Now that the buzz around Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury is starting to fade – being side-lined by the Commander-in Chief’s latest verbal tantrum – I’m taking a step back and looking at a couple of recent books about the most shambolic US presidency in living memory.
Based on reading excerpts of Wolff’s book in the press and skimming and reading sections from the online-bootlegged copy that’s floating around, I can say that there were few surprises. White House pundits have been reporting for months on the president’s eating habits, idiosyncrasies, aversion to books, toddler-like attention span and lapsing memory. The power in this book rests not so much in its confirmation that this president is unfit for office – the world is witnessing this in a near-daily basis – but in the quotes from Steve Bannon. Trump’s former Chief Strategist, involved in both the presidential campaign and the early months of the presidency, describes Trump’s campaign as having a ‘treasonous’ meeting with Russian officials. This is significant. The FBI’s Russian investigation is moving closer to Trump while at the same time looking into the White House cover up, culminating in the firing of FBI Director James Comey. The FBI Director’s dismissal is also described by Bannon as a concerted effort to ‘get him’ led by Jared Kushner. These are serious allegations that could be part of Trump’s undoing if the Republicans lose their majority in Congress after the 2018 mid-term elections. (The other part might come from the international community.)
Having said all of that, the better book of recent months on the subject of Trump is the one that doesn’t even mention him by name. Sam Bourne’s fictional account of how Washington insiders cope with a narcissistic, racist and misogynistic US president is by far more interesting and informative. To Kill The President might be fictional, but it relies on knowing the workings of the US government and its laws. The premise is a simple one and one that has been in many of our imaginations for over a year now – what if the US president is insulted by North Korea leader and decides to teach him a lesson by ordering a nuclear attack? In this story he’s stopped for the time being by White House staff and Pentagon officials who trick him into thinking the North Koreans have apologised. Given that, legally speaking, the president could order such an attack without congressional approval, this event triggers concerns about the president’s mental instability. Once it’s realised that getting rid of the president based on mental health is constitutionally difficult to pull off, an assassination is planned. The story uses all of the plot twists and devices that one would expect of a thriller – a murder, a cover-up, secret codes and blackmail. Like a popular thriller, the writing is straight forward and not the stuff of literary fiction. But it’s nonetheless enjoyable for its satirical humour that edges close to the reality we find ourselves in during the era of Trump.
Bourne’s book is full of many quotable remarks from these insider characters. I’ll close with this one, which comes from Mac, the president’s Chief Strategist and staunch ally (a fictional Bannon perhaps):
These liberals soiling their Depends undergarments about truth. They never stop! Always going on about facts and evidence and all of that shit, even when they have the biggest possible dataset showing them – proving to them – that the American people do not give a rat’s ass about any of it.
The ‘dataset’ that he refers to is the election – the votes that won the presidency.