Fire and Fury in the Time of Trump

  • Posted on: 17 February 2018
  • By: thecollective

From Anarkismo by Wayne Price

An Anarchist Review of Michael Wolff, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.

Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff is a popular book about Trump and his administration. It may be popular because it focuses on Trump's bizarre personal peculiarities rather than the political context and the forces which led to Trump's presidency.

If not the best book on the crazed Trump administration, this is certainly the most popular. Perhaps because it focuses on Donald Trump’s personal peculiarities rather than the political context, it has become a top best seller. It has been criticized because the author, Michael Wolff, says that he sometimes listened to contradictory reports of various events, given by the unreliable members of the administration, and then used his own judgment in integrating these reports into unified accounts. While this may lead us to wonder how accurate his reportage of specific White House events may be, there is no doubt that his overall account is accurate. It fits very well with what we have seen of Trump and his agents as they have acted out in public, in front of cameras and newspaper reporters.

Through his own observations of the president, and through the reports of Trump’s allies, supporters, family members, and minions, Wolff draws a picture of his behavior and personality. Trump is thin-skinned and easily hurt by criticism, desiring always to be liked and admired, yet insensitive to others’ feelings, desires, and needs. He is impulsive, and easily aroused to anger. He is highly distractible, unable to concentrate for extended periods, and readily bored. He has a need to constantly be winning. Women are seen by him as merely sex objects or as aides to his work if they are sufficiently obsequious—but then he sees everyone as objects, useful to him or not.

Trump knows very little and is generally incurious, including about what he should know to manage the presidency. He lies constantly, not necessarily for specific purposes but just for the sake of it. However, he may not know when he is lying, since he lives in a fantasy world of his own making, an alternate reality which is immune to facts. Most of those around him regard him as stupid (although it is hard to say if this is due to limited intelligence or to a personality-based unwillingness to think—or both). “Trump didn’t read. He didn’t really even skim…Some believed that …he was no more than semiliterate….Some thought him dyslexic….He didn’t listen. He preferred to be the person talking.” (113-4) He develops his views mostly through watching right wing television.

“Rupert Murdoch [was]…certain Trump was a charlatan and a fool.” (19) “The people who knew him best” regarded him as “careless, capricious, disloyal, far beyond any sort of control.” (223) “…Senior staff believed the president had a problem with reality….” (242) Rex Tillerson, the Secretary of State, called Trump “a fucking moron.” The Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin regarded him as an “idiot.” H.R. McMaster called him a “dope.” (304) All the senior staff belittled Trump’s intelligence, openly or quietly. “Everyone…struggled to express the baldly obvious fact that the president did not know enough, did not know what he didn’t know, did not particularly care, and, to boot, was confident if not serene in his unquestioned certitudes.” (304) “…Staffers [were] concerned that his ability to stay focused, never great, had notably declined….” (309)

These observable traits have led some mental health professionals—and other people who could pick up a psychiatric manual—to diagnose Trump with various personality disorders, even though they have not personally examined him. I am not going to do that, precisely because I am a licensed psychologist (although I would love to see his responses to the Rorschach Inkblots). His publicly observed behavior is terrible enough for us to say that he should not be in office. Trump has responded to these reports by asserting that he is really “a stable genius.”

Wolff focuses almost entirely on these personal traits of Trump and of those around him. These others are also more or less batty in behavior, the administration being full of crackpots, clowns, ignoramuses, right-wing ideologues, and other strange people. “Few in the thin ranks of Trump’s inner circle….had almost any relevant experience. Nobody had a political background. Nobody had a policy background.” (25) They pride themselves on being saner and smarter than Trump but cannot keep him from engaging in bizarre and self-destructive behavior.

