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Book Review Heat, but little light

Michael Wolff's expose of Trump's dysfunctional White House is good on the fire and fury consuming it, less so on the political agenda which brought him to power, says JOHN GREEN

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House
by Michael Wolff
(Little, Brown, £17)

THE FURORE surrounding Fire and Fury is unsurprising. In the tradition of scandal-mongering journalism, Michael Wolff lifts the lid on the foetid cesspit that is Donald Trump’s White House to reveal the backstabbing, infighting and squabbling of a ramshackle administration of bigots, ignoramuses and incompetents.

There's nothing new about such successful lid-lifting exercises. They offer their authors rich rewards, even if what they reveal is less rewarding for the reader.

Trump’s election and administration have been mired in controversy from the start and already he threatens to compete with the Roman emperor Caligula’s antics. Wolff’s insider revelations embellish the tale but do little to reveal the political and economic factors behind Trump’s elevation.

The collapse of his flagship aim of repealing Obama’s Affordable Care Act, for instance, is given less than a single sentence in the book.

Unlike Hillary Clinton, Trump came to be the soundboard for widespread discontent in the US and that deserves greater examination. Among the book’s chief shortcomings is its failure to explain how, in the world’s “greatest democracy,” someone like Trump became president.

Ripping off any remaining veils, Wolff allows those who know Trump best to reveal his obscene nudity in full. But the author is more consumed with the news media and personalities than policy issues.

He's said that he’s not interested in politics but people and power and, while what he writes has a compulsive fascination, he excludes facts and fudges specifics. While he excoriates the entire Trump entourage and is a keen judge of character, much of what he says has to be taken on trust. Few sources are cited.

Wolff didn’t write this book because he abhors Trump’s policies. He's a journalist who, like his target, is not squeamish about bending the truth in favour of a good story.

The book opens with a dinner conversation that included alt-right provocateur Steve Bannon and Roger Ailes, former Fox News boss, before the inauguration and it's sprinkled with verbatim quotations. He says the dinner took place “in a Greenwich Village townhouse” but omits to reveal that it was his home and he was hosting it.

Trump adviser Bannon, the spurned lover who invariably becomes the most vitriolic critic, has the loudest mouth in the book. He brands the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower, attended by a number of Russians, as treasonous, unpatriotic and “bad shit.”

Wolff also quotes Henry Kissinger’s take on the internal feud between Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner and Bannon as “a war between the Jews and non-Jews.”

Fire and Fury has ignited a war that will leave its share of collateral damage. In essence the book underlines that Trump is simply Trump, he has no clear ideology and no political cause, he is merely an extreme egotist.

As Jonathan Martin in the New York Times recently put it, Wolff's is an unsparing portrayal of Trump as an aberrant chief executive who is not only detached from governance but barely literate.

And, as he says,  the on-the-record assessments from ostensible allies of a seemingly “infantile” president are indeed withering.

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