall be interested to see what else you have to say about this book.

    • dsprague85 Post author

      I think the Tweet Universe is a very significant factor, honestly. Technology helps to transform everything, why would the presidency/its effect on society itself be immune?

      Even traditional print media can’t escape being amplified by twitter/facebook/etc. Amplification, differing interpretations, hashtags (and then you have the blogosphere). Would Fire and Fury have had as much of an impact without the Tweet Universe? Guess you could make arguments for yay/nay. But what seems clear is that one controversy is quickly swallowed up by another. Seems like this culture is here to stay.