Grown adults lined up at bookstores late Thursday night to buy copies of Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury, the dishiest of the Game Change–style palace-intrigue dish genre. Based on the excerpts that have received the most attention, the book describes a president who does not have various capacities necessary to perform the job to which he was elected.
Can you even imagine?
Among those deficient capacities: reading comprehension, taking in new information, paying attention to anything for more than a second—in short, baseline adult behavior. The book’s details, which include, for instance, that Trump will repeat “word-for-word and expression-for-expression, the same three stories within 10 minutes,” have rekindled speculation that the president could be suffering from cognitive decline or the early stages of dementia. Or the behavior could be the result of a stubborn, insecure man acting out after finding himself in a stressful job for which he has no qualifications. Throw in other diagnoses if you’d like. All roads lead to the same conclusion: He’s nowhere near fit for the gig.
“My indelible impression of talking to” those surrounding and managing Trump, Wolff wrote in a Hollywood Reporter column, “and observing them through much of the first year of his presidency, is that they all—100 percent—came to believe he was incapable of functioning in his job.”
The only really shocking thing about Wolff’s book is that this conclusion could be treated as revelatory. You don’t need Michael Wolff to show you that Donald Trump is the antithesis of a functional president of the United States. You just need eyes and ears.
Wolff, who shares his subject’s penchant for self-aggrandizement, believes the details in his book are of the kind that will bring about the end of Trump’s presidency.
“I think one of the interesting effects of the book so far is a very clear emperor-has-no-clothes effect,” Wolff said in an interview. “Suddenly everywhere people are going ‘oh my God, it’s true, he has no clothes.’ That’s the background to the perception and the understanding that will finally end … this presidency.”
Just as when Trump says that “everybody” is saying something, it’s unclear that very many people are suddenly learning from Wolff’s book that Trump has no idea what he’s doing. It’s more that the most talked-about morsels from Wolff’s book are providing people with examples of what they already know—that Trump completely lacks the personality, knowledge, and capacity to be a president—and showing how his incompetence plays out on a daily level. Fire and Fury seems not to contain news per se, but rather confirmation.
Take the book’s many anecdotes of the president’s own advisers, friends, and confidants shit-talking him.
“I wouldn’t give Donald too much to think about,” former Fox News chief Roger Ailes told former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon at a dinner in January 2017, when discussing the U.S possibly moving its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. (The accuracy of many details in Wolff’s book have come under scrutiny, but this particular dinner was reportedly held at Wolff’s house.) Rupert Murdoch, Ailes’ boss, supposedly calls Trump a “fucking idiot” on another occasion; former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus calls him the same minus the swearing adjective. Gary Cohn, the economic adviser, calls the president “dumb as shit.” Managing the president, as former Deputy Chief of Staff Katie Walsh said, is “like trying to figure out what a child wants.” And then there’s Bannon, who said every possible nasty thing about the president, his staff, and his family.
In what way is it a revelation that these people might feel this way about the president and his abilities? Trump has been a politician for roughly two and a half years. For most people who are open to the idea that Trump might have no idea what he’s doing, they recognized that after watching about 10 to 15 seconds of his campaign launch event—and the ensuing millions of seconds have cemented the rock-solid accuracy of that recognition. Now imagine having to work with Trump—see him, hear him talk—all day, every day. Of course these people think he has no business being president. Donald Trump is in their face all day.
The leaked details from Wolff’s book don’t reveal that Donald Trump’s incompetence is an open secret. It’s just open.