Fire and Fury: A review from the margins

Anti-Trump protesters march through San Francisco’s Castro district, November 13, 2016. Photo by Pax Ahimsa Gethen, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Rarely do I anticipate a book enough to pre-order it. But last week I read the lengthy excerpt of Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House published by Michael Wolff in New York Magazine, and then read that Donald Trump had his lawyer send a cease-and-desist letter to try to prevent the book’s publication. That was enough for me to join the sizable pre-order queue, prompting the publisher to bump up the release date by four days. (As one of the most popular reviews on Amazon put it, “It’s worth sending $15 to show him we don’t do that in America.”)

I finished the book (Kindle edition) last night. It was a worthwhile read, and accessible to someone like myself who follows daily news coverage of politics (primarily in The Guardian, which Wolff also writes for) but rarely reads political books. I suppose I’m not “like, really smart” as I had to look up the meaning of a few words, which kept the tone comfortably elevated above tabloid level. (Though passages such as those revealing the secrets behind Trump’s infamous hairdo, and his fondness for eating cheeseburgers in bed, really did nothing but titillate the reader, and would have better been left out.)

However, to me Fire and Fury was primarily a story about rich, entitled white people scheming to keep themselves and their rich, entitled friends comfortably in power. Strangely, a word used frequently in this book (and elsewhere) to describe Trump and his former strategist/string-puller Steve Bannon is “populist”. This is one of the words I thought I did know the meaning of: “A member of a political party claiming to represent the common people”, according to Merriam-Webster. I suppose in that dictionary definition the phrase “claiming to” is key, because these elites and their followers clearly do not represent, nor care about, the “common people”.

This is not just a criticism of Republicans; as the book points out, “Javanka” (Bannon’s term for White House power couple Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump) are essentially Democrats. Trump and his supporters have dismissed this book out-of-hand (and, almost certainly in many cases, unread) as a partisan attack, but I don’t see it that way. As intersex trans professor and advocate Cary Gabriel Costello pointed out in his review on Facebook, which I encourage everyone to read, this is not a progressive book.

As Costello points out in his review, Fire and Fury has no real analysis of the issues that matter to marginalized folks like myself, including white supremacy and the open discrimination against the LGBTQ community that has been thrust to the forefront of national attention since Trump’s election. As one example: Besides Barack Obama, the only individual black person I saw mentioned in this book was Colin Kaepernick, in a brief reference serving primarily to illustrate Trump’s tendency to wander off-topic during political speeches. There was no explanation of the history and meaning behind the historic NFL protests Kaepernick initiated, which have been a strong statement against the ongoing oppression of black US-Americans.

Even more inexcusable is the portrayal of Steve Bannon as some kind of hero; an experienced and well-read, though coarse and disheveled, genius suffering among a group of political neophytes and fools. To me, Bannon’s publication Breitbart is just a hair’s breadth away from open advocacy of Nazism. “Bannonites”, Milo Yiannopoulos and his supporters, and others in the “alt-right” might be too politically astute to openly embrace white supremacy like Richard Spencer, but the effect of their words and actions on the lives and well-being of marginalized people is incredibly damaging. (Racist and trans-antagonistic taunts and threats are as relevant as physical violence; words really do hurt.)

I’m not suggesting that Wolff had a duty to speak out as an advocate for the oppressed in his book. But without giving more context on the social dynamics of race and gender that created a country capable of electing a President Trump, his story just reads as “palace intrigue”, as Costello and others have put it. The book’s insights into Trump’s incompetence and intellectual shortcomings might prompt more of push toward removal under the 25th Amendment (which I still feel is problematic). But if that process leaves us with a President Pence, anyone who isn’t a straight cisgender white Christian male is going to be even more screwed over.

Despite my reservations about Fire and Fury, I do feel it’s a worthwhile read, though perhaps better to borrow from a library so as not to further enrich the author (it’s already a number one bestseller, so Wolff’s not likely to be strapped for cash anytime soon). If you do order this book from Amazon, consider using their Smile program to donate a portion of the proceeds to a worthy cause; I choose VINE Sanctuary, a vegan LGBTQ-run farmed animal sanctuary, one of the last places Trump would support.

As I feel I must do whenever I write a post about US politics, I will inform (or remind) readers that I am not a Democrat; I am registered with no political party, and have voted only for Green or independent candidates for president since ’96. My concerns and real fears about the Trump administration are not a reflection of being a “sore loser” in the 2016 election (though the candidates I voted for, Jill Stein and Ajamu Baraka, did lose, that was expected, and will continue to be as long as progressives insist on mocking and shaming third-party voters). If Fire and Fury provides a push toward US-Americans of all political persuasions really thinking critically about who to vote for in the next general election, that will be a welcome result. That’s not a result I’m anticipating, but one I hope for all the same.

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