Is Michael Wolff’s Trump the Real Trump?

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tags: book review, Trump, Fire and Fury, Michael Wolff



Vaughn Davis Bornet’s Ph.D. is from Stanford University (1951), the B.A. and M.A. (1939, 1940) are from Emory University, the year 1941 was at University of Georgia. Author of over a dozen books and scores of articles and essays, he has been writing articles frequently in recent years on the internet’s History News Network. He holds “Distinguished” awards from American Heart Association and Freedoms Foundation. He taught at University of Miami, 1946-48, and Southern Oregon College, 1963-80. He was a staff member of The RAND Corporation in the 1960s. A Commander in the Naval Reserves, his active duty was 1941 to 1946. His 2016 books Lovers in Wartime, 1944 to 1945 and another, Happy Travel Diaries, 1925 to 1933 (both Amazon) are recent. Late last year, just ahead of his 100th birthday, he published, Seeking New Knowledge: A Research Historian’s Rewarding Career. He lives, apparently only semi-retired, in Ashland, Oregon.


As nearly as I can see, the book Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff (New York: Henry Holt, 2018) is the 17th book “about Donald J. Trump,” but there may soon be many more. It’s hard to believe. But Amazon claims on its book site that this man long associated with downtown NYC is “…the very definition of the American success story….” Testing, and certainly verifying, I discovered after rummaging, that gadgets or play items (whatever one might call them) entirely devoted to Trump—as figure, not necessarily as just President—come to probably about 50—but clever investigation might well uncover far more than that—especially after the monetary success of this book.

The public is making a huge deal out of the publication getting our attention here. (One would think there’s nothing else to focus on “out there.”) The Guardian proclaimed, “Michael Wolff has written a book to shake America to its foundations.” (So there! Maybe that’s so….) Variety headlines for us the Ten Most Explosive things to be found in Wolff’s pages.

I reluctantly admit that at my Oregon home the television screen has been focused on President Trump like a laser for some time now, and I see no chance of that obsession fading away, even with random tuning of news channels! (For this student of American Diplomacy it’s disturbingly necessary! But enough. Let’s get down to producing paragraphs related to a book that will, soon enough, be the focus after the words “President Donald J. Trump” are pronounced.)

What is this astonishing book? The author asserts that he spent three hours “with Trump” and that he conducted “over 200 interviews.” Pretty impressive, that. But do we have to believe him? Ah. Wolff adds that as he sat on White House “sofas,” he had available to him, well, what? Chatter, I guess. Did he have a conversational lunch every day with a civil service or selected employee? If evident in the text, I at least would hesitate to deny that basic claim. As for his explosive quotations (including those perfectly awful ones with three dots) I feel I must be slow to say he has lied about the vast Trumpisms—by and about.

A mere reviewer surely doesn’t have to go in depth into the relationship between Trump as candidate and as beginning president and that scruffy Steve Bannon fellow who is responsible for something I don’t read called Breitbart. I understand that despite major critical words of mutual contempt exchanged between them this holiday season, that man who thinks he’s primarily responsible for the Trump victory (even though totally absent as election day neared), expects good relations between the two of them to prevail again, ’ere long. (Both seem to have a lot to gain.) It is pretty clear that Bannon is going to be featured in a spring book about himself, and somebody (absolutely not me) will have every chance to explore him in detail.

No matter what the President denies, this book seems to be rooted in a bit of contact with Trump and much with a variety of others. Clearly, there were innumerable interviews, many tape recordings are said to exist—far beyond anything normally granted biographers of those previous Presidents who have tried to run this country and the world from an address on Pennsylvania Avenue. The alert reader who has spent years in the archives studying presidents (hopefully meaning me) thinks of what is customarily prerequisite: ten or twenty years elapse after burial, ye historian gets to read tons of Presidential Library files that are finally open (denied the very best stuff); then may come some or many interviews with aides who were “there”; then comes that endless checking of the New York Times. (I removed 500 footnotes to it just to make room, when turning my dissertation into a publishable book!)

There must be many errors in this type of book. And I am quite aware that historians don’t easily forgive “errors.” Maybe we should take the approach of the Trump aide who, confronted with a pretty clearly false statement by the president, said it was just a “flourish.” Reviewing this book, though a bit time and attention consuming, has been fun. Now, if I could use that word flourish henceforth to replace “error” and “mistake” it sounds great to little old me.

