Michael Wolff’s provocative new book about the Trump White House, “Fire and Fury,” is all anyone in politics is talking about right now. Yet, let’s be honest: Wolff’s story isn’t all that surprising.
Sure, Wolff writes at length about the president’s intellectual limitations, his monstrous ego, and his childlike need for constant validation. He writes of a White House consumed by chaos, mismanagement, and back stabbing. Yawn. We knew this already.
The one element of Wolff’s story that is still able to shock — and has since the day Trump took office — is why so many people continue to work for and defend a man who they don’t appear to believe has the requisite fitness and intelligence to be president.
While Trump’s feud with former top adviser Steve Bannon has received significant news coverage, it’s the overall caustic staff-view of Trump that is Wolff’s most illuminating tale.
The trail of insults from former and current staff speaks volumes. To Reince Priebus and Steve Mnuchin, Trump is an idiot. For H.R. McMaster, he’s a “hopeless idiot.” Gary Cohn compared the president’s intelligence to excrement. We already know about Rex Tillerson labeling the president a “moron,” a charge he’s refused to deny.
Kellyanne Conway is depicted in Wolff’s book as taking solace during the final days of the campaign that Trump would almost certainly lose. Trump’s former aide, Sam Nunberg, happily went on the record to tell Wolff about his ill-fated effort to explain the Constitution to Trump and getting “as far as the Fourth Amendment before his finger is pulling down on his lip and his eyes are rolling back in his head.”
Even Trump’s family can’t stand him. His wife Melania was in tears on Election Night . . . because he won. Wolff describes his daughter Ivanka’s relationship with her father as “transactional” and recounts her making fun of Trump’s bizarre hairdo.
Those closest to Trump universally describe him as “like a child,” but also, according to Wolff, say “he’s a moron, an idiot.” And all of them question his intelligence and fitness.
Trump apparently holds the same contempt for them.
According to Wolff, he derided Priebus for being “weak” and “short.” He calls Kushner “a suck-up,” Conway a “crybaby,” and said Spicer was “stupid and looks terrible.”
All of this raises a very basic question: what is wrong with these people?
Why do they work for this man?
I suppose if you’re a white nationalist like Stephen Miller, toiling for Trump is a means to an end.
But how does one explain an administration full of individuals who believe that the president they serve is an idiot and unfit for the job, and yet still wake up every morning, go to work, and not only defend him but strive to further his political agenda? It’s not as if multimillionaires like Tillerson or Mnuchin need the work. There’s always a place on cable news for a talking head like Kellyanne Conway.
Surely some rationalize what they do by telling themselves they’re protecting the country from Trump. But of course that’s a lie. They’re enabling Trump and allowing him to stay in a job for which he is manifestly unsuited.
This is a president who takes to Twitter to threaten North Korea with a nuclear attack; who has barely lifted a finger as half of Puerto Rico lacks power; who has regularly and flagrantly undermined the rule of law, and almost certainly obstructed justice. From what, exactly, is America being protected?
There’s no doubt that working in White House is a cool gig and the pinnacle of a political career, but to what end? Surely, no job, no matter the perks, can be worth enabling and normalizing a president — with all of the awesome responsibilities that come with the office — who you think is a danger not just to the country, but also to the world.
They could quit. They could speak out. They could implore the vice president and other Cabinet secretaries to invoke the 25th Amendment. They could stop lying on Trump’s behalf and stop assisting his effort to shred political norms and undermine the nation’s democratic institutions. They could do something, anything, to warn the country. Instead, most of them will get up Monday morning and do what they’ve been doing for the past year: enable a president who they believe is an idiot. Why they choose to do it is perhaps the greatest mystery in Washington today.
Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.