By Bonface Nyangla
I have just finished Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury” after my Facebook friend Mutungi Kioko sent me a soft copy yesterday morning. I read it,studiously, the wholeday while traveling from Homa Bay to Nairobi and had plenty of time at Suswa where Lempaa Soyinka’s kinsmen held us up between 10.30am and 4.30pm over some SGR misunderstandings. Here’s my summary/review thread.
First, I think the book is quite accurate, if not very precise. I wouldn’t take any single quote or anecdote as gospel. The accuracy comes from the fact that it works as a ‘decoder ring’ to the New York Times, et al stories.
1. He puts into a single narrative tidbits that we’ve all picked up on and/or are at least vaguely aware of. That my good friend Donald J. Trump is a very dumb manchild and this does not come as a surprise. His management style, though, was something I only vaguely understood.
2. Quite unlike any other modern president, Trump’s White House functions like a medieval king’s court. From the begining, he encouraged different cliques to battle it out for his affection and attention (but with no one ever getting permanent ‘org chart’-type power).
3. Maggie Habberman(The New York Times) called it “Bannon’s book.” In a sense, she’s right because it’s basically the story of the White House Faction War and Fiasco of 2017, primarily told through the perspective of Steve Bannon. Probably because he does, indeed, like to suck his own c*ck.
4. So Wolff wants us to know what Jared & Ivanka are all about and what they’ve been up to. They’re basically potrayed as mid-90’s Trump: slightly more progressive, substantially less dementia, but many of the same character flaws (hubris/entitlement, thin-skinned, bad decisions).
5. As the story unfolds, the early Trump presidency sees a Priebus vs Bannon vs. Ivanka/Kushner battle for control over the White House agenda. Then Trump hands legislative agenda over to McConnell and Ryan and Preibus fades into obscurity.
6. His kids (Ivanka/Kushner), like everyone else in the White House, don’t know a thing about goverance. But, like Bannon, they can play hardball. So they enlist Gary Cohn and Dina Powell to their side, telling them the White House is theirs for the seizing if Bannon can get squeezed out.
7. The story takes a different turn starting with the Comey firing. Appearently it was Daddy Kushner’s idea, but was eagerly supported by The Kids. Wherein the Battle/Fiasco of 2017 is less ideological and more… practical?
8. Practical re:ideological differences between the two cliques becomes less salient, becomes a lot more personal and heated. And if Wolff’s reporting is correct, Bannon knew how they were handling Russia if it was going to blow up on them. Not a genius-level insight, but it stood out.
9. Bannon, through Wolff, squarely pegs firing Comey, the Air Force One response to the Trump Tower meeting (“adoption talk”), and hiring The Mooch 100% on The Kids. Bannon leaked most of the Kushner dirt, by the way. Kushner leaked the Trump Tower meeting.
10. Stephen Miller is presented as an even bigger idiot than you already assumed. Apparently, he’s not a ‘speech writer’ and can only churn out bulletpoints. But he and Hope Hicks (26 year old, IIRC) are now among the most ‘senior’ people in the White House with Bannon and Priebus gone.
11. While Wolff does give Bannon a lot more space than I would have, he doesn’t come across (at all) as a ‘svengali.’ Like everyone else, he had literally no idea how a White House worked, how to turn talking points into policy, nor did he seek expert advise to be more effective.
12. Where Bannon is portrayed sympathetically, it is when he exhibits a modicum of common sense and understanding of DC politics. Trump never fired Sessions because Bannon explained his picks (i.e., Guliani) would never be confirmed and he’d be left with an Obama appointee as Acting AG.
13. Wolff concludes with an argument that kind of surprised me. There is now a total power vacuum at the White House. ‘The Kids’ are now only covering their legal asses, Bannon & Priebus are gone, and Kelly is basically a glorified mix of bouncer and office secretary booking appointments.
14. Essentially, he’s saying something like this: you might not like Bannon – even hate him – but Hope Hicks & Stephen Miller are worse. Hicks never questions Trump and Miller is a farcical Bannon wannabe (and holds Bannon’s former job).
15. So however insane/chaotic 2017 was, 2018 is going to be worse as the ‘adults’ all head for the doors and no replacements are lining up to work in this admin. Ivanka may stick around, but she’s basically quit trying to influence policy at all (but still wants to be POTUS?).
16. Why read the book? You’ll learn where most of the New York Times and Washington Post leaks came from (and why). It’s also decent writing (I finished it in a day). It’s also a useful cohesive narrative of the Chaos of 2017. There are about a dozen truly good insights I hadn’t thought of before.
17. Why not read the book? Too much Bannon. Or at least Bannon is one out of the 200 interviewed who is willing to go on record. I also don’t trust that Wolff takes precision very seriously. I suspect many non-Bannon quotes are ‘creative paraphrasing’ and 2nd/3rd hand accounts.
PS. So just how bad are Jared & Ivanka portrayed? They plotted the Spicer coup and replaced him with Scaramucci because:
(a) they thought Spicer wasn’t covering for them and (b) they found this Wall Street douche-bro who calls himself ‘The Mooch’ more relatable.
PSS: Further to this point, Bannon did a deep dive studying how Bill Clinton survived impeachment. It’s organizationally complex, but the right (political answer). Both ‘The Kids’ and Trump endorsed it, but then quickly undermined the strategy