On the train home from university before Christmas, I was perturbed to find a mention of Donald Trump in one of my favourite books on writing. I had brought William Zinsser’s On Writing Well home with me; I had found Zinsser’s text by chance in the campus library years before and had made notes, but after a recent spell of bleak, uninspired authorship on my part, it was time to reread his excellent guidance.
The book mentions a number of American literary icons, many of whom were famous in Zinsser’s life. I recognise a few - William Buckley Jr., Woody Allen - but most are unfamiliar. One such author was Mark Singer, who wrote for the New Yorker. Zinsser quotes Singer’s humorous account of a spell at Mar-a-Lago, the luxury residence of the real estate maestro. Singer describes meeting the in-house physician, who, Trump wonders aloud, surely attended “Baywatch Medical School.” He had appointed her on the sight of her picture alone. Looks came before expertise: “by the time she’s spent fifteen years at Mount Sinai,” Trump assured Singer, “we don’t want to look at her.”
Singer’s story is one of many descriptions of the businessman’s indiscretions, published long before he announced his intention to become the leader of the free world. Perhaps for those of us who weren’t around when these were put in print - I would have been less than a year old when Singer stepped foot in Mar-a-Lago - Trump revealed his rotten side to the fullest extent during his campaign. He has continued to behave incredulously since winning.
That is why I am startled that so many people believe that Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, Michael Wolff’s new publication, which reportedly echoes the “lethal potion ... concocted of hundreds of outlandish facts and quotes” that Zinsser attributed to Singer, is destined to topple the Trump tyranny.
Sure, Wolff gives us snippets of life in the White House. You can indulge in the disturbing images of an aged, agonised man eating cheeseburgers in bed, watching multiple televisions and moaning down the phone to reluctant confidantes, if that’s what takes your fancy.
And the suspicion that Trump never intended to win, which Wolff advances in the extract of Fire and Fury, published in New York, is certainly of interest. If Wolff is right, Trump’s campaign was the world’s greatest publicity stunt. It wasn’t about making America great again; it was about making America buy his books and watch his shows.
But if Fire and Fury convinces you that things are going badly wrong in the White House, I can’t help wondering why everything that has come before has not done so. All the evidence of Trump’s unfitness for office is already available to us. We already doubt the decorum of a man who remarks on the “fine shape” of a foreign leader’s wife - to her face. We already doubt the integrity of a man tells a pregnant war widow that her late husband “knew what he signed up for.” We already doubt the moral convictions of a man who struggles to issue a firm rebuke of violent nationalists. And we already doubt the stability of an administration with so many high-profile dismissals and resignations. We were used to it, just as we were six months ago.
Meanwhile, Trump’s defenders present the President as a martyr, wronged by everyone but a band of loyal believers. Without turning the cover, many Trump voters are convinced that each and every claim is false, that the book is a work of fiction penned by a charlatan. Remember, in the Trump era, we can now dismiss anything as a total fabrication at the drop of a hat and get away with it. Fire and Fury will make no dent on Trump’s most loyal supporters’ faith.
There is a mass of Trump voters whose minds will be swayed by nothing. They believe that Trump’s own professions of genius via Twitter are like statements from the Gospels. They will go on the networks and tell the world that the “very stable genius” is in perfect health. Steve Bannon has said Trump has lost his mind, to which Trump and his ilk say that Bannon has lost his mind. Even if Trump is crazy, well, a crazy man is better than previous establishment-backed presidents. I wager that even if Trump publicly announced to being a pawn of the Russian government, many of his followers would still say Hillary Clinton was worse.
Trump’s hope to lose the election for the sake of ratings is something to discuss; but the book will make no lasting impact. The people who are against Trump will still be against Trump, the people who adore Trump will call the book “fake news”. The real moment of truth will be when the Republicans pluck up the strength to dethrone him.