Fire and Fury: Is Trump unfit for the presidency?
You don’t have to be a psychiatrist to suspect that President Trump suffers from some form of mental illness, said Eric Levitz in NYMag.com. His relentless narcissism, his shameless hunger for affirmation and attention, and his unhinged tweeting all suggest that the 71-year-old president is “psychologically unhealthy.” Michael Wolff’s sensational new White House tell-all, Fire and Fury, leaves no doubt that the man occupying the Oval Office is dangerously erratic, ignorant, and unfit to serve as president—“and everyone around him knows it.” Drawing on West Wing interviews with many of Trump’s advisers, Wolff paints an alarming picture of a “semi-literate” president who refuses to read memos, is profoundly ignorant of policy, and is temperamentally unstable. Senior staff repeatedly told Wolff that Trump is “like a child.” Our commander in chief regularly sits in bed eating a cheeseburger at 6:30 p.m., watching cable-news networks on his three televisions, and stewing over how he’s being covered. If that’s not disturbing enough, said Jim Newell in Slate.com, aides told Wolff that Trump repeats word for word the same three stories within 10 minutes. Trump might be suffering from early-stage dementia, or he might just be overwhelmed by his enormous responsibilities. Either way, “he’s nowhere near fit for the gig.”
It’s official: Trump derangement syndrome has finally “taken on pathological proportions,” said Tammy Bruce in FoxNews.com. From the moment he defeated Hillary Clinton, Trump’s haters have been willing to “believe anything” about the president—and their eager embrace of this liberal fan fiction proves no exception. Written by a former media gossip columnist with a long history of embellishing “facts,” Fire and Fury is riddled with fabrications and basic errors. Wolff claims Trump is so ignorant, for example, he didn’t even know who John Boehner was—despite Trump having golfed with the former House speaker before he became president. Huge sections are based on the embittered rants of Trump’s ousted chief strategist, Steve Bannon. Even Wolff admits in the foreword to the book that “he’s not sure what’s true and what isn’t.” The president may be a deeply flawed man, but it’s best to “judge Trump by his record, not gossip,” said Jonathan Tobin in NationalReview.com. The economy is heating up as a result of regulatory reform and a huge corporate tax cut, and ISIS has been nearly destroyed. Do those governing achievements look like the work of a “complete buffoon”?
Wolff’s book contains its fair share of exaggerations and sloppy reporting, said Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen in Axios.com. But based on our own and other reporters’ interviews with White House staff, there’s no doubt that parts of Fire and Fury “ring unambiguously true.” Trump really does have a childlike attention span and resists all attempts to inform him about complex policy matters. He seems unable to take in information, changes his mind from minute to minute, and often goes off on bizarre tangents and furious rants, with staff pretending to agree with him so as not to enrage him further. Many of his aides, we’ve been told “are quite fearful about the next chapter of the Trump presidency,” and are planning to leave the White House before disaster strikes.
The real scandal about Fire and Fury, then, “isn’t its salacious details,” said James Fallows in TheAtlantic.com, but the fact that what Wolff is describing “is an open secret.” Trump’s mental incompetence has been exhaustively documented by mainstream reporters covering the White House—and demonstrated by Trump himself in his tweets and public statements. Yet the Republican majority in Congress has steadfastly protected him at every turn, blocking demands that he release his tax returns and denigrating the Russia investigation, despite being well aware of the unique danger Trump’s presidency represents. Perhaps Fire and Fury, with its “unforgettable” anecdotes, will mark a watershed moment, forcing Republican lawmakers and American voters to confront the reality that their erratic emperor has no clothes after all.
For now, though, “our president’s chaotic mind isn’t going anywhere,” said Ross Douthat in The New York Times. Trump’s “inability to handle the weight and responsibility of his office” was obvious during the campaign, but he was elected anyway. And he remains popular in the Republican base. So you can forget Republicans agreeing to impeachment or using the 25th Amendment to remove Trump on grounds of incapacity. The most likely outcome, until at least the midterm elections, is that we live “the way that America lived during the waning days of Nixon”: with a government overseen by patriotic aides and generals dedicated to keeping Trump’s “unfitness from producing a historic calamity.” It’s mostly worked so far; fingers crossed for 2018. ■