“You can’t make this shit up,” repeats the hapless former press secretary and White House Easter bunny Sean Spicer, as his “daily, if not hourly mantra.” This apt line, more articulate than anything Spicer said behind the podium in his months of White House employment, is quoted by Michael Wolff in his new book/American cultural phenomenon Fire and Fury: Inside The Trump White House.
Like many, I spent all yesterday immersed, jaw-dropped and eyes-popped, in a digital copy of Fire and Fury. With the books flying off the shelves, including 100 copies sold in an hour at The Strand, the President, in addition to being a “ratings machine,” seems to have made America read again–a delicious bit of irony considering one of the gems of the insider account is that Trump never reads.
Naturally, the Republicans have already assembled talking points to try to discredit the book. Admittedly, Fire and Fury is riddled with typos as if the publishers, in their race to publish this gossipy tome, forgot to copy edit. There are also minor factual errors such as referring to the shockingly sleazy British publicist and Trump Tower Russian meeting member Rob Goldstone as American. Wolff also failed to provide an account of Goldstone’s glorious Facebook page and love of hats, which is a more egregious mistake in my opinion.
And it’s this questionable handle on the truth that perfectly mirrors the Trump administration’s dissolution of truth itself. Wolff, in his introduction, is all too aware of this, writing: “Many accounts of what has happened in the Trump White House are in conflict with one another; many, in Trumpian fashion, are baldly untrue. These conflicts, and that looseness with the truth, if not with reality itself, are an elemental thread of the book.” As Charles Ludlam writes in Ridiculous Theatre: Scourge of Human Folly, “We molded truth into a joke.”
But, at the end of the day, even if Fire and Fury is half true, it’s still an incredible tale–a mix of melodrama, existential horror and farce. Trump comes across as a buffoon that is as ridiculous as he is terrifying. More pro-wrestler than president or even, person, Trump is the leader of a carnival of conniving yet equally moronic caricatures or as Wolff describes, “ a daily Trump cluster-fuck.” It’s bad when Bannon comes off as the person in the White House with some of the most sense. And he’s constantly ranting like the person on the J train you’d switch cars to avoid.
Of course, with the popularity of this book, a lot of details have been thrown around this week from Trump eating McDonald’s in bed to Ivanka’s presidential goals to the President’s lack of literacy. Beginning the book, I worried that, like a bad movie trailer, these juicy tidbits would be the only parts of the book worth reading. They’re not. Even the introduction includes the captivating image of Trump “polishing off a pint of Häagen-Dazs vanilla as he happily and idly opined about a range of topics.” Now, that’s an image.
With the prevailing sense of doom depicted in Fire and Fury, you could either curl up into a ball in fear or laugh. And because, at Filthy Dreams, we take Ludlam’s advice, “laugh and you are free,” I’ve put together a list of my 13 favorite moments from Fire and Fury:
1. Reince Priebus’s Penn Station Hide-out
In the wake of the Access Hollywood “pussy-grabbing” scandal, then RNC chairman and now former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus was too embarrassed to even approach Trump at Trump Tower. So he hid at Penn Station for hours:
It was an operatic unraveling. So mortifying was this development that when Reince Priebus, the RNC head, was called to New York from Washington for an emergency meeting at Trump Tower, he couldn’t bring himself to leave Penn Station. It took two hours for the Trump team to coax him across town.
“Bro,” said a desperate Bannon, cajoling Priebus on the phone, “I may never see you again after today, but you gotta come to this building and you gotta walk through the front door.”
Now as a New Yorker, I can attest that Penn Station makes hell seem like a paradise, smelling like a monstrous combination of Auntie Annie’s Pretzels and piss. If you won’t leave Penn Station, then you’re in a bad way.
2. Trump is Trash (And Knows It)
As faithful Filthy Dreams readers know, I’ve been trying to draw a line between Trumpism and trash aesthetics for awhile now. Well, Trump got there first, apparently. Dammit!:
Trump’s understanding of his own essential nature was even more precise. Once, coming back on his plane with a billionaire friend who had brought along a foreign model, Trump, trying to move on his friend’s date, urged a stop in Atlantic City. He would provide a tour of his casino. His friend assured the model that there was nothing to recommend in Atlantic City. It was a place overrun by white trash.
“What is ‘white trash’?” asked the model.
