A brief confession: the only “reality-TV” I ever watch is sports. Real, unscripted contests, I mean. Professional wrestling I gave up after eighth grade when the story lines became too predictable to be funny. I never saw Jersey Shore or The Apprentice either one.
So it’s been a year of surprises.
The Apprentice was a scripted melodrama featuring a New York tycoon famous for tabloid sex scandals pretending to hire and fire scheming contestants largely based upon… What? Beats me. A real business magnate would have better things to do. But then a genuine capitalist hero wouldn’t have gone bankrupt running casinos, would he?
So I never saw the Donald Trump phenomenon coming. Good grief, the man has gold-plated toilets. He discussed his daughter as a “piece of ass” on the radio with Howard Stern. How could anybody take him seriously?
That said, another form of infotainment I’ve personally boycotted is the White House “tell-all” book—gossip-mongering and score-settling leaked by disaffected aides to an author seeking what Nicholas von Hoffman once called “arrestingly irrelevant detail.”
Joan Didion dubbed such narratives “political pornography.” Goodness, don’t people get enough White House infighting on the evening news?
So the runaway success of Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, has also surprised me. I’d have thought normal people were all-Trumped-out.
Of course the president himself virtually guaranteed the book’s success by threatening to cancel its publication—legally impossible under the First Amendment. Ditto Trump’s threats to sue Wolff and his publisher. He’s about as likely to engage LeBron James in a fistfight.
Remember when the president vowed to sue all 20 women who claimed he grabbed them by…? Well, “felt them up” is the Jersey idiom. That lawsuit’s also never happening. See, if you sue somebody then you have to face cross-examination. Trump can never risk that.
Indeed, the president’s bluster about Wolff’s book has been so self-defeating it’s enough to make you wonder whether he hasn’t got a piece of the action. At the rate Fire and Fury is selling, Wolff could end up buying Mar-a-Lago. Trump’s being in on the scam would also explain the sheer political stupidity of giving a journalist like Wolff unfettered White House access in the first place.
That said, my resolve was wavering until a friend posted a few pages on Facebook describing Trump’s post-inauguration visit to CIA headquarters. Cheered on by White House staffers seated in the front row, the president told his bewildered audience a story of divine intervention.
“God looked down and said we’re not going to let it rain on your [inauguration] speech. And in fact when it first started I said Oh nooo.. First line I got hit with a couple of drops and I said, Oh no, this is too bad, but…the truth is it stopped immediately and then it became really sunny and I walked off and it poured right after I left.”
This isn’t something Sloppy Steve Bannon or Kellyanne Conway whispered to Michael Wolff. There’s a transcript, and video of both speeches.
The choices are: A) Trump is fabulating or B) Trump is delusional.
Google it if you doubt me. A steady drizzle started when Trump began to speak and continued throughout. The sun never appeared, and it also never “poured.” Total rainfall that day was less than a tenth of an inch. When Grandpa starts rattling on like that, it’s time to take away his car keys.
Anyway, reading even that much of Wolff’s book rendered me bilious and fatigued. So more power to him, but I’ll take a pass. A guy who will lie to your face about the weather has no concept of truth. Any time Trump uses phrases like “believe me,” “honestly,” “trust me,” or “to tell you the truth,” it’s a dead giveaway: Everything that follows is make-believe.
If you haven’t yet figured that out, perhaps you can’t.
Also, here’s the deal: Anybody who needs to go on TV to brag about being a “stable genius” is definitely neither. Just as a smart person confident of his innocence in the Russia investigation would lay off special counsel Robert Mueller and await vindication. But Trump can’t do that.
Trump’s political gifts are instinctive cunning and a hunger for adulation. He understands people’s secret resentments because he shares them. He has a middle-school bully’s knack for name-calling, and absolutely no shame.
If he’s slipping, as Wolff reports, Trump can still play a crowd.