ERIC WALSH. Down the Trump rabbit-hole; a review of “Trumpocracy” (David Frum) and “Fire and Fury” (Michael Wolff)

Feb 15, 2018

Donald Trump, no longer a tyro as the President of the United States, has already rated himself one of the most successful ever occupants of the esteemed office.

To back up his evaluation (the world has seen only a chaotic record of mismanagement, ignorance and gross incompetence) Trump has created his own scenarios – complete at times with wholly fictional statistics which have no relationship whatever to reality. The fiction seems to have more than adequately satisfied Trump himself but is shared by no one else. America is getting weekly – sometimes more often – inarguable evidence of the total inefficiency of the Trump Administration.

The fantasy world Trump has created to back his assessments of himself began from day one, election day 2016.

He won, he claimed, a landslide victory – in fact – in fifty eight US Presidential elections only nine have been won by narrower margins.

In celebration of his victory he claimed the biggest inaugural crowd ever. Eye witnesses and photographic evidence show, however, that it was one of the smallest.

His first one hundred days in office he asserted were legislatively the most productive in living memory – another blatant fiction.

Not since, in his words, the “late great Abraham Lincoln” had there been a figure as presidential as himself – preposterous.

The crowd who heard him at the recent Davos economic gathering in Switzerland was the largest in memory – an outright lie.

Just another one which fact checkers at the prestigious Washington Post can add to their already formidable total of more than 2,010 lies in his first year in office. A genuine statistic and almost certainly a record but one which Trump has declined to boast or add to his list of fantasies.

Donald, by the way, hit back at the lie-checkers at The Post throwing them a curve ball with his assertion that he was “a genius and a stable one at that.”  Was this one lie or two?

There is another genuine statistic which sets Trump apart from all of his predecessors not quite in the way he imagines himself. No President in memory – perhaps ever – has generated more books in his first twelve months than the Donald. Almost without exception it is his chaotic incompetence rather than Donald’s perceived excellence which has inspired them.

The reviewer knows of four but understands there are several more. But these are not the sort of records he is likely to put on display in his office or resorts as he does with the phoney Time Magazine covers which he has had created just for this purpose.

Generally the books are critical – highly critical – of the hopeless administration over which Trump has presided in his first thirteen months. The best known among these published records are divided between two genuine assessments of Trump’s role – tragedy or farce – it could of course be both.

David Frum’s “Trumpocracy” for example opts for the tragedy version. The latest and most widely publicised record of Trump’s chaotic reign Michael Wolff’s “FIRE AND FURY – Inside the Trump White House” goes impressively for farce and in 310 pages argues persuasively for this assessment.

In the end the conclusion of both books is not much different. Both are heavily critical of Trump’s personal behavior and broad spectrum incapacity to perform in the office to which he was narrowly elected in 2016.

Wolff’s description of chaos and incompetence at almost all levels in the Trump White House was compiled after months of relative freedom inside the White House to observe its operation and talk freely with many of the principals supposedly helping Trump through his first year in office. The fact that he was there at all seems to be yet further evidence of the faulty judgement which has characterized most of Trump’s political operations in his first year. The fact that Trump belatedly tried to prevent the publication of “Fire & Fury” and threatened defamation action against the author has served as a wonderful promotional tool for the book, the sales of which are already in the millions.

Wolff’s book in its detailed record of hopelessness contains little that we did not already know, much of it leaked out over the full first year by mainstream media in the United States. But it is impressively brought together by Wolff who is a fine writer and an impressive publicist.

There is no single new revelation in the volume which will significantly damage Trump or his Administration. The damage will be real but will be in the book itself.

The vast majority of the millions reading the book are ordinary Americans who, like most ordinary Australians, don’t make a habit of following politics blow by blow. But over the period of Trump’s administration they have been regularly fed by all types of media, including at times by Trump’s own tweets, enough adverse information to convince themselves that all is far from well in the White House.

With “Fire and Fury” in their hand they have a neat heavily detailed compilation of events which will convince them their assessments of the failings and of Trump’s hopeless inadequacies – detailed over months, are not misplaced.

Wolff details not only Trump’s ignorance and total unfamiliarity with the job to which he was elected but his apparent unconcern about this lack and a total uninterest in rectifying it.

His ignorance of domestic affairs outside his own personal interests has led to impulsive decisions like those on the Dreamer’s and Islamic immigration, which have been or will have to be modified with the mid-term elections now only nine months away.

In foreign affairs he has demonstrated so far that he has only one reaction to almost any set of circumstances – that is a military one. It is this singled-minded military approach by Trump, among other things, which is a significant problem for Australia with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull only recently declaring Australia to be in lockstep with the United States in its view of the world. Malcolm is unlikely to forsake this stand seeking a more independent Australia in his upcoming meetings with the President.

Wolff’s book chronicles sackings and departures from key positions in the White House. It illustrates the total lack of expertise and constant state of disorganisation in an outfit that Trump claims, in another fantasy lapse, is “running like a well-oiled machine.”

Some inaccuracies in Wolff’s book have been pointed out. However, they are not major and with readers not being fact checkers are totally believable because they are consistent with the genuine blunders and f….. ups with which the book bristles.

Very early in the 2016 campaign the boss of America’s TV network CBS prophetically foresaw the Trump administration saying “it might not be good for America, but it’s certainly good for CBS.” You can almost hear the soft “hear, hears” from the New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, CBS TV rivals and media nationwide.

America has had mediocre Presidents before, probably not in Trump’s class as Wolff points out impressively ,but in most cases these men have surrounded themselves with talented bureaucrats and those more familiar with politics than themselves to minimize any lack of performance. Not so with Trump.

Those closest to Trump are his family no better placed than the President himself to bring any quality to the Administration. Wolff gives not only his own assessment of this particular group but detailed assessments from other key figures in the White House. None are flattering.

In American political circles all eyes are now on the upcoming mid-term elections.

Elections in America as in other democracies are about moods. If national opinion polls can be believed the mood now taking a grip on America is not one which is likely to prove helpful to the Republicans in these polls.

“Fire and Fury” as a record of the present Republican Administration under Trump is likely to be a significant factor in consolidating and reinforcing this growing mood. The fact that Trump did his best to stop it was therefore one of the very rare instances where he has shown sound judgement since becoming President.

Eric Walsh is a former senior journalist in the Canberra Press Gallery

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