I picked up my copy of Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House last night at 5:45pm; finished it today at 5:45pm.
Here’s what I think.
1. It’s fascinating in an I-can’t-look-away-at-the-17-car-pileup-with-lots-of-ambulances way, but I didn’t learn anything reading it. The book is the signature aria in a media opera of confirmation bias — white wine glasses will shatter in liberal living rooms across our fair land.
To compare, in November I read Michael Lewis’ Vanity Fair article Inside Trump’s Cruel Campaign Against the U.S.D.A.’s Scientists and learned a lot about the staggering scope of Agriculture Department’s endeavor as well as the impact of the Trump Administration’s unprecedented failure to show up to work after the inauguration. Lewis’ article was just as scary as Wolff’s book, but at the end of reading Lewis I felt like I’d eaten an apple. With Wolff, it’s a bag of Cheetos.
2. If you’re going to read Fire and Fury, then read it SOON because even though the action winds up just three months ago with Steve Bannon’s October 2017 exit from the White House, the book is already dated by the never-ending, Chinese water torture drip drip drip of subsequent scandals and outrages (Roy Moore, “my button is bigger”).
The book is radioactive in two ways: first, it’s poison to most of the people portrayed — not so much character assassination as a Pompeii-like lava flow concretizing everything and everyone into poses of abject despair and expressions of disappointed surprise.
It’s also radioactive because you can measure the relevance of Wolff’s book in half-lives with each half-life being about a day.
When I picked up my copy of Fire and Fury at Annie Bloom’s Bookstore last night (I’d reserved it the night before), there were people lined up and disappointed to learn that there were no unclaimed copies left: a new batch was coming in today, and another next week, and so on. My fellow customers will be even more disappointed when they finally get the book, only for the nation to have metabolized it and moved on.
3. Heaven save us, it’s all true. Everything you’ve dreaded about the Trump administration, every time you’ve denied that sinking feeling in your stomach, every time you’ve thought that you were reading something from The Onion and then realized in slow-motion dismay that it isn’t satire… don’t expect relief by reading Wolff’s book.
4. It doesn’t matter. The saddest thing of all about Wolff’s book is that it won’t change a single mind about Trump. The people who are reading it are already convinced that he’s a madman who should be pushed down the dumbwaiter and out of the Oval Office today. The people who support Trump won’t read it because Fox News has already directed them to dismiss it as lies and fakery — if Fox told them the Earth was flat they’d believe globes were a liberal media conspiracy. The people who are on the fence won’t read it because they are already numb.
When information breaks from open secret to common knowledge it can have huge impact, see the downfalls of Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer and the rest of the predator brotherhood. At one point, thinking about #MeToo and about Michael Suk-Young Chwe’s notion of common knowledge in his book Rational Ritual, hope fluttered in my breast that Fire and Fury would break the cycle of denial about things like Trump’s illiteracy, complete absence of policy, inability to focus, and Everest-sized narcissism. For a society to function, Chwe writes, “Knowledge of the message is not enough; what is also required is knowledge of others’ knowledge, knowledge of others’ knowledge of others’ knowledge, and so on — that is, ‘common knowledge.’”
With the Wolff book, though, the hope faded because we’ve already all known this stuff for a long time. Gosh, though, I hope I’m wrong.
6. When Episode Three of Star Wars (“Revenge of the Sith”) came out the fans realized that while we had thought the original three movies (episodes four, five and six) were Luke Skywalker’s story, in fact the entirety of the six movies were the biography of Anakin Skywalker / Darth Vader. Likewise, Fire and Fury is really the Steve Bannon story. If Trump were capable of reading the book then that fact would probably gall him most of all.
7. The other movie comparison that came to me as I was reading the book was Being There, except in Fire and Fury everybody in the cast always knows that Chauncey Gardner (a.k.a. Trump)… has special needs, but he gets elected anyway.
8. If you’ve ever seen a dog chasing a car, wondered, “what would he do if he actually caught it?” and then imagined the expression on the dog’s face when that happened, then you’ve got a clear sense of Trump’s reaction to winning the presidency.
This last year we’ve been watching a man try to eat a car.