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Siege's book review: Trump Under Fire by Michael Wolff

Ryan Lizza is a senior political analyst for CNN and Esquire's top political correspondent.

Author's note, opening "Siege", Michael Wolff's successor to "Fire and Fury" – documenting President Trump's first year in the office, much of it through the anonymous musings of Steve Bannon – read as scene-setting creeps in the beginning of a Star Wars movie. The reader learns that Wolff's new account begins in February 2018, when "the president's shabby furies have been met by an increasingly organized and methodical institutional response" and Trump's own government, even its own White House, has begun to turn it on. "Instead of cutting to Hoth, removing the distant ice plane in" The Empire Strikes Back ", home to the fighting rebellion we soon cut to Bannon's kitchen table.

Bannon has been driven out of the White House by Trump and dumped by his financial patrons, Mercers, and has set up business in a shabby Capitol Hill townhouse, famously known as the embassy, ​​as it slowly becomes clear, may well be Hoth. It takes 1

93 pages, but we finally learn Bannon has not spoken to Trump since he was fired.

It does not prevent Wolff from centering the whole tale of the president's former aid, so the new Wolff book is much like the last one: a sail through the Trump diaspora and inside the president's head with Bannon as the cruise director, but like the last book, "Siege" is ultimately paralyzed by three errors: Wolff's single-character over-reliance, and one now more distant from the action; The opacity and sourcing, which is so opaque, makes the Scots very suspicious and unreliable.

For long stretches of "Siege", Trump and the White House disappear, and the reader is exposed to a tedious tapestry of Bannon's travels and his plot from the Embassy, ​​where he embarks in 2018 on how the Republicans will win midterms (they did not) how his nationalist project is still prevalent in GOP (it's not) how Robert Mueller will destroy the Trump presidency (he didn't do it) and how Bannon himself had to replace Trump and run for president in 2020 , with Sean Hannity as his companion (we have to wait for Episode III).

In the acknowledgments, Bannon is the only named source that Wolff thanks, praising him effusively and in an allusion to Dante's "divine comedy" he calls "Virgil anyone could be lucky enough to have as a guide to a descent into Trumpworld." In fact, Bannon is more like Wolff's Farinata, the former Florentine political leader, whom Dante portrays as banished to the hell's circle for heretics, where in his grave alone he still occupies his own era in politics, but does not have access to current events unless one of The dead bring him a


In "Siege" they come dead to Bannon's doorstep in the form of former Trump aides such as Corey Lewandowski, David Bossie, Sam Nunberg and Jason Miller, and Wolff, like many other Washington reporters, absorb a mixture of gossip, misinformation, and occasional insights that the outer rings of Trump advisors are famous for circulating.

This rogues gallery of Trump hangers-on which Wolff seems to depend is sometimes presented as a group of devoted ideological rebels trying to keep the flame of true MAGA alive. According to Wolff, several of those who usually work through Hannity who have better access to the president, Trump presses on issues such as building the border wall or declaring a national emergency over immigration. Bossie and Lewandowski "were not operatives, they were believers," reports Wolff despite a statement that will generate guffaws among Republicans. But for the most part, Bannon's knitting circle is involved in low-level billing – often against White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner – and making money from their affiliation with Trump. Lewandowski and Bossie hawk a "deep state" conspiracy book, although according to Wolff Bannon, their ghostwriter tells us that "none of this is true."

Wolff's rebels and Trump are co-dependent but clear eyes on each other. Trump, Wolff writes, likes Lewandowski more than his own sons, even though he evades him as an "asshole". Trump says Bossie, who fails to maneuver to become chief of staff, is "timid". Nunberg is preached by the president of living with his parents, and Wolff quotes Trump's remark by Miller: "I get the people no one else wants."

Likewise, they have no illusions about Trump. Wolff summarizes the prospect of the president from the ragtag embassy team: Trump is a "clown", an "idiot" and a "nutter".

Bannon's core political project of gaining power by impeding racist anger is not criticized by Wolff. (If there is any doubt about that, Bannon Wolff says, "If you voted for Trump, every picture of a Mexican immigrant, parent or child confirms, together or apart, to vote.") Wolff's obsession with documenting Bannon & # 39; s each thought, while remaining uninterested in the reality of racial politics, which he and Trump released when he highest hilarity, when he seriously cites Bannon's dissection of whether the president is an anti-Semitic (probably not) or a racist ( probably). Although many who have studied Trump – in a fraction of the time Wolff has – have easily made their opinion on the problem, Wolff says that Trump makes racist and anti-Semitic remarks and calls the Mexicans "wet bag", writes whether he is a racist or not , is "a rosebud riddle".

