WASHINGTON – The White House is being used to stage some kind of dark, dystopian comedy in which all the humor is of the gallows variety. Somebody tell me how we survive another three years of this oppressive, exhausting show.
The revelations about the Trump administration from journalist Michael Wolff are, if true, stunning, jaw-dropping, gob-smacking – but also pretty much what many in Washington expected. The craziness and dysfunction were obvious from the beginning. Wolff simply documents what others say privately about an administration that is dangerously erratic and incompetent.
The central problem, according to Wolff’s forthcoming book “Fire and Fury,” is President Trump himself. Voters elected to the nation’s highest office a man who is unfit to do the job, who has proved unworthy of the public trust and who seems, to be blunt, increasingly unbalanced.
It is of some comfort, I suppose, that there are people around Trump who are aware of his flaws – who describe him with words such as “crazy” and “stupid” and “moron,” according to Wolff’s reporting. We have to hope that family members, staff members, political allies and longtime friends can serve as guardrails to keep Trump from driving us all off some cliff.
But that is not an acceptable risk for the world’s greatest economic and military power to run. We’ve made it safely through a year, but at some point our luck is going to run out.
As Wolff tells the story, after the election he proposed to Trump that he be allowed to write a fly-on-the-wall account of the administration’s early days. Trump “seemed to say” that would be OK, so Wolff began a routine of coming to the White House, installing himself on one of the couches in the West Wing lobby and latching on to senior staff members as they walked by.
No competent White House communications shop would have given such access to any journalist, let alone one known in New York media circles as a shark among sharks. Day after day, Wolff feasted.
Clearly Wolff’s principal source was Stephen K. Bannon, Trump’s political guru who served as a high-ranking White House adviser before being ousted in a palace coup. Bannon is quoted as describing the meeting Donald Trump Jr. convened with a Kremlin-tied Russian lawyer as “treasonous” and painting extremely unflattering portraits of Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner.
Perhaps it was this material about Trump’s family that sent the president into such a rage Wednesday, issuing a series of statements blasting Bannon – one said that when Bannon was fired, “he not only lost his job, he lost his mind.” The White House has loudly disputed the book’s veracity and, on Thursday, a Trump attorney sent a cease-and-desist notice to Wolff and his publisher seeking to stop the book’s publication on Friday and threatening possible charges, including libel.
When the president calms down, someone should point out to him that the legal threat unwittingly gives credence to Bannon’s version of events.
An excerpt of Wolff’s book published by New York magazine opens on the day of the election, with senior officials of the Trump campaign – including campaign manager Kellyanne Conway – preparing for what looked like certain defeat. Around 8 p.m. Eastern, however, it became clear that Trump might actually win. Wolff writes that Donald Jr. “told a friend that his father, or DJT, as he calls him, looked as if he had seen a ghost.”
Wolff writes that Melania Trump “was in tears – and not of joy.” The first lady’s office issued a statement Wednesday maintaining that she was in fact happy when her husband won the presidency.
About the president, Wolff writes: “There was, in the space of little more than an hour, in Steve Bannon’s not unamused observation, a befuddled Trump morphing into a disbelieving Trump and then into a horrified Trump. But still to come was the final transformation: Suddenly Donald Trump became a man who believed that he deserved to be, and was wholly capable of being, the president of the United States.”
But he is not capable. This whole administration is based on a desperate delusion.
On Tuesday, the president of the United States taunted North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who has a nuclear arsenal: “Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”
You can decide whether to laugh or cry. Or perhaps scream.
Eugene Robinson’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.