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Fire and Fury

In Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury, Vice President Mike Pence is described by an anonymous source as being “like the husband in Ozzie and Harriet, a nonevent,” which, I suppose, won’t surprise anyone, least of all Pence himself. After all, this former radio host-turned congressman once described himself as “Rush Limbaugh on Decaf.”    

According to Wolff’s book, Pence isn’t seen as dumb by Trump’s principal advisors, but he isn’t seen as particularly smart either. Wolff says he is “prone to extreme self-effacement.” Considering Trump’s history with people who stand out – who Trump might see as crowding his limelight – this seems like a prudent step on Pence’s part.  

In the Trump White House, however – which has been and still is full of sharp-toothed fascists aching to pull a night of the long knives on one another –  this goes down about as well as kale enchiladas in a New York steakhouse.  

But if it’s a choice between eating kale enchiladas or eating shit in front of a national audience, the latter which Trump seems to revel in making people do, his cabinet and top advisors would rather have the kale, of course. Take Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. He surely gets along much better with Pence than Trump. By getting along with everyone, Pence has managed to avoid major controversy so far.

Which brings me back to Fire and Fury. The experience of reading this book could be compared to that of those unfortunate victims in the movie The Human Centipede, forced to eat the same shit over and over. There’s not a lot new here. The most damning stuff – the stuff about Bannon accusing Trump Jr. of treason –  has already been reported in the media. If you follow the news even a little then you’re familiar with it already.

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Trump spewing

Donald Trump spewing it out.

The book makes much of Trump’s vindictive, childlike behavior, his questionable mental faculties, the fact that the Trump campaign was unprepared to win, and of the president’s being an all-around dotard. Not that it isn’t a serviceable book. Like Bob Woodward’s White House accounts, it’s got that fly-on-the-wall vibe. But it doesn’t have Woodward’s insight. And it’s not going to bring this administration down, as the author has so grandiosely claimed.

My question to you, dear reader, is why debase yourself eating more of the same shit than you’ve already ingested? 

Strangely enough, there's one incident not covered in this book that I find psychologically revealing. I’m talking about how, on April 6, 2017, Trump informed the Chinese president Xi Jinping of the launch of American airstrikes in Syria. At that time the two world leaders were eating cake. It was “the most beautiful chocolate cake,” as Trump so gleefully reported to Fox Business. It seems telling to me that he found this particular moment so incredibly sweet.  

I’m surprised he didn’t tweet it.

Tweeting may be a less outrageous way of Trump’s fulfilling his desire for instant gratification than, say, groping a woman in an elevator. But at the same time it’s just as (or more) dangerous. Take last week’s tweet directed at Kim Jong-un about how his button is is so “much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”

And then there was Jan. 8 tweet in which he bragged about his “enormously consensual presidency” (the quote he meant to sample was “enormously consequential”) before deleting, which seems like a Freudian slip.

That is to say, his tweets tend to broadcast Trump’s worst qualities as a human being, not that any good ones come immediately to mind. Perhaps that’s why the account of the goings-on in certain Russian hotel rooms, as remarked upon in Christopher Steele’s dossier, ring so true (added to the countless accusations of groping and other instances of sexual assault).

But there’s nothing really new about Trump’s tweets in the book. We just see confirmation of what we already know. 

We also see confirmation about how central a role white supremacism –  I believe the term “white nationalism” to be a euphemism here –  is playing in this administration. Consider the increasingly prominent role of Stephen Miller and his white supremacist beliefs. (Miller, it has been noted, is of Jewish background, which makes his views all the more curious and alarming.)

Consider this passage in the book:   

In the larger media and political world –  Miller –  who Bannon referred to as “my typist” was a figure of ever increasing incredulity.  He could hardly be taken out in public without engaging in some screwball, if not screeching, fit of denunciation and grievance.  He was the de facto crafter of policy and speeches, and yet up until now he had largely only taken dictation.

Consider Miller’s bizarre Nov. 7 appearance on CNN’s State of the Union with Jake Tapper –  after which he had to be escorted out of the studio – which was a contentious, fact-free filibuster.

Speaking of filibustering, that is what seems to be happening in the Senate in regard to efforts to hold the executive branch accountable. Senators Chuck Grassley and Lindsey Graham are doing everything they can to impede their own investigation into the alleged Russian meddling into the 2016 election. And it doesn’t seem likely that either of them would lift a finger if Trump were somehow to fire special counsel Robert Mueller. Meanwhile, the FBI is opening up another investigation into Hillary Clinton, Trump’s archenemy. Surprise, surprise.

We may be approaching a moment where democracy itself has no recourse.  

And there’s every indication –  in Fire and Fury and elsewhere – that our former governor Mike Pence will continue to be along for the ride as the country lurches towards fascism.

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Dan Grossman is NUVO's arts editor.

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