In this winter of our discontent, there is a term flying around conservative circles called “snowflake” used to describe liberal extremists who get offended by every statement and/or belief that doesn’t exactly match their own. To them, these individuals think they’re just unique as “snowflakes” when they really just have fragile feelings. To be fair, I do believe there are some liberal snowflakes who do exist. But when it comes to fragile feelings and offense by every statement and/or belief not aligning theirs, I think the “snowflake” label describes conservatives much more. For one, conservatives have an entire media ecosystem to insulate them from uncomfortable mainstream truths and assure them their views are perfectly reasonable. I mean when other networks air rather damning stuff on Donald Trump, Fox News runs stupid shit and peddles conspiracy theories. Secondly, conservatives go absolutely apeshit over race related issues such as Black Lives Matter calling attention to police brutality, NFL players taking a knee, and removing Confederate monuments. Third, those so-called “snowflakes” conservatives refer to have had to deal with all kinds of offenses and systematic injustices against them for perhaps their whole lives.
But in the United States, there is no bigger snowflake in the country than Snowflake King Donald Trump. Even before he ran for president and disastrously ended up in the White House, we all know that this guy has a massively inflated ego and self-delusions of grandeur. He sees himself as a successful and brilliant businessman despite being an outright fraud who’s shamelessly engaged in unethical practices and corruption that have ruined hundreds of people’s lives. His presidency will become legend for his incompetence, his Twitter tantrums, his lack of regard for the law, democratic principles, and norms, and his corrupt administration that’s loaded with sycophants. Still, Trump is known to burst over the slightest insult that he’s referred the mainstream media as “fake news” whenever they run a negative story about him. For a president, to discredit the media over the negative stuff about him whether it be his unethical business practices, his flagrant disregard for democratic norms, his lack of respect of democratic values, openly racist tirades, his Twitter tantrums, his incompetence and mental instability, and pathological dishonesty. Even before he became president, Trump was known to at least threatening to sue those who dare challenge him or at least said stuff about him he didn’t like. Sometimes this has resulted in real life consequences. In 1990, he threatened to sue Janney Montgomery Scott unless they fired their securities analyst Mark Roffman. His crime? Issuing a negative forecast for Trump Taj Mahal which was later proved correct. Nevertheless, Roffman lost his job and spent the next few years in a living hell. A year later, Trump threatened to sue any broadcaster or distributor who’d show an 80 minute documentary about him called Trump: What’s the Deal?, which powerfully and disturbingly portrayed him as the fraud he actually is. His effort to suppress the film proved successful.
Recently, a book has been recently published called Fire and Fury: Inside the White House which has been dominating the political cycle this January. Written by longtime New York columnist Michael Wolff, media outlets have run excerpts from it which has resulted in a furious response from Donald Trump. In fact, his lawyers sent a cease and desist letter to the book’s publisher, demanding to stop publication. Not surprisingly, it has become a bestseller as copies fly off the shelves. Still, while Fire and Fury isn’t the most factually accurate account of Trump in the White House, it nonetheless confirms a lot of the dysfunction and disorganization that has characterized the administration. Specifically, Wolff’s book depicts a deeply unprepared, incurious president surrounded by toadying advisers concerned about his ability to do his job. Knowing how willfully ignorant Trump is about how government works during the 2016 Election campaign, this isn’t surprising at all. His lack of knowledge of the US political system was a source of constant criticism. One big instance of that on display was when he promised to pick a Supreme Court Justice who’d “look very seriously” at Hillary Clinton’s e-mails. However, the Supreme Court tries laws, not people. In a primary debate in Houston, Trump referred to federal judges “signing bills” a task the president does in a federal system. As Wolff recalled in his book on how some of Trump’s closest aides spoke of him behind closed doors: “This—insulting Donald Trump’s intelligence—was both the thing you could not do and the thing—drawing there-but-for-the-grace-of-God guffaws across the senior staff—that everybody was guilty of. Everyone, in his or her own way, struggled to express the baldly obvious fact that the president did not know enough, did not know what he didn’t know, did not particularly care, and, to boot, was confident if not serene in his unquestioned certitudes. There was now a fair amount of back-of-the-classroom giggling about who had called Trump what. For Steve Mnuchin and Reince Priebus, he was an “idiot.” For Gary Cohn, he was “dumb as shit.” For H. R. McMaster he was a “dope.” The list went on.”
