As the old saying goes, every cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and ends as a racket. Donald Trump's political career has proceeded in reverse. It began as a racket, became a business, sparked a movement, and ended in a presidency. It is that bizarre, benighted progression, argues Michael Wolff in his book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, that explains much of the Trump administration's irresolvable dysfunction.
Wolff's tell-all has launched to enviable press, publicity, and controversy. President Trump dismissed it as "a Fake Book, written by a totally discredited author," while also directing his lawyers to try to stop its publication. (They failed, though the effort shot the book up the best-seller lists).
At the same time, Trump has treated its revelations as gospel truth, launching a blood feud against Steve Bannon, his former chief strategist, based on Wolff's recounting of Bannon's comments. The media has delighted over the backbiting, sniping, leaking, and despair that Wolff got on the record — or, depending on whom you believe, did not get on the record but published anyway.
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Fire and Fury has its limits. It's heavily based on a few sources — Ben Domenech, in an allusion to Hillary Clinton's post-election tome, calls it "Steve Bannon's What Happened" — and riddled with typos and small but glaring factual errors (like that John Boehner left the House in 2011, rather than 2015).
At the same time, the book, read as a whole, contains real insight into the inner workings of the Trump administration. Though it presents itself as an insider account of Trump's first months in office, it is too narrow in scope to serve that purpose: Wolff is clearly bored by questions of governance and policy, so there's relatively little about what the Trump administration actually did, and why it did it.
Instead, Wolff has written an insider's account of what it's like to work for Donald Trump. This is a book about the collection of cronies, opportunists, misfits, functionaries, family members, and public servants who have tried to construct something that acts and operates like a presidency around a man who neither acts nor operates like a president, a man they all know shouldn't be the president.
More importantly, it is a book about why they're failing.