This author seems to claim, essentially, that he went within a few yards of where the President “worked,” talked to anybody he felt like, ate lunch with somebody who was willing, created his own tapes (remember LBJ tapes opened for us only eventually), and, bypassing the university press crowd, got a major NYC publisher to say “yes,” maybe instantly. This reader believes Wolff even got to write as he pleased and told his publisher what he wanted! Think about that, fellow historians, you out there who seldom if ever write about “the present” while it’s still the present…. Well, almost never.

I’m not quite sure how important it is that the author did or didn’t get to interview President Trump as mogul, candidate, or Oval Office occupant. At this writing, the President says not; Wolff insists. He may have been “nearby,” but I personally believe there are Trump words in this book spoken exclusively to Mr. Wolff—and used by permission. (When I was well along on my LBJ book, The Presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson, I detoured the opportunity to interview Lady Bird, for I could easily see that she was revealing virtually nothing to those seeking “the Story” about her complex husband. Her book Lady Bird’s Dairy was long and adequate! I am saying that it’s likely a motormouth like Donald said at some point, “Quite Enough, thank you,” and returned to making history without the likes of a clever, headline-alert, income expecting Wolff.

Those scathing comments by so many that the author passes on to us about the President are gems of criticism. (Usually, however, such crude language originates with “enemies,” not friends and chosen appointees.) By now, I would think, readers of this account have read them often enough. I’ll offer a few of the alleged words, then comment centrally: “idiot,” “dumb as S…,” “dope.” (More.)

Thinking about the above: I have personally worked under and around some top-flight figures in world famous places. Take it from me, on some occasion, I’m sure I privately blurted language something like that—behind their back—when not frustrated by Authority. I would HATE to have those words picked out several months or a year later, maybe, and have anybody leave the impression that the epithets were my printable and overall, considered view of that superior. I must have praised those leaders often enough in public and in private; why spread worldwide the single words of scorn I used once when frustrated about something back then?

Like most of you I have been so very excited, gratified even, to read the Bad about this amateur leader of sorts, but, no, I don’t think it either accurate or fair to assemble one-time words sort of out of total context and let them stand as a DEFINITIVE description. Among other things, could a man so described in such words have become rich, powerful, and President? There has to be something positive to counteract brutal negativism, really a lot, more. Right? Here, it’s a trained historian (me) speaking. I just have to admit, here and now however, that I say things like that about Trump almost daily! How to reconcile?

My introduction to the Fire and Fury book came by slowly reading the very long extracts offered several days before publication. What an easy read! How fascinating! What a collection of paragraphs designed to get national attention—and of course sell books. How the serious reader wishes he were in a position to judge whether Wolff has offered a lot of Truth. How much other Truth is missing because this non-scholar author thought it too “dull,” not “vibrant,” just “routine,” and/or revelatory of a tired, unready, President doing his job. Didn’t Donald ever work until tired, get briefed and, listening, change his mind, thank (or not bother to thank) an aide or general for educating him on “something,” tell off a relative with words like “I know better; you didn’t hear the briefing.”

Turning elsewhere, the deadline for this scathing account was, I surmise, November/early December. The time since this book was signed off on has not been kind for the deteriorating Trump image. Each day, nearly, we have the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, and later on, sharp MSNBC’s Rachael Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell—and other worthies unnamed. I have worked long and hard on three presidents, and must say I’ve been conceding a lot to let these brilliant (but clearly Trump-hostile) reporter/authorities both entertain and inform me. Other sources try to own my mind, pro and con. Some like Hannity and Dobbs, I hasten to proclaim and loudly, border on the absurd and silly for any watcher/listeners blessed with heavy duty educations.

Yet it is true enough that a shopping list of changes in the economic sphere may bring additional favorable income benefits to the well-born and lowly alike. My limited stocks are up. Some Americans now have unexpected jobs. Maybe some bad immigrants have been ousted. And so on. But: drilling for oil off all coasts? Kicking environmentalists in the face? Leaving the Government staffed inadequately? Appointing the clearly unqualified. And so on. The stock market number 25,000, now bandied about, is so nice to hear. But the inundated coastlines of the future? Enough. Mr. Wolff certainly had a gold mine of a controversial leader to write a book about.

