Michael Wolff’s explosive book on the Trump administration, while an entertaining read, is dubious in terms of its factual veracity.
Michael Wolff’s fly-on-the-wall account of the Trump White House’s first months in office, Fire and Fury, is already one of 2018’s best-selling and most controversial books. While its contents have been questioned and vociferously denied (Melania Trump insists that she supported her husband’s bid for the US presidency, and Nikki Haley denies engaging in an extramarital affair with Trump), it is nevertheless a fascinating read and offers an excellent general overview of the state of the White House.
If Fire and Fury were to be predicated on a main theme, it would be that the Trump White House exists in a perpetual state of chaos simply because Trump himself never expected to beat Hillary Clinton in November 2016’s election. To this end, the campaigns team he assembled around himself intended to utilise a failed presidential bid for their own personal or professional benefit. And when he did win, that team was wholly unsuited to supporting the highest echelons of government.
Wolff continually emphasises how Trump’s preference for unwavering personal loyalty above professional expertise had gutted the White House’s administrative and governance abilities. He also highlights the perpetual tug-of-war for Trump’s ear between Steve Bannon and his daughter and son in law; Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, and Trump’s insecurities and moral shortcomings. Of further interest was the manner in which working in the White House was able to turn formerly respected and competent operators into national laughing stocks, such as Sean Spicer during his short tenure as Director of Communications.
Even before its publication, Fire and Fury was subject to immense criticism on the grounds of unreliability, and that Wolff was effectively passing rumours he had heard second-hand off as verified truths. While it would be wise to read this book with a healthy degree of scepticism, it likely contains some element of truth. Somehow, Wolff was given very generous access inside the White House to observe the daily routines of the Trump administration’s most significant and senior figures. Also important to note is the ever-growing number of individuals with axes to grind against President Trump. These include Republican Primary rivals, Republican establishment figures and Congressional leaders, husbands whose wives had facilitated the President’s alleged marital infidelities, and former White House staffers (including Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer, and Michael Flynn).
One can assume that many of them were more than happy to vent their experiences to Wolff, especially Spicer and Bannon who is described favourably throughout. Unfortunately, accuracy seems to have been sacrificed in favour of juiciness, even when this could have very well endangered the reputations of the individuals concerned. The implication of Nikki Haley’s alleged affair with President Trump is the most notable example of this in the book.
Read Fire and Fury with a critical mind. While highly enjoyable, it is most sensible to take more from the overall picture it presents than its finer details. Many of these have been confirmed (such as President Trump’s hair styling), but plenty of others have been disputed. Towards the book’s end, Wolff floats the prospect of Trump not surviving his first term in the White House as a semi-unasked question, as well as who would succeed him. Time will tell if Wolff was right on this matter. In the meantime, we can only hope for a sequel to Fire and Fury. Given how quickly it was written, perhaps something being released in two years from now is realistic?