In the hyper-partisan political environment of the United States, further compounded since the unexpected election of President Donald Trump in 2016, one’s reception to Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” is inevitably shaped by one’s political affiliations and (dis)approval of the president. Drawing ostensibly from over 200 interviews with and accounts of campaign, transition, and administration staff – given his access to the West Wing of the White House – and pitched initially as a coverage of the first 100 days of the Trump administration, the focus is primarily on the dysfunction within the administration as well as the many rival factions and individuals vying for power. Against this background, detractors are likely to see a substantiation of the perceived chaos and incompetence throughout the first year of President Trump’s presidency, while supporters would be sceptical of the wild claims and episodes which purportedly transpired.
In this vein, the supporter-detractor divide would apply to James Comey’s “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership” too. Though interestingly, Wolff writes about how “good management reduces ego”, which speaks to Comey’s themes of ethical leadership.
As the book progresses – given the many chapters dedicated to former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon and his central role in many of the other recounted accounts – it would appear that he provided much of the salacious details. In fact, beyond the focus on President Trump and the tussle between pandering to his electoral base and projecting a presidential image – Bannon anchors one of the three White House factions fighting for influence, and which, it is argued, have been rotationally responsible for the many leaks to the media. The other two factions include: First, “Jarvanka” or the “family White House” of Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner; and second, the moderate or more conventional Republicans who are also aligned to the legislative chamber of the United States government.
Ultimately, however, “Fire and Fury” revolves around an individual – the extent to which one agrees, as aforementioned – who never wanted to be president, who has been presidentially unfit, and who continues to bumble along. On the day of the presidential elections in November 2016: “There was, in the space of little more than hour, in Steve Bannon’s not unamused observation, a befuddled Trump morphing into a disbelieving Trump and then into a quite horrified Trump. But still to come was the final transformation: suddenly, Donald Trump became a man who believed that he deserved to be and was wholly capable of being the president of the United States”.