Besides personal behavior, Wolff looks at the court tensions among Trump courtiers. He observed three main factions: (1) family members, mainly son-in-law Jared Kushner and daughter Ivanka Trump, whom he peculiarly describes as New York “liberal Democrats”; (2) establishment Republicans, who were then represented by Reince Priebus, now fired.The pressure continues from the Republicans who lead in the House and Senate; (3) Steve Bannon, reflecting the extreme nationalist, nativist, right-wing. Bannon has also been let go, and since this book came out (with Bannon’s criticisms of Trump and his family members), has lost much of his influence—at least for now. But others carry the torch, such as Steven Miller, encouraging Trump to stick to his worst anti-immigrant policies. There is also the on-going influence of the ultra-right Mercers, father and daughter, who are described as among the “difficult, even sociopathic, rich people” pushing their agenda on Trump and his entourage. (177)

Beyond this, there is little consideration of politics or of the political context. These only come up in relation to the personal quirks or cliquish conflicts in the White House. For example, Trump’s decision to withdraw from the international climate treaty is discussed as a victory for Bannon and a defeat for Ivanka, rather than as an attack on the global climate. Trump’s continuation of the war in Afghanistan is considered in relation to his reluctance to make decisions as well as the differences between the generals’ desire to expand the war versus Bannon’s isolationist desire to withdraw.

Wolff downplays the issue of Russian collusion, looking more at Trump’s inept reactions. He speculates that Trump’s resistance to the investigation has mostly to do with the fear that it would uncover various illegal financial shenanigans by the family businesses (which may certainly be one aspect of Trump’s reaction). Trump has “come out of the real estate business; …based on substantial debt…it often…is a preferred exchange currency for problem cash—money laundering.” (17) “…If the unraveling began [it] would likely lead to the messy Trump (and Kushner) business dealings.” (102)

However, Wolff does describe the now-notorious meeting of Trump’s people with Russian agents as “one of the most preposterous meetings in modern politics” (253) and an “imbecilic meeting.” (254) He quotes Bannon as regarding the meeting as “treasonous or unpatriotic.” (255) Wolff expresses certainty that Donald Jr. would have told his father about it.

Much of what Wolff describes, while not completely new, is still fascinating. However, it is weak as a guide to understanding the political situation. While Wolff may be some sort of liberal, there is nothing in the book that a “Never Trump” Republican would disagree with. Wolff repeatedly describes the mainstream media as the “liberal media.” He accepts the right-wing view that most of the newspapers and television news programs are “liberal,” left versions of Fox News and right-wing radio talk shows. Actually, if we compare the views of really liberal journals (The Nation, Mother Jones, etc.) with most of the press and TV news, the mainstream comes off at least right-center. (The exception is the mildly liberal evening MSNBC shows of Rachel Maddow and others.) Noam Chomsky has demonstrated the pro-capitalist, pro-imperialist, bias of the media, and this has not changed. However, Trump is so bizarre in his behavior and so far to the right that the media cannot report on him without appearing hostile. As has been said, “Reality has a left bias.”

Trumpism is Republicanism

Much of President Trump’s politics and behavior is idiosyncratic, unique to him. His constant lying, bragging, misstatements, and other peculiarities, would not have appeared if other Republicans had been elected president—such as Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush, or even Mike Pence His reluctance to criticize Nazis is not a typical Republican attitude. (The U.S. ruling class is not ready for fascism.) The whole Russian imbroglio would not have appeared with any other politician. There are sections of the U.S. capitalist class which are for better relations with Russia (represented by Tillerson, the former head of Exxon). But even these would not have been so in denial about the Russian interference in the U.S. election. Also most of the U.S. capitalist class favors more “free trade” agreements with other countries and a more flexible immigration policy; they want to benefit from cheap labor. On these points they (and their hired politicians) have been in disagreement with Donald Trump.

Yet in many ways, Trumpism is a symptom of the reaction by Republicans and Democrats to deep problems in U.S. and world society. These have caused a drastic turn to the right, to attacks on the working class. There is economic stagnation, increased inequality, and pressures on real profits (as opposed to financial speculation and overvaluation of stocks and bonds).

Basically, Trumpism is an extension of modern Republicanism. The Republican party is the cutting edge of the attack on the working class and the environment. This was pretty clear when virtually all the Republican politicians supported the unpopular Trump tax cut for the very rich. It is also apparent when almost all the Republican Representatives and Senators have doubled down on defending Trump against the Department of Justice investigation. They are attacking the investigators and trying to distract the public.

