Reading corner: Fire and Fury

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House

Michael Wolff

Little, Brown

Steve Bannon is something of a history buff, it transpires. His otherwise sparsely-furnished apartment contains hundreds of books, the bulk of which are about “popular history”.

Granted, this is hardly the lead story from Fire and Fury, a book which dominated the global news agenda when it came out last week. Melania’s election night tears of despair, the President’s reluctance to read any briefing notes and his penchant for retiring to his bedroom at 6.30pm, cheeseburger in one hand and television remote control in the other, inevitably garnered far more headlines.

But the sheer scale of the Trump team’s dysfunction that emerges under Wolff’s pen is such that readers can’t help but think back to stories from administrations of yesteryear, many of which surely adorn Bannon’s library.

This is because achieving a positive public impact is hard enough, let alone when an administration’s leading figures are constantly jockeying for position and leaking against each other. Practically the only thing they can agree on, according to Wolff, is their boss’s manifest unsuitability for his job.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Coming to power at a time of deep national turmoil Abraham Lincoln deliberately appointed his rivals – a Team of Rivalsas Doris Kearns Goodwin so expertly chronicles – to his Cabinet. Then, by force of his personality and unmatched leadership skills, he helped put the US on a course designed to end the war, unite the country and abolish slavery.

Others, too, have shown a better course. Take Theodore Roosevelt, for example. “TR” managed to curb monopolies and create national parks while at the same time forging a strong relationship with the media, in particular, the investigative journalists of McClure’s magazine who helped expose corruption and exploitation. A more stark comparison to President Trump’s relationship with the press is difficult to imagine.

And more recently, Ronald Reagan proved he had an eye for talent and a willingness to forget past battles by selecting James Baker, who had previously served as campaign manager for George HW Bush, his rival in the primaries, as his first White House chief of staff. Some 40 years on, Baker is still seen as the gold standard for this crucial position.

These presidents, Republicans all, demonstrate that the tumult that seems an hour-by-hour occurrence in the current White House need not be permanent. Instead, people from different backgrounds and with different perspectives can unite to move their President’s agenda forward. Will this happen under President Trump? Such a scenario may appear unlikely but so, too, was his presidency not so long ago.

Wolff, meanwhile, has performed an important service by helping sate our collective and justified hunger for knowing what is really happening behind the closed doors of the White House. Although the spotlight has now moved elsewhere, his book, while hardly free from fault, will likely linger on the bestseller charts for some time to come.