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There are definitely parts of Michael Wolff's "Fire and Fury" that are wrong, sloppy, or betray off-the-record confidence. But there are two things he gets absolutely right, even in the eyes of White House officials who think some of the book's scenes are fiction: his spot-on portrait of Trump as an emotionally erratic president, and the low opinion of him among some of those serving him.
Why it matters: Wolff captures the contempt some Trump aides have for the president and his family. Axios' Jonathan Swan notes that this includes people you see trumpeting their loyalty to him.
So Wolff's liberties with off-the-record comments — while ethically unacceptable to nearly all reporters — have the effect of exposing Washington's insider jokes and secret languages, which normal Americans find perplexing and detestable.
In the past year, we have had many of the same conversations with the same sources Wolff used. We won't betray them, or put on the record what was off. But, we can say that the following lines from the book ring unambiguously true:
How Trump processes (and resists) information:
- "It was during Trump's early intelligence briefings … that alarm signals first went off among his new campaign staff: he seemed to lack the ability to take in third-party information."
- "Or maybe he lacked the interest; whichever, he seemed almost phobic about having formal demands on his attention."
- "Trump didn't read. He didn't really even skim. ... [H]e could read headlines and articles about himself, or at least headlines on articles about himself, and the gossip squibs on the New York Post's Page Six."
- "Some ... concluded that he didn't read because he just didn't have to, and that in fact this was one of his key attributes as a populist. He was postliterate — total television."
- "[H]e trusted his own expertise — no matter how paltry or irrelevant — more than anyone else's. What's more, he had an extremely short attention span, even when he thought you were worthy of attention.
"Instinct over expertise:
- "The organization ... needed a set of internal rationalizations that would allow it to trust a man who, while he knew little, was entirely confident of his own gut instincts and reflexive opinions, however frequently they might change."
- "Here was a key Trump White House rationale: expertise, that liberal virtue, was overrated."
- "[T]he president's views of foreign policy and the world at large were among [his White House's] most random, uninformed, and seemingly capricious aspects. His advisers didn't know whether he was an isolationist or a militarist, or whether he could distinguish between the two."
- "He was enamored with generals and determined that people with military command experience take the lead in foreign policy, but he hated to be told what to do."
- "In the Trump White House, policy making ... flowed up. It was a process of suggesting, in throw-it-against-the-wall style, what the president might want, and hoping he might then think that he had thought of this himself."
Low regard by key aides:
- "He spoke obliviously and happily, believing himself to be a perfect pitch raconteur and public performer, while everyone with him held their breath."
- "If a wackadoo moment occurred on the occasions … when his remarks careened in no clear direction, his staff had to go into intense method-acting response. It took absolute discipline not to acknowledge what everyone could see."
- "At points on the day's spectrum of adverse political developments, he could have moments of, almost everyone would admit, irrationality. When that happened, he was alone in his anger and not approachable by anyone."
- "His senior staff largely dealt with these dark hours by agreeing with him, no matter what he said."
Be smart: More than half a dozen of the more skilled White House staff are contemplating imminent departures. Many leaving are quite fearful about the next chapter of the Trump presidency.
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