Trump and Bannon Trump and Bannon. Photo: Wikimedia commons

Michael Wolff’s book on the Trump presidency reveals an administration in chaos, writes Sean Ledwith

People walking around major American cities could have been forgiven for thinking a new Harry Potter book was being launched by surprise on the first Friday of the  New Year. Usually, this is the only reason people would queue at midnight outside bookshops for a new publication. The actual reason, however, was the early release of journalist Michael Wolff’s devastating insight into the reality of the 45th President’s shambolic first year in the White House: Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump House. The President’s attempt to postpone the book’s initial release date of January 9th spectacularly backfired when the publishers shrewdly decided the free publicity Trump had handed them merited bringing it forward to January 5th! Not for the first time, the man lauded by his sycophants as a business genius has scored a spectacular own-goal. Extracts of the book released a few days beforehand paint a searing picture of an administration that appears to be in free-fall towards a political crash of unprecedented scale in modern US political history. The most damaging revelations come from Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist, who was ignominiously sacked last autumn. Up to this point, Trump has dismissed most of the critical mauling he has received in the White House as the work of the liberal metropolitan elite which exists largely in his imagination. Wolff’s book is on another level as it contains the views of the hitherto ultra-loyalist Bannon and is based on the observations of a writer who was actually invited in by the administration to provide a sympathetic counterpoint to the mainstream media.

Et tu Bannon?

Trump has predictably taken to Twitter in a derisory attempt to undermine the credibility of both Bannon and Wolff but as both have been inside the Oval Office at his invitation throughout the past twelve months, nobody is fooled by his pathetic protestations.  

Even if only half of Wolff’s stories are true, the book conveys a devastating sense of the most chaotic administration in living memory.  Potentially the most lethal claim is that Steve Bannon shares the concern of the US national security establishment that Trump and his sons are worryingly close to Putin and the Russian state. FBI Director Robert Mueller is still conducting his investigation into alleged Moscow-backed interference in the 2016 Presidential election that stunningly brought Trump into the White House. From the outside, it is impossible to discern whether there is any substance to these rumours but it is undoubtedly the case that the controversy enables the hawkish faction of the US deep state to exert pressure on Trump to downplay his preferred rapprochement with Russia. Brannon’s departure from the administration last year was widely interpreted as a significant victory for this faction inside the White House in a battle for influence against the more protectionist, isolationist element represented by the former chief strategist. If Bannon is now siding with the Russophobes in Washington, Trump’s chances of evading impeachment at the hands of the Mueller investigation are significantly reduced.  Bannon’s denunciation of an infamous  meeting between the President’s son, Donald Jr, and Russian officials during the campaign is characteristically savage:

“The three senior guys in the campaign thought it was a good idea to meet with a foreign
government inside Trump Tower in the conference room on the 25th floor – with no lawyers. They
didn’t have any lawyers. Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad
s***, and I happen to think it’s all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately.”


Junior Trumps

If Donald Jr Trump at that point was the tool of Trump’s project of opening up closer ties with Mosco w,his daughter Ivanka has emerged as one of the principal figures behind the contrary strategy of sustaining the traditional cold war antagonism that has justified the astronomical US defence spending of recent decades. Ivanka, along with her husband Jared Kushner, are regarded as having played a key role in persuading Trump to initiate the missile strike on Syria last summer that represented a shot across the bows of resurgent Russian influence in the region.  According to  Wolff’s book, the combined ambition of ‘Jarvanka’ even goes beyond shaping the foreign policy of the current administration and is focused on the future election of Ivanka as America’s first female President! Again, it is difficult to ascertain how much credibility  to attach to this claim but it would not be untypical of the mentality of two unelected individuals who have come to jointly personify the aloof and arrogant mentality of both this administration and the wider US elite. Wolf’s suggestion that these two believe they can decide between them who is to be the next candidate for a wannabe-Presidential dynasty would be  symptomatic of a corrupt plutocracy that is far removed from the everyday struggle for economic survival of most Americans:  Between themselves, the two had made an earnest deal: If sometime in the future the opportunity arose, she’d be the one to run for president. The first woman president, Ivanka entertained, would not be Hillary Clinton; it would be Ivanka Trump. Bannon, who had coined the term ‘Jarvanka’ that was now in ever greater use in the White House, was horrified when the couple’s deal was reported to him. 

Utterly unprepared

Of course, the machinations of the junior Trumps are dwarfed by the staggering ineptitude of the Orange Abomination himself. Wolff’s book describes an all too believable picture of an administration that is hopelessly incapable of running the affairs of the most powerful capitalist state in the world. It is this widespread perception among the Washington elite that underpins the ongoing possibility they may yet move against the current incumbent of the Oval Office if it is felt he is jeopardising the legitimacy of the system at home and its hegemony overseas. Wolff outlines an administration that came to power in a manner that surprised even itself and was therefore utterly unprepared for the demands of office. The widespread suspicion that Trump’s 2016 campaign was primarily motivated by the desire to promote a new television show and did not actually expect to win is confirmed by the apparent absence of any policy priorities in the early months of the administration. Wolff reports  a conversation between journalist Kate Walsh and Kushner  regarding this bizarre oversight:

“It was the most basic question imaginable – one that any qualified
presidential candidate would have answered long before he took up residence at 1600 Pennsylvania
Avenue. Six weeks into Trump’s presidency, Kushner was wholly without an answer. ‘Yes,’ he said to
Walsh. ‘We should probably have that conversation.'”

Fire and Fury for real

The book is full of other  memorable  insights into the comedic and surreal psychodrama that is currently playing out at the summit of the US political system:  such as Melania Trump breaking down in tears ( not of joy!) on both election night and inauguration day,and Rupert Murdoch lambasting Trump as a fucking idiot as he put the phone down on him! There is much in the book to provide pleasurable satisfaction for the left at the spectacle of the US elite apparently imploding with fratricidal angst and self-loathing. However, it should not be forgotten that beneath the surface of this sordid soap-opera, Trump continues to preside over the relentless hoovering-up of wealth from the bottom to the top of US society. Before this scandal broke in the New Year, Trump had ended 2017 on a high thanks to Congress passing his tax plan that further entrenches the polarisation of rich and poor. The title of Wolff’s book is also a reference to Trump’s notorious speech last year in which he threatened North Korea with nuclear annihilation. The grotesque antics depicted by Wolff are a powerful reminder of the urgent need for a movement from below to remove not just one buffoonish individual  but the entire system that has spawned him.  



Sean Ledwith

Sean Ledwith is a Counterfire member and Lecturer in History at York College, where he is also UCU branch negotiator. Sean is also a regular contributor to Marx and Philosophy Review of Books and Culture Matters

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