Now we all know that Donald Trump doesn’t like to read which is a very terrible sign. Because on any given day, a president is expected to read about as much as a college student cramming for a big exam. Thus, as Cracked reports, intelligence agencies have to keep their reports 25% shorter than Obama’s and allow no space for dissenting opinions. Policy papers are trimmed from 3-6 pages down to a single page with lots of graphics and maps. The National Security Council has taken things a step further by “strategically” including Trump’s name as often as possible since he usually keeps reading if he sees it mentioned. But a bigger problem than these oversimplified briefings is that Trump apparently doesn’t even bother to read them. This can lead Lord Cheetohead to embarrass himself in talks with foreign leaders, drafting woefully inept executive orders, or signing off on documents he doesn’t even understand. As Wolff recalls: “Here was, arguably, the central issue of the Trump presidency, informing every aspect of Trumpian policy and leadership: he didn’t process information in any conventional sense — or, in a way, he didn’t process it at all. Trump didn’t read. He didn’t really even skim. If it was print, it might as well not exist. Some believed that for all practical purposes he was no more than semiliterate.” He even quotes Gary Cohn stating, “It’s worse than you can imagine. An idiot surrounded by clowns. Trump won’t read anything — not one-page memos, not the brief policy papers; nothing. He gets up halfway through meetings with world leaders because he is bored.”
Furthermore, Wolff notes how Donald Trump doesn’t seem to understand the kind of responsibility being a president entails. Most Americans are familiar with the idea as of the president as a political and institutional concept, with an emphasis on ritual and propriety. Well, Trump isn’t most Americans since he’s prone to his ongoing Twitter tantrums over stuff that pisses him off. As Wolff writes, “Here was another peculiar Trump attribute: an inability to see his actions the way most others saw them. Or to fully appreciate how people expected him to behave. The notion of the presidency as an institutional and political concept, with an emphasis on ritual and propriety and semiotic messaging — statesmanship — was quite beyond him.”
Wolff also describes him as anti-intellectual as he noted, “For anything that smacked of a classroom or of being lectured to — “professor” was one of his bad words, and he was proud of never going to class, never buying a textbook, never taking a note — he got up and left the room. This was a problem in multiple respects — indeed, in almost all the prescribed functions of the presidency.” Such conduct is very unbecoming of a vast array of occupations, especially if they require a college degree. But if you’re the President of the United States, it’s incredibly unforgivable. Though we know that Trump’s brand contains a very anti-intellectual streak, eschews the advice of experts, doesn’t sponsor any cultural events, and doesn’t express any form of curiosity in anything. He sees no value in science, history, or education. And his campaign might be responsible for why more Republicans might have more negative opinions about colleges and professors they see as liberal elites in their ivory tower. If Trump should call himself a “stable genius” then he’d probably buckle up in the Oval Office, listen to criticism, and take notes. Despite that academics might seem to be in their own little worlds at times, a politician advocating anti-intellectualism is a very terrible thing since it encourages willful ignorance and disinterest in learning and education. And Trump’s willful ignorance and disinterest in anything but his own vanity and enrichment is rooted into his own narcissism and sociopathy since he worships no god by himself and he has no faith than in the almighty dollar.
