This is a truly terrible book in more ways than one. It’s terrible because if you only believe one third of it, it’s terrifying. Wolff spent 18 months speaking to Donald Trump before he became president and several senior staff in the White House during President Trump’s first 200 days in office. He paints the picture of a group of mostly shady characters making up the Trump administration who are locked in internal feuds, inept, uninformed and dangerous and motivated entirely by personal political ambition and getting Trump onside.
No-one emerges as likeable and Wolff’s account of the odious Steve Bannon actually made me feel sorry, fleetingly, for Trump. In fact, I felt sorry for him more than once, simply because he’s in this mess, over his head, and no-one seems to actually have his best interests at heart. He might be an incompetent and dangerous president, but irresponsibility and ignorance are different from evil.
In 310 pages, Wolff has destroyed my faith in the American political system, admittedly influenced by its idealistic portrayal in The West Wing. It’s undermined my faith in one or two businessmen, too, for their judgement – Peter Thiel for one, and reinforced my view of Rupert Murdoch as a tricky operator, drawn to power like a moth to a light.
Some of it is very credible. I buy Wolff’s theory that President Trump didn’t expect to become President, and neither did anyone around him. The body language from the inauguration entirely bears out his thesis that Melania and he live entirely separate lives. This is a shame because Melania is the only one around Trump who has a real sense of style and hell, we all need cheering up sometime. I fear that the description of political feuds and infighting are pretty accurate. It is clear that Jared and Ivanka Kushner referred to invariably as Jarvanka, are in over their heads. According to Wolff, she sees her father pretty much as he is, ie, like the rest of us. The real question is how does the U.S. political system allow one family to assume so much power? Isn’t that why people voted against Hillary Clinton? I mean, the U.S. goes and out and lectures the rest of the world about democracy, right?
This book is also fairly terrible in the way it’s written. Maybe if you are familiar with U.S. politics, it will mean more to you. An understanding of Republican politics might help you decipher some of the political struggles described. The trouble is, Wolff bashed this book out fast. It shows. A chronology and a list of the key players and their roles would have been helpful, and given the money Wolff must be making from sales, surely not to much to ask?
The way in which Wolff acquired his information is extraordinary. No-one ever challenged him as to why he was lurking around the White House. I appreciate when you get a good story, you don’t want to have too many scruples. If no-one ever challenged him or bothered to find out what he was doing, well then, fair enough. But he should be making it clearer which bits are factual, which bits have been recounted to him by others, and which bits he has pieced together and filled in the gaps. How do we know if he has added up 2 + 2 and made 5? We don’t. This smacks of poor editing as well as the commercial pressure to get the book out fast, before anyone could think of a way to slap an injunction on it.
I think this may be why it kept me awake at night. It is quite an unsatisfactory read. Either that, or the very real and deeply alarming possibility that it might all actually be true would be enough to keep anyone awake, or at least give them nightmares. Even if it’s only half true, it’s still terrifying. I was terrified already by the image of Dear Donald with his chubby finger on the nuclear button. But everything I have read makes me even more scared.
Thank god that George W Bush made me laugh. After listening to Trump’s extraordinary inauguration speech, he said, “That’s some weird shit.” For once, I couldn’t agree with him more.