Over the weekend, I read Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, and if you haven’t read it yet, I would suggest it’s not really worth the time investment if you’ve been keeping up with politics since Donald Trump was elected (that is most of you, I imagine). It essentially recounts Donald Trump’s first year in office, and there’s not a lot in the book we didn’t already know. It’s basically everything that the NYTimes, The Washington Post, Politico, and Axios reported over the course of the last year, as told from Steve Bannon’s perspective.
And make no mistake: Though Michael Wolff says he has plenty of sources, and that he even spoke with Donald Trump for around 3 hours over the course of the year, this is Steve Bannon’s tell-all. It’s the first year of the Trump Administration through the eyes of Bannon, which means that everyone — and especially Jared Kushner and “that dumb bitch” Ivanka Trump — come off terribly, except, really, for Trump. Yes, a lot of Trump’s advisors think little of him, and no one thinks he’s qualified for his position, but from what I can glean from Wolff’s book, the first year of his presidency was a win for Trump. At least in his own mind.
Why? Because it’s never been about being President for Donald Trump. Donald Trump doesn’t govern. Hell, he has no idea how to govern, and he has no interest in governing. Donald Trump is interested in only one thing, and that’s being the most famous man in the world.
You know what? He accomplished that, for better or (much, much) worse. From what I can gather from the book, Trump doesn’t operate on what’s best for the country. He operates based on what will get him the best headlines, and if he can’t get the “best” headlines, he’ll settle for the most headlines. He wants attention, and the best way to get attention, he figures, is to push through policies that contradict those of his predecessor, not that he understands policy (he had to have a goddamn explainer on the Constitution, and he checked out before the Fourth Amendment). As President, he has no idea what he’s doing. As a guy who just wants to see his name in print? He’s a goddamn master.
I don’t remember who, exactly, reported it, but during the campaign, Trump apparently approached John Kasich to be his running mate and told him, “Do you want to run the country.” Kasich then asked, “What are you going to do?” And Trump responded, “I’m going to be the cheerleader.”
That’s essentially what happened during his first year as President. Does anyone actually think he gives a shit about healthcare? He doesn’t even understand the basic concepts. His only interest in repealing it was so that he could say he beat President Obama. I mean: Look at his first year in office. What has he accomplished besides a self-serving tax plan that he had almost nothing to do with, aside from signing it (it’s Paul Ryan’s tax plan, and everyone knows it). Everything else that Donald Trump has done has been about generating headlines. He spends the first three hours of every morning watching cable news (no, really) and then he “governs” by reaction, not based on an “agenda,” but based on a news cycle.
Donald Trump is not someone who believes he needs to be a “good” President. He’s someone who believes that the measure of a man is based only on his last news cycle. And if Trump has a bad news cycle, he believes there’s another one the next day that will erase the one from the day before, or the month before, or the year before. I genuinely think, based on my reading of Fire and Fury, that Donald Trump believes that the Republicans can win in 2018 and that he can win again in 2020, as long as he wins the news cycle the day before the election. That is all that matters to him: The news cycle. And if a Presidency is measured by the number of headlines generated, Trump has eclipsed every single President in United States history.
But what does he really do? Nothing, really. He watches a lot of TV, and he plays golf, and lets everyone else design the agenda, and then he ignores that in favor of whatever gut reaction he has to what just aired on TV. He’s a terrible President, and our foreign policy is in absolute shambles, but I wonder, really, how much worse it might have been under a different, more effective Republican president? If Paul Ryan had won, he’d have passed the tax plan. He’d have probably repealed Obamacare. He’d probably be quietly eroding the right to an abortion (while Trump has done so loudly), but aside from deporting thousands of people (which some Republican Presidents might have done), what has Trump actually accomplished that makes him different from Paul Ryan or Ted Cruz, aside — again — from foreign policy, where Trump and Rex Tillerson have essentially dismantled the State Department.
Indeed, the incompetence of Trump has prevented him from doing what a true Republican with majorities in both houses of Congress might have accomplished. He has no idea what he’s doing. His advisors design policy behind his back, and those policies are all over the place, and through most of the first year, the agenda was crippled by infighting between Javanka and Bannon. (His obsession with the media has also put him under a bigger microscope than most Presidents — he can’t sneeze without the media drawing attention to it, which is a problem of his own making.)
And now? Bannon is out (and thanks to this book, alienated), while Kushner and Ivanka have largely been sidelined. Trump’s agenda is now being designed by Congress and two of the most senior political advisors remaining, Stephen Miller and Hope Hicks (one gossipy revelation from the book is that Hicks was sleeping with Corey Lewandowski). Trump is going to continue to be able to do things by executive order (like withdrawing from the Paris Accord, or allowing drilling along our coastlines, or passing a transgender ban in the military that the Pentagon ignores), but anything else he accomplished legislatively won’t be his victories; they’ll be Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell’s victories. He’s been partially neutered by his incompetence; the dwindling majorities in Congress have made it even more difficult for him, and neither he nor his Administration can get out of the way of his own Tweets. If we can just hang in there another year and retake Congress, we can render him completely null … except for foreign policy, which is not a small thing. North Korea continues to be a dangerous threat that Trump exacerbates, and there’s very little preventing Russia from mucking up another election. Trump is a scary motherfucker, but not because he’s effective, but because he’s thin skinned and mentally unfit.
Other Gossipy Revelations
There really weren’t as many as I thought there might be, and most of the good ones were reported before the release of the book (the book is a lot like a comedy where the trailer has all the funny bits).
+ Nikki Haley may be more dangerous than Trump, ultimately. She’s an effective, moderate Republican, but she’s become a Trump protege, of sorts, and knows how to use Trumpian tactics to advance her career.
+ Hope Hicks is 29 years old, little is known about her, and she may be the most powerful person in the White House, because she actually encourages Trump’s worst instincts. The book suggests that Trump thinks of Hicks more like a daughter and Ivanka more like a wife.
+ Melania, meanwhile, is basically out of the picture. She didn’t want this to begin with, and she cried on Inauguration Night, and not out of happiness. She never wanted any of this, and Trump had promised her that he’d never win, so she was crestfallen because Trump’s victory upset what was basically a quiet life largely removed from her husband (they do not sleep in the same bed).
+ In fact, no one in the campaign either expected or really even wanted to win. They’d all put themselves in great position to succeed in failure. Trump would be a martyr. Bannon would lead the right-wing resistance on Breitbart; Kellyanne Conway would make a fortune as a cable talking head; Jared and Ivanka would improve their brand; and Priebus would be the guy who got Donald Trump within 5 points of victory. They were gonna make out like gangbusters, and so far, the victory has worked against them. Trump is hated by 70 percent of the country; there’s talk of Bannon being ousted from Brietbart; Conway has no credibility remaining; Ivanka’s brand is in the toilet and Jared is on the cusp of indictment; and Preibus (and Spicer) were fired in disgrace within a year and their careers are in tatters. It really is like winning was the worst thing that could happen to them. Fuck ‘em.