Opinion-Policy Nexus

“Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart. ...I went from VERY successful businessman, to top T.V. Star to President of the United States (on my first try). I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius....and a very stable genius at that!”

Who would have believed it?

The speaker – the tweeter, to be precise – was the President of the United States trying last week to convince the country, and perhaps himself, that he is mentally fit and intellectually qualified to hold the high office to which he was elected.

Can you imagine any leader in any other capital (with the possible exception of North Korea’s Kim Jong-un) who would find it necessary or appropriate to declare himself or herself  to be “a very stable genius?” Only Donald Trump in his dysfunctional Washington.

As New Yorker editor David Remnick writes in the magazine’s forthcoming Jan. 15 issue,  “Future scholars will sift through Trump’s digital proclamations the way we now read the chroniclers of Nero’s Rome—to understand how an unhinged emperor can make a mockery of republican institutions, undo the collective nervous system of a country, and degrade the whole of public life.”

Rome burned while Nero fiddled. Washington’s central institutions are rendered increasingly impotent while an unhinged president rages at everyone around him.

The chronicler who provoked Trump’s latest rage is author Michael Wolff, whose new book, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” became a huge bestseller last week – before it was actually available online or in bookstores. The White House found itself in the awkward position of having to denounce the contents of a book it had not seen – “The  author is a garbage author of a garbage book,” declared Trump`s senior policy adviser, Stephen Miller.

I don’t know the author except by reputation (mixed) and what I know about “Sound and Fury” comes from published excerpts. It’s my impression, though, that the book is essentially a hatchet job, written to ring up sales rather than to offer a balanced view of the inner workings of the Trump administration. But to say the content is highly selective is not to dismiss it as all or largely untrue.

It is consistent with other accounts of the chaos in the White House. As the New Yorker’s Remnick puts it, “[The book] amplifies, in lurid anecdote and quotation, what we have been learning elsewhere every day for the past year: Trump believed that he would lose the election, but would multiply his fame, his fortune, and his standing in American life. To near-universal shock, however, he won. And the consequences followed.”

Although Wolff’s access to Trump was limited, he was free to roam around the West Wing, courtesy of a special pass arranged by Trump’s former (and now disowned) senior strategist Steve Bannon. He was able to buttonhole and interview aides and advisers, including Trump family members, gossip with them and absorb their complaints about one another. He found, as Remnick puts it, “The West Wing in the era of Trump has come to resemble the dankest realms of Twitter itself: a set of small rooms and cramped hallways in which everyone is racked with paranoia and everyone despises everyone else.” 

If Trump is outraged by Michael Wolff, he will find no solace in the withering critique offered by David Remnick: “Trump has no comprehension of policy and cares about it less. ... There is little doubt about who Donald Trump is, the harm he has done already, and the greater harm he threatens. He is unfit to hold any public office, much less the highest in the land. This is not merely an orthodoxy of the opposition; his panicked courtiers have been leaking word of it from his first weeks in office. The President of the United States has become a leading security threat to the United States.”

 This is Washington’s “stable genius!”


Monday, January 8, 2018 - 09:40