Big capitalists had not supported Trump in the election and had preferred Clinton. But with his election, there “was a surprising and sudden business and Wall Street affinity for Trump….An anti-regulatory White House and the promise of tax reform outweighed the prospect of disruptive tweeting and other forms of Trump chaos….” (87) (Note that Wolff uses the pro-business term, “tax reform,” instead of the accurate “big tax cuts for the rich.”)

Some sections of Trump’s popular base have become disillusioned with him, but polls have shown that the rank-and-file of the Republican Party overwhelmingly still supports Trump. (For the general public, he is the most unpopular first year president in the history of polling.) The Republicans have lied to a section of the population (white middle class and upper working class, especially males, in the suburbs and rural areas). These people have responded to real grievances of growing poverty and inequality, de-industrialization, loss of jobs, de-unionization, and rural stagnation—but mostly responded with false and misleading politics, being called on to blame African-Americans, immigrants, Muslims, Mexicans, environmentalists, feminists, and the “liberal elite.” The Republicans have whipped these people up to a nihilistic frenzy of despair. Then the Republican leadership was surprised when this hyped-up mass did not follow their lead but instead voted (in the primaries and in the general election) for the most unqualified person available, since he said what they believed. However, many other Trump voters were not attracted to his overt racism and nativism, but rather voted for him for change and because of a dislike of the Democratic candidate. But even these did not object to Trump’s racism, not enough to reject voting for him.

While the modern Republican Party, as well as Trump himself, leans far to the right, neither it nor he are fascist. Neither Trump nor the party leaders will ban all other political parties, shut down the newspapers, cancel elections, or declare Trump president-for-life. If the system seems increasingly repressive, well, that is what we have in the limited democracy of capitalism. Yet Trump has opened the door for the real fascists, given them a bit of respectability. After the Charlottesville march of Nazis and Klanspeople, “the president’s sympathies were muddled. However easy and obvious it was to condemn white racists…he instinctively resisted…and he continued to be stubborn about not doing it.” (293-4)

The “Lesser Evil” Democrats

If the Republicans were Trump’s “enablers,” as Paul Krugman has suggested, then the Democrats were the enablers of the enablers. After eight years of Barrack Obama’s presidency, there was more inequality than ever and continuing de-industrialization throughout much of the nation. This was even though the economy was in a long, slow, and shallow “recovery” from the Great Recession—which continues now, and will continue until the next crash. A not-very-good health plan was passed. More immigrants were deported than ever before. Climate catastrophe was recognized in words but an ineffectual minimum was done about it. Wars were continued and expanded abroad.

The two-party system encourages a certain type of amoral maneuverer, for whom political programs are not goals to be achieved so much as means to personal success. “A close Trump friend who was also a good Bill Clinton friend found them eerily similar—except that Clinton had a respectable front and Trump did not.” (23)

The Democrats ran the most business-as-usual figure they had, Hillary Rodham Clinton. She and her husband Bill had gotten rich in their years of “public service.” She was paid big bucks for speaking at gatherings of the biggest capitalists. She was known as the most hawkish member of the Obama administration. (There were also bad reasons for disliking her, including sheer misogyny, and the way a mountain was made out of a molehill over her emails.) The only reasons for voting for her came down to breaking the gendered presidential glass ceiling and that she was not Trump. These were reasons enough for her to win a thin majority of the popular vote, but then to loose in the archaic Electoral College.

For years the Democrats had been deliberately turning their backs on the unions and the working class in favor of appealing to the professional-managerial middle and upper classes. Thomas Frank had warned that this would have electoral and political costs (Price 2016a). In the event, many white workers and their families who had voted for Obama, now voted for Trump. Many others stayed home. (A little less than half of eligible voters did not vote.) Meanwhile large sections of African-Americans were disaffected; they would not vote for Trump but, again, many who had voted for Obama also stayed home. Latinos knew that Trump was viciously against them, but they also knew that “the Obama administration had been quite aggressive in deporting illegal aliens.” (63) Many Latinos also sat this one out.

