It’s the civics lesson we all should have gotten in school. Nobody would allow these White House officials with their potty mouths to join their children for dinner. I had heard that politics in Washington, D.C. had become a blood sport, but I was shocked and alarmed to read about the toxic work environment at the White House. My career was focused on turning around inordinately dysfunctional and toxic organizations. Our fees were exorbitant, and we didn’t get called in unless an organization was in seriously deep shit. I don’t think it is possible to turn around the culture at the White House. It’s that bad.
When Michael Wolff started researching Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, his intent was to be “a fly on the wall” and chronicle Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office. In essence, he has the same philosophy about the Trump administration as Art Buckwald had about Watergate: You can’t make this shit up. In fact, the phrase became Sean Spicer’s daily mantra. Mr. Wolff wants his readers to “judge” the players for themselves and decide which told him the truth. People who criticize the book as fiction likely know exactly who lied to Mr. Wolff.
Mr. Wolff is a brilliant writer who connected to dots and filled in the blanks for me. Fire and Fury took me through the Byzantine warren of offices in the West Wing, examined the motivations of the players, and chronicled how a “broke-dick campaign” (Steve Bannon) morphed into a chaotic administration mired in a ruthless struggle for power and dominance between Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, and Jared Kushner. With chilling clarity, he explains the insanity, corruption, conspiracies, factions, and abuse of power. Although everybody leaked to the press in their quests to become king, nobody could answer Katie Walsh’s basic question:
What are the three priorities of this White House?
Although Trump’s sexual deviancy is well-documented, I was shocked and appalled to read:
Trump liked to say that one of the things that made life worth living was getting your friends’ wives into bed. In pursuing a friend’s wife, he would try to persuade the wife that her husband was perhaps not what she thought. Then he’d have his secretary ask the friend into his office; once the friend arrived, Trump would engage in what was, for him, more or less constant sexual banter. Do you still like having sex with your wife? How often? You must have had a better fuck that your wife? Tell me about it. I have girls coming in from Los Angeles at three o’clock. We can go upstairs and have a great time. I promise. . .And all the while, Trump would have his friend’s wife on the speakerphone, listening in.
At the same time, Trump “liked and needed [and trusted] his office wives.” Back in the day, “office wife” described a woman who slept with her boss. While Mr. Wolff was discrete, it appears Trump’s office wives may include his daughter Ivanka, Hope Hicks (who had an affair with Corey Lewandowski during the campaign), Kellyanne Conway, and Omarosa Manigault. He observed:
Women. . .were more likely to focus their purpose on a man. A man like Trump. . . .He felt women understood him. . .He needed special ~ extra special ~ handling. . .women who self-selected themselves as tolerant of or oblivious to or amused by or steeled against his casual misogyny and constant sexual subtext. . .
Kellyanne Conway. . .verbally threw herself in front of any bullet coming his way.
“You’re the best piece of tail [Corey Lewandowski will] ever have,” sending Hicks running from the room. . .”Have you spoken to Hope?” were among the words most frequently uttered in the West Wing. . .
Hicks, sponsored by Ivanka and ever loyal to her, was in fact thought of as Trump’s real daughter, while Ivanka was thought of as his real wife. . .Hope Hicks and the president, living in what other West Wingers characterized as an alternative universe. . .
Trump isn’t the only sick puppy in the White House. His relationship with Steve Bannon brings to mind two aging, raging, delusional, abusive, narcissistic, self-destructive dinosaurs edging each other toward extinction. The duo had dinner together almost every night. Bannon perceived himself to be the president and believed he “was destined to save the nation.” He made Pres. Andrew Jackson, who expanded slavery and orchestrated the “Trail of Tears” forced migration of Native Americans, the “totem figure of the new administration.”
Richard Spencer, the president of the National Policy Institute. . .a “white supremacist think tank”. . .in 2016. . .declared, “Let’s party like it’s 1933,” as in the year Hitler came to power. . .Trump and Bannon were the pilot fish for a new conservative movement. . .Bannon. . .gave Spencer flight. . .Trump and Bannon, with Sessions in the mix, too, had come closer than any major national politician since the Civil Rights movement to tolerating a race-tinged political view. . .
Bannon pronounced. . .”If you think they’re going to give you your country back without a fight you are sadly mistaken. Every day is going to be a fight. . .”
Mr. Wolff returns to this thread later in the book:
American neo-Nazi Richard Spencer was organizing a protest at the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville, over the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. . .Saturday, August 12, was explicitly designed to link Trump’s politics with white nationalism. . .
[Trump’s] sympathies were muddled. . .he hadn’t condemned white supremacists, KKK, and neo-Nazis ~ and he continued to be stubborn about not doing it. . .his own father was accused of being involved with the KKK. . .the arrow on the Trump pressure cooker was climbing, and before long he’d blow. . .”I think there’s blame on both sides.”
