If you are working for Donald Trump then prepare to be insulted, says Amy Davidson Sorkin in The New Yorker. Fire and Fury, the new account of life in the Trump White House by journalist Michael Wolff, is a “revelatory well of transcribed backbiting and bitter braggadocio”. Former chief strategist Steve Bannon deems the president’s daughter Ivanka “dumb as a brick”.
Trump’s mocking of his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions, creates “a corrosive portrait of physical and mental weakness”. For Trump’s weary subordinates, “finding crude ways to call the president stupid is a form of therapy”. True, Wolff’s interviews with White House figures are gossipy, and “Wolff may, at times, mistake the terms of the various fights, but their pettiness and their ugliness is unmissable”.
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Trump’s denigration of Wolff following publication makes one wonder how a New York gossip columnist was allowed “nearly free rein in the White House”, says Ramesh Ponnuru on Bloomberg View.And his attack on Bannon – who is quoted extensively in the book – as an “incompetent lunatic” raises the question of why Trump had appointed him to high positions in his campaign and administration in the first place.
But there could be a silver lining for Trump in all of this: “in an ordinary presidency… saturation coverage of a book describing a White House mired in ‘chaos and dysfunction’ would be a PR disaster”. Yet if anything, Fire and Fury “is binding the president closer to the Republican party”.
Quite so, agrees Lawrence Martin in The Globe and Mail. Bannon’s attacks on the president’s family have left him isolated, cast out of the White House and ousted from his influential position at right-wing news platform Breitbart. This looks like the end of Bannon’s campaign to “torpedo” the Republican party establishment with his own brand of populist nationalism. And much of the dysfunction Wolff depicts in the White House “ended last summer with the departure of Bannon and the arrival of John Kelly as chief of staff”.
A question of trust
“Wolff’s most startling discovery” is that “no one in the White House believed Trump was up to the task of being president”, says Toby Harnden in The Times. Wolff agrees with Bannon’s assessment that “the president has a one in three chance of being removed by impeachment, one in three of resigning to avoid being removed by his cabinet under the terms of the 25th amendment” – which allows a president to be removed if he is deemed physically or mentally unable to govern – and only “one in three of… limping to the finish of his term”.
“It’s not just his critics who… doubt his mental acuity; it is also his own advisers,” says Jennifer Rubin in The Washington Post. “We have not seen White House chief of staff John Kelly come out to defend the president’s fitness and desire to keep up with the demands of the job.” The president’s displays of mental unfitness – the endless loop of repeated thoughts, the late-night tweets – are there for all to see. His allies cannot “silence what is self-evidently true” and “if they don’t trust him to be president, why should we”?