For years the liberals had been opposing the greater political evil by supporting the lesser evil. Sometimes they won and sometimes they lost, but overall the greater evil got more and more evil, and so did the lesser evil. That is, the Republican Party became completely committed to far-right ideology, while the Democratic Party moved to where the “moderate Republicans” used to be. (For example, for a health care program they did not advocate the liberal “single-payer” approach but adopted the program developed by Mitt Romney when he was Massachusetts governor.) In brief, the politics of “lesser evilism” has not worked.

The liberal Warren-Sanders wing of the Democrats has no power. It serves as a shill to bring young people, labor, progressives, African-Americans, feminists, environmentalists, etc., into a party really ruled by corporate politicians such as the Clintons. Liberal Democrats and the MSNBC talking heads like to focus on the issue of Trump’s ties to Russia and his efforts to cover them up. While this is a real issue, it also has the effect of distracting from such U.S. matters as inequality, climate change, or the danger of nuclear war. It makes the Democrats look patriotic and proudly chauvinistic. It lets the liberals wallow in patriotic hypocrisy. The imperialist U.S. state intervened in 81 national elections and supported about 36 attempted military coups, from 1946 to 2000. (McCoy 2017) Who is the U.S. to denounce foreign intervention in elections?

The Republicans can fire up their middle class base. While these people may get out of hand and elect a Trump, they do not threaten the system. But the Democrats never could fire up their historic base of workers and People of Color. The demands of the working class and the oppressed for better standards of living and more public services immediately threaten the profits of the corporate rich. Brought to an extreme, their demands threaten the very basis of capitalism. This is why liberals constantly complain that the Democrats do not stand up to the conservative Republicans, and why the Democrats were so willing to turn away from the working class, the poor, and People of Color, in favor of the professional middle class.

According to Wolff, Trump and his campaigners never expected to get elected; he expected to improve his “brand” while he prepared to claim that he had been cheated. With the election of this accidental president here has been a major increase in popular struggles and movements. (Price 2016b) This includes forming thousands of local anti-Trump clubs, enormous mass demonstrations, and local demonstrations at “town hall” meetings and at airports. At this time, most of the movement has been channeled into electoral activities, electing more Democrats, especially women. Probably this was inevitable for now, but it is a dead end. There needs to be a radical, libertarian-socialist, wing of the anti-Trump movement, which rejects the Democrats in favor of independent, mass, direct action.

Many liberals and Democrats look forward to when Trump is gone (through losing the next presidential election or even being impeached). They think that the evil days will be gone and things will return to “normal.” It is true that the peculiarities of Trump’s behavior will be over. But the crazy right-wing politics of the Republicans will continue. The wishy-washy but pro-corporate capitalist politics of the Democrats will continue. And the underlying economic decay and stagnation and ecological catastrophe will continue. The system will escalate its attacks on the working class and the environment, and, through wars, on people around the world. No part of the political or economic system can be relied on; as with the weather under conditions of global warming, there is a “new normal.” Those of us who believe in ecological sanity, freedom, mutual aid, and radical democracy had better do all we can to build a popular movement for these goals.

References

McCoy, Alfred W. (2017). In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power. Haymarket.

Price, Wayne (2016a). “Party of Which People? Review of Thomas Frank, Listen, Liberal.” http://www.anarkismo.net/article/29505?search_text=Wayn...Price

Price, Wayne (2016b). “Not My President! The New Resistance.”
https://www.anarkismo.net/article/29862?search_text=Way...Price

Wolff, Michael (2018). Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. NY: Henry Holt.

*written for www.Anarkismo.net

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Comments

this is so vapid Wayne. the fact is that at least since the Reagan years, the office of POTUS has been used to provide plausible deniability for the national security (and/or deep state). any sitting president is a figurehead at best, a convenient smokescreen for the policies benefitting the ruling class and its international cohorts. electoral politics have always been a distraction from the actual skirmishes in the class war, and sorry to say, Wayne, but by you spending the time to get this review published, you have contributed to that distraction. it reminds me of the CPUSA newspaper having a sports page cuz that’s what proletarians are interested in... in short, another fail from Price and Anarkismo

Anonymous-Vapid apparently thinks that it is a "fail" to try to connect revolutionary politics with "what proletarians are interested in." God forbid anarchists should talk to ordinary people about politics! That is our fundamental disagreement.