Trump spends his evenings on the phone with his billionaire buddies taking pot-shots at his staff, digging up dirt, conspiring, and keeping tabs on the Justice Department’s investigation. One of his informants told him:
“Treason” was a word that was being used [at the Justice Department]. . .”They want to make Watergate look like Pissgate.”
. . .Tony Blair, the former British prime minister. . .visited Kushner in the White House. . .imparted a juicy nugget of information. . .the possibility that the British had had the Trump campaign under surveillance. . .
Bannon was unequivocal. . .As the Russia story unfolds. . .keep your eye on Kushner. . .”The daughter will take down the father.” Jail was possible. So was bankruptcy. . .”You’ve got the LeBron James of money laundering investigations [Andrew Weissmann who prosecuted Enron] on you, Jarvanka [Bannon’s derisive name for Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump].”
Bannon, to his credit, tried to dissuade Trump from firing FBI Director James Comey. Over dinner with his lieutenant and neighbor Alexandra Preate, Bannon predicted on July 20:
“This is all about money laundering. . .Their path to fucking Trump goes right through Paul Manafort, Don Jr., and Jared Kushner. . .It goes through Deutsche Bank and all the Kushner shit. . .There’s no executive privilege! We proved that in Watergate.”
“They’re sitting on a beach trying to stop a Category Five.”
People who aren’t fond of Trump have been blasted on social media for not supporting him, but most of our opinions and comments aren’t nearly as viscous, disrespectful, or caustic as those made by people in his inner circle. The dude needs better friends and allies. Maybe he needs to start by being more loyal.
The late Roger Ailes, the founder of Fox News who was ousted for sexual harassment, called Trump “a rebel without a cause.” His former boss at Fox, Rupert Murdock, called Trump “a fucking idiot.” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called him a “fucking moron.” Gary Cohn said he’s “dumb as shit,” and H.R. McMaster called him a “dope.” George W. Bush characterized Trump’s inaugural address as “weird shit.”
Sean Hannity asked, “what the fuck is wrong with him?” Sam Nunberg observed, “if your win is in any way perceived as his loss, phew.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is confident “this president will sign whatever is put in front of him.”
An e-mail which went viral “succinctly summarizing the appalled sense in much of the White House” opined:
It’s worse than you can imagine. An idiot surrounded by clowns. Trump won’t read anything. . .He gets up halfway through meetings with world leaders because he is bored. And his staff is no better. Kushner is an entitled baby who knows nothing. Bannon is an arrogant prick. . .Trump is less a person than a collection of terrible traits. . .I am in a constant state of shock and horror.
When House Speaker Paul Ryan came to the White House, Trump gave him “carte blanche” and “subcontracted his [legislative] agenda out to Ryan and the Hill.” Bannon, however, believed Ryan is “slow-witted if not incompetent.” Mr. Wolff described the abdication:
It was not just that Ryan had been willing to bow to Trump, but that Trump was willing to bow to his own fears about how little he actually knew about being president. If Ryan could be counted on to handle Congress, thought the president, well, phew, that takes care of that. . .
Trump White House rationale: expertise. . .was overrated. . .Trump had little or no interest in the central Republican goal of repealing Obamacare. . .details of the contested legislation were. . .boring; his attention would begin wandering. . .he probably favored government-funded health care more than any other Republican. . .It was Ryan who, with “repeal and replace,” obfuscated the issue and won over Trump. . .a perfect example of an essential Trump paradigm: he acceded to anyone who seemed to know more about any issue he didn’t care about, or simply one whose details he couldn’t bring himself to focus on closely. . .
Kushner’s brother Josh ran a health insurance company that depended on Obamacare.
At the end of the day will Trump keep his campaign promise to “clear the swamp?” Mr. Wolff doesn’t believe this is likely:
What if these institutions ~ the media, the judiciary, the intelligence community, the greater executive branch itself, and the “swamp” with its law firms, consultants, influence peddlers, and leakers ~ were in no way eager to adapt?
Indeed. People holding four aces don’t tend to ask for a better deal.
As I was writing this post, MSNBC reported that Bannon is “stepping down” from Breitbart. After Fire and Fury was published, Bannon lost the financial support of billionaires Robert and Rebekah Mercer, who had insisted that he be Trump’s campaign manager.
I’ve intentionally avoided portions of the books which have been previously reported in the mainstream media. Because the publisher has sold out the first edition and is scrambling to print another, I have opted to share the less salacious and more informative quotes so that y’all can discuss the book intelligently. I want to give the amazing University of Washington book store in Mill Creek a shout-out for securing a first edition copy for me. Y’all rock!