Nor does Donald Trump seem to have the proper temperament or understand his role to lead a nation. As Wolff recalls, “What was, to many of the people who knew Trump well, much more confounding was that he had managed to win this election, and arrive at this ultimate accomplishment, wholly lacking what in some obvious sense must be the main requirement of the job, what neuroscientists would call executive function. He had somehow won the race for president, but his brain seemed incapable of performing what would be essential tasks in his new job. He had no ability to plan and organize and pay attention and switch focus; he had never been able to tailor his behavior to what the goals at hand reasonably required. On the most basic level, he simply could not link cause and effect.” Cracked has reported that American agencies are withholding an unusual amount of information from Trump. Though Trump has expressed scorn for the intelligence community (particularly when it comes to Russia). However, a bigger concern for them might be his habit of casually announcing classified information to rival governments. In May 2017, during a meeting with Russian officials, Trump reportedly boasted about the quality of intelligence he received every day. He also revealed details of a terrorist plot he’d recently been informed of. The problem with that is that revealing you know something can let someone guess fairly quickly how much you know it which can compromise the original intelligence source who may not have wanted the Russians to know about it. Though America doesn’t need to be hostile with Russia anymore, we know it has very different goals and ambitions than we do. Meaning that we need to exercise a degree of caution when dealing with them. But Trump’s carelessness with intelligence can be more than a one-time problem since in the wake of this story, an unnamed European country warned that they may stop sharing intelligence with the United States because they don’t like Trump compromising sources while trying to impress people.
Nevertheless, Donald Trump’s bizarre behavior has often compelled about his mental state long before Fire and Fury. Just last week, he unleashed a series of tweets which culminated in a nuclear threat of nuclear war with North Korea. On January 2, 2018, he tweeted, “North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the “Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.” Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!” In fact, the book’s very title came from a Trump speech back in 2017 over North Korea when he said, “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.” This at an event that was supposed to focus on opioids. Such statement terrified North Korean experts who worried about Trump provoking a war with another nuclear-armed power. Yet, Wolff noted such words also scared the bejesus out of Trump’s staff as they spent the next week trying to get him to stop talking about it. As Wolff wrote, “North Korea, a situation the president had consistently been advised to downplay, now became the central subject of the rest of the week — with most senior staff occupied not so much by the topic itself but by how to respond to the president, who was threatening to ‘blow’ again. Charlottesville was a mere distraction, and indeed, the staff’s goal was to keep him off North Korea.” To use Charlottesville to distract Trump from North Korea just makes me cringe. This is one of many examples illustrating that Trump is incapable of understanding the consequences of his actions. When Trump does something like fire James Comey, bomb Syria, or threaten North Korea, he does so without any sense of how human beings might be affected. As Wolff writes, “One of Trump’s deficiencies — a constant in the campaign and, so far, in the presidency — was his uncertain grasp of cause and effect. Everyone [in the White House], in his or own way, struggled to express the baldly obvious fact that the president did not know enough, did not know what he didn’t know, did not particularly care and, to boot, was confident if not serene in his unquestioned certitudes.”
But while the White House tries to write off Fire and Fury as “trashy tabloid fiction,” its fallout suggests otherwise. Already, Donald Trump has treated its revelations as gospel truth has launched a blood feud with his former strategist and campaign CEO Steve Bannon. Because on January 3, 2018, the Guardian posted excerpts from Wolff’s quoting Bannon saying some remarkable things about the Trump family. In these excerpts, Bannon called Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower “treasonous,” speculated that Trump might’ve been involved as well, and asserts that Jared Kushner is involved in some “greasy” business that could expose him to money laundering charges. These revelations not only cut into Trump’s denial of wrongdoing in the Russian scandal but also insulted his family members as well. Neither of which will put you in Trump’s good graces. Interestingly, Bannon’s Brietbart website reproduced some quotes sometime later without disputing them, giving a seeming impression of accuracy. Furious at the Bannon revelations, Trump released an infuriating statement reading, “Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my Presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind. Steve doesn’t represent my base — he’s only in it for himself.” Except that Bannon’s Brietbart website is called “the platform of the Alt-Right” who mostly comprise of white supremacists which number among Trump’s most ardent supporters. Anyway, Trump goes on to minimize Bannon’s role in his 2016 victory and complain that he helped cost Republicans a Senate seat in Alabama by endorsing Roy Moore. Look, we all know that Bannon played a pivotal role in the Trump campaign or otherwise the alt-right wouldn’t be a thing. Furthermore, he also accused Bannon of constantly, leaking false information to the media to make himself seem far more important than he was” since it “is the only thing he does well.” Now Bannon is even out at Brietbart over the Trump book controversy over his comments.