The bourgeois-democratic system has two main functions (1) to fool the working people into believing that they are really running the government and are a free people. Anonymous-Vapid and I agree on this, which is why I make the argument that Wolff's book is mainly gossip without political content or context. But A-V does not see the point in trying to expose this game in order to wake up the population. Instead he or she sneers at me for bothering to try to explain how the system works. It is nice to feel superior, I guess, but what does it get you?

(2) The other function of the system is to settle real differences among various factions of the ruling class and its hangers-on. A-V does not seem to be aware of this. He or she seems to think that national politics is simply vacuous and vapid. But there really is something there, which I also discuss (briefly--this is just a book review after all).

Wayne again proves he’s incapable of answering criticism without his own smugness at knowing what’s best for The Revolutionary Subject. heaven forefend anyone might think that pointing out the inherent absurdity of paying attention to snarky gossip from one faction of the american ruling class as it maneuvers right wing and mainstream media to its bizarre perspective might be a more interesting strategy than reviewing a fake “insider” or fake investigative exposé. Wayne, you are contributing to the spectacle of statecraft by giving this book more credence than it deserves.

Class is not a prime determining factor when it comes to power as such. Ruling power in a US contexts has numerous facets. I do agree thought that the donald is epiphenomenal.

Anonymous-Vapid writes: "Wayne, you are contributing to the spectacle of statecraft by giving this book more credence than it deserves." Unfortunately for radicals, this book already has far more "credence" than it deserves, being no. 1 on the best seller list. If A-V, and I, and all other anarchists, refuse to "pay attention" to the book--I doubt it will make a dent. But since people are already reading it or at least talking about it, then it may be possible to impress a few with the nature of the politics of "one faction of the american ruling class" and its maneuvers. Maybe the anarchists who read this book review will be better prepared to discuss it with friends, family, and co-workers. I really don't see the advantage of just ignoring it. And I don't get A-V's comment about my "knowing what's best for The Revolutionary Subject." A-V has expressed his or her point of view on this topic and I have expressed mine. I don't get why this makes me the elitist and A-V the open-minded one.

S.E., disagreeing with both A-V and me, writes "Class is not a prime determining factor when it comes to power...." Apparently, socio-economic position (such as the layer of the population which owns most of the wealth of the country, for whom most of us work) is not even one of the main ("prime") facets of national power. Even C. Wright Mills (in The Power Elite) put the top of the business class as one of the three top elements of the power elite (the others being the military tops and the leading politicians). I find it bizarre to claim that those who hold the wealth of the world, for decide how the economy will function, who drain profits from the labor of the big majority of the people, are not a "prime determining factor when it comes to power."

I'm neither of those posters, and it seems pretty clear to me you're consistently missing the point.

The comment regarding "giving this book more credence than it deserves" didn't come off to me as saying "you're going to make the book more popular." As you yourself pointed out, we're all pretty irrelevant here, at least when it comes to influencing mass perception. The point isn't that you're speaking the devil's name, so to speak, as much as you're still focusing on conversations that aren't worth having -- namely, those of spectacle, not substance. The difference between that anon and yourself when it comes to elitism is that the anon isn't proselytizing to anyone, merely stating what discussion they find meaningful, while you are clearly speaking down to what you view lesser-educated plebes who need to learn The Truth. If I'm misreading you, then perhaps you can explain why the hell is this worth talking about, without referring to any sort of revolutionary subject or "population" to "wake up"?