I’m betting that as relatively unqualified reviewers check in all over the place, once the Wolff book shows up for purchase, we are going to get a lot of prose reflecting a strong distaste for various “Trumps.” There will be quoting of newsy slurs against current presidential character quoted therein. I just noted it in quantity in the Guardian.

Several things bothered me about Fire and Fury’s assembler/writer/judge. One is the plain fact that the author must have known his lucky chance to damn Trump was going to make him rich. The second is the tendency he has when interviewed to accept (apparently with little reservation) his own conversational evidence that seems stacked to document a mentally incompetent Trump, and/or indicate very indirectly that he is on the verge of becoming so. Suddenly that lucky book writer seems to view himself as competent to, yes, shoot his mouth off about a President (over his head) who is trying to perform competently in the White House and, often, overseas.

There are things to read about Trump as businessman, actor, meddler, rich man, professional groom, and father of beautiful, now grown up, children. One to be admired (that is positive throughout) is Time’s high-class paperback publication, Donald Trump: 45th President of the United States (an update of magazine content) which seems to date back to his beginning time in office. (Oddly, it says on the cover, “Display until 2/17/17.”) Gee, one wishes THAT MAN became our president (I just had to write that). What beautiful rendering in photographs of one who, well, apparently never entirely existed. The Wolff book, naturally, got into the hands of the New Yorker’s John Cassidy so he wrote a think piece published January 4, 2018. His space goes, however, to Comey and Mueller, and Bannon and to the many negative descriptions that are now being reprinted coast to coast.

Overall, we are all indebted to Michael Wolff for helping, no matter what, in exposing the fraud and the dangerous reality that has become the strange Presidency of Donald Trump. I mean it. Every little bit of exposure helps to derail two terms. My goal, as I wrote two evaluative pieces about Trump for History News Network in 2017, six months apart, and gave up writing a third effort after two pages, was always to reveal the sad facts I was viewing. It was back then a substandard candidacy, one unsuitable. Help save my native Country! I guess I had no effect at all, for the degradation of the USA, worldwide, is now common knowledge, requiring documentation infinitely less than this book offers.

While I don’t really want to be in the position of touting this book, ostensibly to help its sales especially, I do recommend the reading of at least part—even all—of a library copy, or piecing together Internet extracts as they emerge to comprise most of the text. This book is going to be obsolete soon enough, I surmise, for this NYC tycoon, romancer, showoff, TV clown, persuasive one, sometime leader, and force for both good and evil (not in that order), is one that will attract historians for decades. And why not?

I have decided that my long, yet ordinary enough, review of this one of a kind book should not detour to the subject now so often in the news concerning “the President’s mental fitness.” Others have picked up on this, partly because of the existence of a publication by Yale’s professor Bandy Lee, entitled, “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump.” Some in a good position to know have flatly denied charges about D. T.’s repeating things, etcetera. (Pretty dramatic stuff, that.) Especially, we will avoid speculation about atomic buttons and the whole North Korea thing, vitally important though it certainly is. Forgive this reviewer.

When looking forward in his NPR interview to the publication of his book, the author Mr. Wolff predicted the Trump Administration’s future as: “the train will hit the wall.” Part of our upset country hopes for that; part fears it. The worst hasn’t sunk in everywhere. Among old ladies in my retirement home, I’m sorry to say, are some who approve of “President Trump” but don’t seem quite sure why. To me, it seems there is very little indifference on that oh so basic matter for those of us quite well versed about earlier presidents. With a president there is so very much to consider. That is, their caution, leadership, respect for opposition leaders, and deserved exile far away from the Oval Office.

Any readers who absolutely deplore the presidency of Donald J. Trump have in Fire and Fury ample ammunition to go forth and by one means or another hasten his return to Trump Tower and the high life of yesteryear lived by him and his dear ones. Scholars seeking a restful book to read, one that will just plain soothe and relax the reader, should look elsewhere. Information in this book seems to be, here and there and perhaps a bit too often, questionable.

Finally, here is a phenomenon, one unprecedented in my view, a book that will unnerve, upset, apparently inform with new information in quantity, entertain, and provide a puzzle that is likely to last, somewhat at least, for the ages.


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