Michael Wolff’s claims may be explosive, but progressives should not rush to endorse them, finds Alex Porter
As Michael Wolff’s chronicle of the first year inside the Donald Trump White House climbed to the top of the bestseller list, days before its official release, readers knew what to expect. Salacious accusations of treasonous meetings, scathing descriptions of the commander-in-chief from Trump’s top team, and rumours of the first daughter’s own presidential ambitions peppered headlines in the weeks leading up to publication.
Readers will not be disappointed. The stories are as outlandish as you expect them to be. Sarah Sanders, the president’s press secretary, has dismissed the volume as ‘trashy tabloid fiction’, and it certainly reads with the pace and dark humour of a West Wing thriller. Told from the perspective of an omnipotent narrator, it is difficult not to question the veracity of a story that is almost a blow-by-blow account of Trump’s first 12 months as president.
Wolff, a journalist, claims the book was written on the back of 18 months of high-level access to Trump’s team, the result of over 200 interviews with the president and his staff. He alleges that Trump allowed him to take ‘something like a semi-permanent seat on a couch in the West Wing’. Trump, however, denies ever meeting with him and, while the president is not a stranger to sudden bouts of convenient amnesia, the levels of access Wolff claims are extraordinary.
Looking beyond the drama surrounding its provenance, the book itself is styled somewhere between an easy-to-read, play-by-play of the biggest of Trump’s political scandals and a disturbing character study of a man utterly unfit for office, surrounded by a delicate balance of egos in his immediate orbit.
The relationship between Steve Bannon, Jared Kushner and Reince Priebus as parallel chiefs of staff is outlined in detail. Their attempts to dominate the executive provide a fitting allegory of the ongoing struggle for the heart of the Republican party: between alt-right ideologue, city-slicking neoliberal and the party establishment.
Trump himself is portrayed as something of a pathetic figure. His staff describe him as a ‘semi-literate’, childlike character – his convictions prone to be swayed by the last lobbyist he spoke to. Rather than a macho quest for power, his shot at the presidency embodies his strange obsession with fame above all else, his desire ‘only to be liked’.
As a progressive, it is certainly tempting to take Wolff’s account at face value – as further evidence of the darkest figures of the Trump administration being the unambiguous bad guys in a surging global culture war.
Trump and his allies may or may not measure up to the obscene caricatures that Wolff presents them as, but we can be certain his supporters are a great deal more complicated. As much fun as they are to read, it will take much more than another Trump takedown to put a Democrat back in the Oval office.
Alex Porter is project manager of communications at Policy Network. She tweets at @AlexGPorter
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