You similarly seem to be ignoring ziggy's actual points. I doubt they would deny that class is a major factor of power, so much as the idea that it plays the central role you seem to ascribe it. To use a pretty clear and relevant example: many of the major figures of the alt-right are neither politicians nor wealthy, yet have come to play a pretty substantial role in power relations. Compare this to the actual capitalist class, whose individual decisions are ultimately largely irrelevant, as they're reflections of the underlying system (the corporation or capitalism itself) which they represent. In other words, if it doesn't matter who is CEO as long as there is a CEO, then why would CEO be a position of such ultimate power?

Anonymous-Neither writes that I do not understand A-V's criticism nor that of Ziggy. This is always possible, but in these cases I disagree. A-V is not just expressing uninteresting in Wolff's book but is against my discussing it also, or against any anarchist (radical) discussing it. A-V has decided that it is a waste of time and that's that. But since people are in fact discussing it all around us, I think that it is worth while for anarchists to think about it and be prepared to talk about it with our friends and co-workers. I never implied that my take on the book was the only possible one (this is a case of projection, reading your own elitism into what I said), but I think I have an opinion which is worth considering. I think that we can start from the gossipy parts of the book to go on to explore more political issues; but then I do not think that Trump etc. is nothing-but a figurehead. His election represents something and exposes some aspects of our "democracy."

Anon.-Neither doubts that Ziggy "would deny that class is a major factor of power." But Zig wrote, "Class is not a prime determining factor when it comes to power as such." Forgive me for believing that Zig meant what is written. A further discussion would require a review of the class theory of the state--which is not the crude concept you refute. I am not up to that at this point. However, looking at your example, consider how the Nazis ran around and organized, trying to sell themselves to the big capitalists, until the day when German big business decided that it would, after all, hire them to run their state.

Ziggy isn't capable of doing much besides arguing that class is always not relevant

I simply think its a branching problem and not a root problem. Once one figures out the dynamics of voluntary servitude, that service comes before slavery and that voluntary precedes the involuntary, then Marxian class analysis as a base explanation for power becomes untenable.

Power is plural and diffuse and class is just a part of it. They way you deal with it in the most matter a fact way is to deal with the belief behavior sublimations that give rise to it. Anarchcynicism(as Bob Black coins it) is one of the things that come into play when it comes to defacing the currency of status and other things that create class.

Yes and one of the behavior sublimations is the belief that status is the quantifier of power, which is the driving force of the capitalist libidinous economy, to dominate and conquer, to create demand amongst the diversity of personality cults all worshipping status and celebrity, and who swell the ranks of the Idpol army,.,

and well you two circle-jerk each other senseless here, others move beyond endless discussion

Does anyone think any of Wayne Price's positions can possibly be relevant or taken in good faith anymore, after his continuing rigid defense of Black Flame?

"OK, so bear with me here... Just because it was written by an Afrikaner Nazi and an Afrikaner Nazi apologist doesn't mean it's not a great book, right? Right?"

The root to power is the ability to induce fear and to carry through with threats. Whatever this ability came out of is not the source of power, merely it's tool and method. Ultimately, equal power is within the mind of all sentient beings, making revolution a psychological concept,.,

*route,* and no apostrophe in its, ffs...

beeyin towuld two spel corekley buy de sisstum ov connformitee...spelin indoktrinaytion four de kontrole phreeks! GET A LIFE BOLES.

good grammar isn’t about control. it’s about respecting your readers enough not to force them to decipher your mistakes. your attempt at humor is anglosupremacist; it presumes total familiarity with English phonetics to make your point, which is far more authoritarian than pointing out a misspelling and an inappropriate apostrophe.

So why are you not complaining that the comment is written in 'anglosupremacist' language, with and without spelling mistakes? Why have you written in 'anglosupremacist' lanaguage? Fuck Off. Is that clear enough for you!!

To 08:50: If you aren’t functionally literate in more than English...

Boles, I would like to know how to spell " GET A LIFE " in the non-authoritarian Khoisan language

Yes without coffee in the morning I am sheepish thanks.,.

Actually I visualized "root" as the appropriate term, as in "foundation of, genesis of" and the - it's - was an auto correct, but I'm just so laid back and immune to grammar authoritarians because I know I would beat them in a spelloff.,.

da fuk u wood, lew ay.

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