It’s not hard to imagine that Donald Trump’s staff never thought he should be president. Nor is it difficult to think that Trump never wanted to be president in the first place. As Wolff frames it, “The Trump campaign had, perhaps less than inadvertently, replicated the scheme from Mel Brooks’s The Producers. In that classic, Brooks’s larcenous and dopey heroes, Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom, set out to sell more than 100 percent of the ownership stakes in the Broadway show they are producing. Since they will be found out only if the show is a hit, everything about the show is premised on its being a flop. Accordingly, they create a show so outlandish that it actually succeeds, thus dooming our heroes.” Though at least Bialystock and Bloom ended up in prison and didn’t doom a whole country. Still, Wolff believes that the Trump administration’s problems currently lie at the concept that even his staff didn’t think he’d win. Why release your tax returns if he’s going to lose? What’s the harm in sucking up to Russia’s government if he’s likelier to build a hotel in Moscow than occupy the White House? Why bother with educating the candidate on major policy issues or build a real platform when he’ll never govern? Or why worry about conflicts of interests or business entanglements if they’re never going to matter? This might explain so much. Yet, even if he was just running for president, those things will still matter.
Still, Fire and Fury paints a picture of Donald Trump through his own tweets, speeches, comments, and actions as well as the constant on- and off-the record statements from his staff. It’s similar to what reporters have heard from top staff at the White House. And similar to what I and much of the American public have long suspected. Trump is not cognitively up to the job of the presidency. He’s not just someone who doesn’t know much about policy or foreign affairs. It’s that he’s someone who doesn’t want to know about policy or foreign affairs. And he dislikes the methods by which you actually could learn about policy and foreign affairs. Thus, Trump’s ignorance isn’t an absence of knowledge. It’s closer to a personality trait and possibly even an ideology, which is even worse.
Naturally, when a man so unqualified for the presidency that his campaign wants him to lose unexpectedly wins the White House, chaos ensues. Suppose you work for Donald Trump at the White House. How would you please, placate, manage, constrain and inform a raging child king? Though the answer is embarrassing. But it’s one Trump’s staff and any foreign government wanting America’s favor know all too well: flattery and sycophancy. Trump’s staff tries to keep their boss from social media with constant praise and putting lots of media in front of him. Also, his staff worry about leaving him alone for hours at a time because he watches too much TV, gets annoyed with what he sees, and throws a Twitter tantrum. Other techniques for keeping Trump happy include hanging a map displaying his electoral victory in the West Wing, planting supporters and planting supporters in crowds as he gives a speech. One instance of the latter had him being passionately cheered while he gave a speech at the CIA headquarters by non-CIA supporters in the front rows for that specific purpose. This pissed off the CIA who consider themselves apolitical and don’t appreciate being herded into a meeting to listen to someone complain about how hard or unfair their job is. He thinks that no politician has been treated more unfairly than him despite that the TV news media has treated him much better than he deserves to be.
