Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House
By Michael Wolff
Little Brown Book Group (2018)
The most remarkable aspect of this book is its blow-by-blow account of Team Trump – from his nomination in July 2016 to Steve Bannon’s firing in August 2017. Unlike prior presidential administrations, which are extremely guarded about their inner workings, Trump’s White House offered the media virtually unfettered access during his first nine months. According to Wolff this occurred for four main reasons: 1) Trump’s impulsive daily tweets 2) the constant “weaponized” leaks from warring Trump staffers* 3) Trump’s nightly rambling calls to wealthy supporters** and 4) his willingness to allow more public access to the Oval Office than any previous president.
While Wolff cite sources for his factual statements and quotes, the book has been carefully fact checked, in addition to being reviewed by two libel attorneys.***
As a psychiatrist, what I found most interesting about Fire and Fury is the insight it reveals into Trump’s psychological functioning. The current President is described by nearly everyone who has worked with him as extremely childlike, guileless, impulsive, undisciplined, incapable of following a game plan and impossible to communicate with. He trusts no one.
One of the few direct quotes in the book is from his former scheduler Katie Walsh: “It’s like trying to figure out what a child wants.”
My favorite quote, though, comes from Trump himself during a staff discussion about repealing Obamacare: “Why can’t Medicare simply cover everyone?”
Toning down Trump’s impulsiveness has been virtually impossible, though some staffers have been able to influence his behavior by winding him up.
Trump categorically refuses to read written briefings or watch PowerPoint presentations. He also refuses to listen to long verbal briefings and tends not to follow scripted statements. He always prefers to be the one talking, typically coming out with long rambling statements in which he frequently repeats himself.
Wolff’s introduction also confirms what many analysts have surmised: Trump didn’t intend to win the Presidency. His original plan was to use the media exposure to launch his own TV network. In fact, Trump refused to invest any of his own money in the campaign (although he loaned them $10 million).
*Prior to Bannon’s departure in August 2017, there was no White House chain of command and no clearly defined duties for any of its staff. Four discrete factions – Bannon, Jared Kushner/Ivana Trump (Bannon called them Jarvanka) nominal Chief of staff Reince Priebus and Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway were at continual war with one another in controlling Team Trump. According to many sources, Trump essentially served as his own chief of staff and press secretary, in that he phone reporters, dictated quotes and personally reviewed all press releases.
**The recipients of these calls (concerning unfavorable media and Trump’s “incompetent” staff) were so alarmed by them that they often felt compelled to pass on their content to White House staff and/or reporters.
***The Trump family is notoriously litigious, and Wolff and his publisher must be able to document the book’s assertions in a libel suit.