“They’re people just like me,” said Trump, “only they’re poor”
3. We All Could Have Had A Job In The Trump White House
The entire Trump campaign–with the exception of nut Steve Bannon–didn’t believe Trump would win the election, not even Trump himself. So, why even bother creating a transition team just in case? Well, they didn’t, which led to a scramble to fill positions. And Trump wasn’t picky:
Reince Priebus, getting ready to shift over from the RNC to the White House noted, with alarm, how often Trump offered people jobs on the spot, many of whom he had never met before, for positions whose importance Trump did not particularly understand.
4. Anna Wintour–Yes, That Anna Wintour–Wanted A Job BAD
Vogue’s famous–and infamous–helmet-haired snow queen Anna Wintour has apparently been vying for an ambassador job since Obama. Why? Who the hell knows, but lady is hungry. Hungry enough to meet the Cheeto in Chief himself at Trump Tower:
Anna Wintour, the Vogue editor and fashion industry queen, had opened to be named America’s ambassador to the UK under Obama and, when that didn’t happen, closely aligned herself with Hillary Clinton. Now Wintour arrived at Trump Tower (but refused to do the perp walk) and suggested that she become Trump’s ambassador to the Court of St. James’s. And Trump was inclined to entertain the idea. (“Fortunately,” said Bannon, “there was no chemistry.”)
Think about that next time you pick up Vogue.
5. Trump Talks To Himself
Throughout Fire and Fury, it becomes clear that Trump, as Sean Spicer says, “doesn’t give a fuck. You could tell him whatever you wanted, but he knew what he knew, and if what you said contradicted what he knew, he simply didn’t believe you.” This drives Trump to essentially listen to one man and one man alone–himself, which led to this hilarious interchange:
“Who do you have in there?” said Joe Scarborough in a frantic call. “Who’s the person you trust? Jared? Who can you talk through this stuff before you decided to act on it?”
“Well,” said the president, “you won’t like the answer, but the answer is me. Me. I talk to myself.”
6. A Bathrobe Kind Of Guy
One of my favorite articles from 2017 described Trump wandering around the White House residence in his bathrobe–a cinematic image that won’t be free from my mind in a long time. Well, Trump, a man who believes in a suit and tie at all times, didn’t like this description one bit:
On February 5, the New York Times published an inside-the-White-House story that had the president, two weeks into his term, stalking around in the late hours of the night in his bathrobe, unable to work the light switches. Trump fell apart. It was, the president not incorrectly saw, a way of portraying him as losing it, as Norma Desmond in the movie Sunset Boulevard, a faded or even senile star living in a fantasy world. (this was Bannon’s interpretation of the Times’s image of Trump, which was quickly adopted by everyone in the White House.)
The president, while often a fabulist in his depiction of the world, was quite a literalist when it came to how he saw himself. Hence he rebutted this picture of him as a half-demented or seriously addled midnight stalker in the White House by insisting he didn’t own a bathrobe.
“Do I seem like a bathrobe kind of guy, really?” he demanded, not humorously, of almost every person with whom he spoke over the next forty-eight hours. “Seriously, can you see me in a bathrobe?”
Yes. And yes.
7. Who Works Here?
Some of my favorite descriptions in Fire and Fury aren’t even the explosive moments, but these little illustrative details about the West Wing:
Good management reduces ego. But in the Trump White House, it could often seem that nothing happened, that reality simply did not exist, if it did not happen in Trump’s presence. This made an upside-down kind of sense: if something happened and he wasn’t present, he didn’t care about it and barely recognized it. His response then was often just a blank stare. It also fed one theory of why hiring in the West Wing and throughout the executive branch was so slow–filling out the vast bureaucracy was out of his view and thus he couldn’t care less. Likewise, visitors with appointments were befuddled by the West Wing’s own lack of staff: after being greeted with a smart military sauté by the dress marine at the West wing Door, they discovered that the West wing often lacked a political-appointee receptionist, leaving guests to find their own way through the warren that was the Western world’s pinnacle of power.
8. Trump Is Basically A Mean Girl
Much of the book attests to Trump’s after-dinner phone gabfests with his rich buddies, which often includes insulting the staff around him:
When the president got on the phone after dinner, it was often a rambling affair. In paranoid or sadistic fashion, he’d speculate on the flaws and weaknesses of each member of his staff. Bannon was disloyal (not to mention he always looks like shit). Priebus was weak (not to mention he was short–a midget). Kushner was a suck-up. Spicer was stupid (and looks terrible too). Conway was a crybaby. Jared and Ivanka should never have come to Washington.
