Fire and Fury is a book written by “journalist” Michael Wolff and is a partially fictional account of the events that occurred in the first few months of the Donald Trump administration. This is the fourth of a series of write-ups of notes that I have taken while reading the book.
With this chapter, Michael Wolff begins to get into the head of Jared Kushner. Kushner, according to Wolff, was proud of getting along with older men, which is a strange way of putting things. That said, Kushner was able to create ties with Henry Kissinger among others and gain insight into how things should go.
One advisor told Kushner that Trump had to make peace with the Intelligence community. The advisor promised that Trump’s continual insults on operatives would create two to three years of Russian investigations and leaks. Kushner, for his part began to get a sense that liberals and the Intelligence community were going to basically align in taking down Trump. He tried to reach out to the CIA to make peace and arranged for Trump to speak to the CIA so as to put them at ease.
According to Wolff, Trump thought this was a great idea, largely because he had a captive audience. Fueled by the presence of people who were either yes-men or couldn’t say no to him, he went off-script and started saying things that confused everyone present. When Trump started talking about how it stopped raining during the inauguration, one staffer had to stop herself as she blurted out “No it didn’t”. Attendees were asking each other what he was talking about when he said “we should have kept the oil” after the wars in Iraq. Mike Pompeo, assigned head of the CIA just seemed bewildered at what was going on. Wolff wrote that Trump engineered a split-reality effect. Some people claimed to be thrilled and invigorated by his speech while others were horrified.
Just to be clear, it was raining throughout the inauguration. Trump paints a rosier picture than what was caught on camera and the behind-the-scenes action wasn’t much better. Trump was getting angry that celebrities were snubbing his inauguration. This goes back to the previous chapter where he thought he should be loved for winning. He wasn’t getting the love he thought he deserved and it was showing. According to Wolff, he had been arguing with Melania all day and was feeling a bit snubbed for some reason by the Obamas.
This worked, in a strange way, in Steve Bannon’s favor. Bannon and Trump were kind of engaged in a psychological conflict. Trump wanted to be loved and admired and was willing to do whatever was needed to get that. Bannon wanted pure aggression. He was happy to war with the media and with the political elites, but Trump wanted them to praise him. When it was clear he wasn’t going to get it, he channeled his anger into an inauguration speech penned by Bannon. His hurt feelings ended up enhancing and darkening the speech, which caused previous President George W. Bush to refer to it as “some weird shit”.
Of course, Trump’s wish to be loved backfired as well. It was soon after this that Sean Spicer was forced to spend his first press conference berating the press for their coverage on crowd size. This forever placed the press secretary on a combative path with the press and helped usher him out the door later in the year. According to Wolff, Bannon somehow rationalized Trump’s behavior as a kind of savant. Bannon believed that Trump’s mental weaknesses were the result of his brilliance as an improvising orator. Wolff himself posits that Trump had similarities to the evangelical in that both sought to create “experiential spectacles”. This ability created a split reality of “us” and “them”. It fit right in with Bannon’s nationalist view and was what enabled him to view Trump as a vessel for the ideas of the far-right fringe.
It’s worth noting here that recent articles (at the time of this writing) have gone in depth on how Trump is able to get people to believe him. One thing to note is that he likes to watch himself on video with the volume off. Although it seems strange, what he might be doing is analyzing how he looks on camera. His much-mocked hand gestures are a part of this. They’re power moves. Note as well his physical position at rallies or in televised meetings. He’s generally in the center of the camera’s frame, or in the center of the attention of others in the room. These are very much power positions.
At some point Trump came to the realization that what he said didn’t matter as much as how he looked. He then proceeded to master that to the greatest degree possible with power moves and careful positioning. This is why he can contradict himself repeatedly, as he did with the DACA meeting between Republicans and Democrats. It’s also why people are so bewildered by the things he says. They are simply looking at the wrong metric. Trump’s ego is very strongly tied to his “look” and the “look” of those associated with him. This, of course, goes back to the whole salesman thing and his need to be loved and admired. The man has dedicated his life, essentially, to an illusion.