Trump book paints a dire portrait (no surprise there)

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff (Henry Holt & Co. 2018) $30 ($14.99 eBook); 336 pp.

Most likely, you had an opinion when Donald Trump was sworn in as president. (I hazard to guess I have a general idea what that opinion was.) Chances are, this entire time, you’ve never wavered from your initial judgment.

And then, along comes a book like Fire and Fury.

Early in his book, author Michael Wolff says that he did “more than two hundred interviews;” he publicly states that he has tape recordings of it all. The White House admits that he had access to the Executive Mansion and journalists have corroborated his presence, so we must assume that he was there with ears open, although quotes and points made here are not always attributed to testable sources. And so, though it reads like a novel, this book is at least somewhat verifiable.

That aside, Wolff begins with a familiar trope: That many people, even those on his team, simply assumed that Trump wouldn’t win; in fact, his “tiny band of campaign warriors… were not ready to win.” Even so, Trump supposedly perceived even a loss was a win: He believed it would help increase his presence and his brand. Wolff gives readers reason to question if the win, indeed, benefited anyone.

Following the inauguration, trouble began almost immediately when Trump began focusing on things that seemed unimportant — the size of the inauguration crowds, or the weather. Wolff says that the White House staff quickly learned that Trump required flattery and aggrandizing on a constant basis, and their thoughts on “handling” him are not complimentary. Wolff reiterates those comments, and the alarm expressed by foreign diplomats over the Trump presidency; he also has some less-than-desirable things to say himself about Trump and his children — and yet, Wolff says that Trump can be a likeable guy.

Of course, Steve Bannon plays a large part in this account, and Wolff indicates that Bannon and other Trump staffers (including members of the Trump family) constantly battled. (Since the book’s release, Bannon has stepped back on the things he’s said … but stepping back is not denial, and it came after a lengthy silence.)

Much like the Trump presidency, Fire and Fury will be argued over along battle lines — it’s unlikely any minds will change. But if what Wolff has written is even 10 percent accurate, is that too much for this presidency to endure?

Overall, there’s not much inside this book that you haven’t already seen online, on social media, or in your newspaper. You’ve absorbed it already — so is Fire and Fury still worth a read?

My call: absolutely. This book seems as though it may be the cultural touchstone of the year and it may impact politics through at least 2020.             

— Terri Schlichenmeyer