Bannon often was the brunt of the jokes:
But his loyalty to the idea of Trump hardly protected him from the actual Trump’s constant briefs against him. The president had assembled a wide jury to weigh Bannon’s fate, putting before it, in an insulting Borscht Belt style, a long list of Bannon’s annoyances; “Guy looks homeless. Take a shower, Steve. You’ve worn those pants for six days. He says he’s made money, I don’t believe it.”
9. Trump, In Particular, Thinks His National Security Advisor McMaster Is Boring AF
Trump is a man with little to no attention span and his National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster doesn’t quite know how to hold it:
Recently Trump’s meetings with McMaster had ended up in near acrimony, and now the president was telling several friends that his new National Security Advisor was too boring and that he was going to fire him.
After Flynn’s firing, Trump met with several candidates including McMaster who impressed Trump with his uniform but bored him with his facts. YAWN!:
“That guy bores the shit out of me,” announced Trump after McMaster left the room. But Kushner pushed him to take another meeting with McMaster, who the next day showed up without his uniform and in a baggy suit.
“He looks like a beer salesman,” Trump said, announcing that he would hire McMaster but didn’t want to have another meeting with him.
Shortly after his appointment, McMaster appeared on Morning Joe. Trump saw the show and noted admiringly, “The guy sure gets good press.”
10. Trump Needs Pictures To Understand Chemical Weapons Are Bad
After an April chemical attack in Syria, staff struggled to get Trump interested in the story so Ivanka, with Dina Powell, came up with a flashy presentation (with pictures!) to hold his interest:
Late that afternoon, Ivanka and Dina created a presentation that Bannon, in disgust, characterized as pictures of kids foaming at the mouth. When the two women showed the presentation to the president, he went though it several times. He seemed mesmerized…That evening, the president described the pictures in a call to a friend–the foam, all that foam. These are just kids. He usually displayed a consistent contempt for anything but overwhelming military response: now he expressed a sudden wide-eyed interest in all kinds of other military responses.
11. While Half The Staff Was Obstructing Justice, The Rest Were Watching Fargo On Air Force One
I always thought the only directors that would be able to faithfully capture the combined dark comedy and existential horror of the Trump administration would be the Coen Brothers. Well, turns out they play an essential role in one of the big moments of the bumbling cover-up of Jr. and Kushner’s Russia meeting at Trump Tower. Flying home from the G20 Conference, a selection of the staff sequestered themselves on Air Force One, trying to come up with a strategy to (poorly) explain away the meeting:
Included in the discussion on the plane were the president, Hicks, Jared and Ivanka, and their spokes person Josh Raffel…Nearby, in a small conference room watching the movie Fargo, were Dina Powell, Gary Cohn, Stephen Miller, and H.R. McMaster, all of whom would later insist that they were, however physically close to the unfolding crisis, removed from it.
Sean Spicer is right–you can’t make this shit up.
12. The Mooch Wandered Around Trump Tower For Months
In this entire circus of characters, one of my favorites has to be The Mooch aka Anthony Scaramucci–that loud-mouthed suck-up Long Islander who flamed out like Icarus flying too close to the sun. Well, apparently The Mooch was sucking up even more egregiously than we knew, milling around Trump Tower for months on end and inserting himself into random meetings in the hopes of obtaining a job:
Over the next three months, Scaramucci, although no longer needed as a surrogate and without anything else particularly to do, became a constant hovering–or even lurking–presence at Trump Tower. Ever unflagging, he interrupted a meeting in Kellyanne Conway’s office in early January just to make sure she knew that her husband’s firm, Watchell, Lipton, was representing him. Having made that point, name-dropping and vastly praising the firm’s key partners, he then helped himself to a chair in Conway’s meeting and, for both Conway’s and her visitor’s benefit, offered a stirring testimonial to the uniqueness and sagacity of Donald Trump and the working-class people…Scaramucci was hardly the only hanger-on and job seeker in the building but his method was among the most dogged. He spent his days looking for meetings to be invited into, or visitors to engage with…
13. And Last But Not Least, Trump Isn’t Convinced Of The KKK’s Beliefs
Privately, he kept trying to rationalize why someone would be a member of the KKK–that is, they might not actually believe what the KK believed, and the KK probably does not believe what it used to believe, and anyway, who really knows what the KKK believes now? In fact, he said, is own father was accused of being involved with the KKK–not true. (In fact, yes, true.)
I got nothing…