Bannon's often clear observations make it clear why Wolff finds him irresistible. The author is mostly interested in Trump's psychology. He is good at documenting the president's lunacy, and Bannon is often able to shrink. For example, he faithfully theorises that Trump's inevitable disgust with anyone working for him is a natural outgrowth of his alleged self-hatred. "Hate himself, of course he will hate anyone who seems to love him," says Bannon Wolff. "If you seem to respect him, he thinks he's put something on you – that's why you're a fool."

But the idea that Wolff documents a major ideological struggle in the Trump GOP is the best known Bannon spin. According to Wolff, Lewandowski reports that "he had almost wet himself" during a white house confrontation with Kelly, a former Marine who grabbed Lewandowski at the collar outside the Oval Office. What Wolff leaves behind about this well-known episode, first reported by the New York Times, is that Kelly shouted at Lewandowski to try to earn from Trump's presidency. Wolff also ignores, perhaps due to his release deadline, that Bossie was officially excommunicated from Trumpworld in May when the Trump campaign suggested that he run a "scam group" who "was interested in filling their own pockets with money from innocent Americans "paychecks." Believers actually.

Wolff's broad conceptual error – that the real heart of the Trumpism is preserved heroically by Bannon's band of true believers outsiders – would be forgivable if the book was not destroyed by two more strikes: some cringeworthy bugs and sourcing that are so opaque make the extremely funny and juicy quotes scattered over every chapter which – unfortunately – hard to rely on.

Wolff reports that he had two billers assigned to the book, but they apparently was not enough. He writes that after Ty Cobb left the White House, Trump's only lawyers were Jay Sekulow and Rudy Giuliani (whom he describes as "drunk on a bid for further attention or just full "). Wolff does not seem to know that Trump employed Jane and Martin Raskin, whose names do not appear in the book to handle the Mueller probe. He writes that the Russians hacked the email account of John Podesta and servers in the Democratic National Committee after July 27, 2016, the day Trump famously told Russia to find Hillary Clinton's missing emails. It is wrong. Podesta hacked in March, the DNC hack occurred in April, and the fruits of these hacks had already been released. That's why Trump wrote the comment.

Wolff notes that reporting on Trump is difficult because the president and many of the people working for him or counseling him are illegal. Other journalists have confronted this dilemma by maximizing the number of sources needed to confirm the many rumors surrounding Trump and generally increase transparency to preserve readers' confidence in an environment where the president regularly attacks truthful reporting as false.

Wolff takes another approach. Dramatic scoops plopped down on the side without any sourcing. You will be new-tasting quotes often attributed to Trump and senior officials without any connection as to when or to whom they were made.

Wolff clearly relies on the work of dozens of other journalists on Trump beat, but because he rarely uses any inscriptions, the reader never knows whether a fact he relaying comes from him or elsewhere. For example, he writes that Kushner was briefed by intelligence officials that his friend Wendi Deng could be a Chinese spy. The reader would be forgiven for believing that this was another Wolff scoop, rather than a great exclusive reported by the Wall Street Journal in early 2018.

Cutting commentators Wolff's attributes to Trump certainly sound like the president: "The stupidest man in Congress" And a "religious nut" (Mike Pence); "Give me the creeps" (Karen Pence); "Weak" (John Kelly); "A girl" (Kushner); "Looks like a mental patient" (Giuliani); "A beautiful silly boy" who "has too many f — ing kids" (Donald Trump Jr.); "Men's retailers" (Republican house candidates); "Ignoramuses" (Trump's communication team); "The Only Stupid Jew" (Michael Cohen); "A Dirty Rat" (formerly White House Advisor Donald McGahn); a "virgin crybaby" who "probably was melted by a priest" (Brett Kavanaugh); "The poor man's Ann Coulter" (Kellyanne Conway); "Sweaty" (Stephen Miller). But the lack of transparency and footnotes does not create confidence.

By far, the biggest scoop in the book is a document that Wolff claims is a draft accusation at last, ignored by the president from within the special council office. In addition to the alleged accusation, Wolff reports on several interesting and curious notes describing Mueller's legal strategy for what to do if Trump summoned Michael Flynn or tried to close the investigation. These documents, if confirmed, will save the book because they give the first true glimpse of the almost airtight Mueller operation.

On Tuesday, the special council's office issued a rare record in which it insisted that the "described documents do not exist."


Trump Under Fire

By Michael Wolff

Henry Holt. 335 pp. $ 30

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