And how do you harness the remarkable opportunity you’ve been given to actually build something of value? The central struggle of Trump’s early months was between chief strategist Steve Bannon, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, and chief son-in-law Jared Kushner. All of them in their proximity to power, saw the potential to build a presidency they could be proud of or at least less disgraced by. As Wolff recalled: “Each man saw the president as something of a blank page — or a scrambled one. And each, Walsh came to appreciate with increasing incredulity, had a radically different idea of how to fill or remake that page. Bannon was the alt-right militant. Kushner was the New York Democrat. And Priebus was the establishment Republican. “Steve wants to force a million people out of the country and repeal the nation’s health law and lay on a bunch of tariffs that will completely decimate how we trade, and Jared wants to deal with human trafficking and protecting Planned Parenthood.” And Priebus wanted Donald Trump to be another kind of Republican altogether … As Walsh saw it, Steve Bannon was running the Steve Bannon White House, Jared Kushner was running the Michael Bloomberg White House, and Reince Priebus was running the Paul Ryan White House.” This struggle was hardly a civil conflict ideal as Wolff records the tree factions’ endless squabbles comprising of leaks, schemes, backbiting, and the outside heavies brought in to change Trump’s mind at the last minute. But the conflict was so immense because Trump is incapable of and uninterested in resolving. Trump never gave a damn about Trumpism since he’s not sufficiently interested in policy, ideology, or ideas to direct his own presidency’s course. Thus, the course will be directed by the most firmly established interests around him like his family the congressional GOP.
Nonetheless, Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury contains a mystery it never resolves. As he wrote, “It was obvious to everyone that if [Trump] had a north star, it was just to be liked. He was ever uncomprehending about why everyone did not like him, or why it should be so difficult to get everyone to like him.” However, it would be easy enough for Donald Trump to run a presidency that left him better-liked. He could work with the Democrats, ease up the culture war, and give some gentler speeches. There has never been a president for whom the bar is lower than for Trump. It would be so easy to clear it and he’d have people around him happily acting as guides and cheerleaders. But he didn’t do any of that and Wolff’s book doesn’t provide a satisfying answer since it’s a portrait of a man undone by the very forces he unleashed. Because Donald Trump doesn’t care about policy, politics, ideology, or coalitions. All he cares about is Trump. He wanted to put his name on buildings and in tabloids. Now he has his name on the most important building on the planet and on the front page of most every newspaper in the world. Yet, outside a few conservative outlets, the coverage he receives is horrible, the worst of any president in memory. He can’t perform his job well enough to be liked or respected. But he only wanted the job in the first place because it would force the whole world to like or respect him (except it people still don’t like or respect him, including me). And he’s driven to rage and paranoia by the resulting dissonance, disappointment, and hurt. Mostly because he doesn’t understand that running for the most powerful office in the land will not get people to like and respect you. You have to do something to earn that adoration and respect. Sure he might be a rich businessman, but his career and life have been marked by unethical business practices, baffling corruption, inflammatory statements, and other dubious deeds. Trump wants the adoration and respect for doing nothing besides being a rich businessman and TV star.
This wasn’t what Donald Trump wanted and it’s not clear whether it’s something he can bear. A more capable, competent, and stable person would by now, have either changed their behavior to receive more of the response they crave or just given up on getting that kind of attention. Yet, Trump exists in an unhappy middle ground, starting his day with morning rage tweets, spending weekends retreating to one of his golf clubs, searching for validation he craves in his Twitter feed and on Fox and Friends but never getting it from the elite taskmasters he’s always sought to impress. The pressures of the presidency are enough to break almost anyone but Trump is less suited for the work and backlash than most. The strain’s already showing as his workday’s reportedly shrunk to 11am to 6pm. Yet, the bulk of his first term remains to the detriment of us all and it can include his financial secrets being revealed to the world, his family being indicted, and a crisis he mishandles exploding into a catastrophe (like that didn’t happen already in Puerto Rico). The question now is whether Trump’s staff can keep governing around him and whether a dysfunctional president can have a semi-functional White House. And so far, I don’t really know if that’s possible with a narcissistic sociopath like Donald Trump. Because he’s a man who cares nothing about America, has no respect for democratic values, and doesn’t think the rule of law applies to him. A man like him only inspires more chaos and internal stripe which won’t end until he’s out.