Fire but no fury: How long will 'Teflon Trump' last?

Fire but no fury: How long will 'Teflon Trump' last?

Comment: Other than providing more comedy material for late night talk shows, it seems unlikely the book will have any effect on the survival of the Trump administration, writes Kharroub.
7 min read
26 Jan, 2018
The book portrays Trump as an impulsive, paranoid, illiterate narcissist [AFP]
Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House was released earlier this month and quickly became a bestseller, with sales estimated to surpass 1.75 million copies.

Gossip columnist Michael Wolff became famous overnight after claiming to have spent months in the White House conducting over 200 interviews. Despite Wolff's questionable credibility and blurring the lines between fact and fiction, this palace-intrigue tale continues to dominate the media cycles and reveals concerning details about the Trump administration.

The joke is on us

While the tell-all tale of the White House dysfunction is certainly entertaining and the events very plausible, Wolff's information and sources are unverifiable.

The book is characterised by insufficient and vague sourcing, uncertainty and countless qualifiers such as "suggesting" and "possibly", and relies heavily on former chief strategist Steve Bannon's account, thus adopting his biases and overestimating his significance (and stability, for that matter).

The book is also filled with typos, factual errors, and contradictions, as it seems to have undergone little if any editing or fact checking.

Wolff's work is not political reporting or serious journalism by any stretch of the imagination, but it can give some valuable insights into the workings of the current administration. The general picture he paints is not news to anyone who has been observing Donald Trump during the last two years.

The book portrays President Trump as an impulsive, paranoid, illiterate narcissist, who is incapable of focusing for longer than few seconds, and is seen as an idiot by most people around him.

Read more: Trump's White House and the American parasites devouring the Middle East for profit

The book confirms concerns about the president's mental health, or lack thereof. Wolff portrays Trump as grossly incompetent; "some believed that for all practical purposes he was no more than semi-literate," the author writes, with "no ability to plan and organise and pay attention and switch focus". 

Wolff's tale confirms what everyone thought and feared; that President Trump has no ideology but rather listens to whoever best satisfies his fragile ego. He suggests a constant rivalry between establishment Republicans and the alt-right, and between Trump's family members and his aides.

Each side tries to influence the president, while fearing being outplayed by the other. "In the end, of course," Wolff writes, "the joke is on everyone, as Trump's brain fumbles hopelessly out of bounds and neither side successfully appropriates his presidency, which becomes an endlessly circular, purposeless, narcissistic tweet-storm". The joke was indeed on the American people and the rest of the world.

It has been known that President Trump's focus and priorities are out of order (Wolff reports the president's obsession with the story about him in a bathrobe), but the question is how far they can go to endanger world order.

The ongoing FBI investigation over collusion with Russia, led by special counsel Robert Mueller, is the only possible game changer

As Wolff writes, "the unique problem here, was partly how to get information to someone who did not (or could not or would not) read". Trump is easily influenced by almost anyone. The president made his decision to launch missile strikes against Syria after being shown a picture by Ivanka Trump and Dina Powell of a child victim "foaming at the mouth".

On other issues, according to Wolff, Bannon won pushing Trump to a radical isolationist position toward the Middle East (as Bannon put it to Wolff, "F**k 'em"). In fact, in Wolff's narrative, Steve Bannon advanced the Israeli agenda agenda, pushing individuals he considered "good on Israel", announcing moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, and disregarding Palestinians altogether, all with Benjamin Netanyahu and Sheldon Adelson's blessings.

"Let Jordan take the West Bank, let Egypt take Gaza. Let them deal with it. Or sink trying," Bannon is reported saying.

This all demonstrates (or rather confirms) how Trump was influenced by Bannon, Steven Miller and other alt-right figures and evangelical Christians (to be sure, these groups represent his remaining loyal base), in important policy decisions such as the travel ban, climate change, immigration, and the Jerusalem declaration.

The alarmingly real prospect, is how much more damage can be done in this environment (even without Bannon) for the next three years, at least.

'Teflon Don' is here to stay

Other than providing more comedy material for late night talk shows, the book does not seem to have had any effect on the Trump administration or the survival of the Trump presidency.

During his presidential campaign, candidate Donald Trump declared "I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters." As it turns out, he is not wrong, earning him the nickname Teflon Don.

Despite sexual harassment allegations, attacks on basic democratic principles and the free press, racist remarks and support for white supremacist groups, attempts to repeal Obamacare taking healthcare coverage away from 22 million low-income and vulnerable Americans, and the passing of the tax bill - lowering taxes for the rich and hurting the poor and the middle class - Trump's popularity among his base persists.

Read more:  How to impeach Donald Trump

Although Trump's approval ratings are historically low (currently at 39 percent), and the White House is in constant chaos, Trump is unlikely to be removed from office before the end of his term.

The option of President Trump being impeached is still a theoretical exercise, and probably unlikely given the stringent requirements amid Republican control of the House and Senate, the lack of evidence and the absence of historical reference, as no US president was ever removed from office through the impeachment process.

Once we peel off the palace-intrigue drama, the tweets, and the impulses, there is a dangerous Trump Doctrine evolving

The likelihood of the Democrats retaking the House in the 2018 midterm elections is a possibility, given some predictions and the recent victories for Democrats in Alabama and Virginia. However, this is unlikely to lead to removing Trump from office, as that would require a trial run by the Senate and two-thirds majority vote in the Senate.

The ongoing FBI investigation over collusion with Russia, led by special counsel Robert Mueller, is the only possible game changer if compelling evidence is found against Donald Trump.

According to Wolff, the White House is very concerned about the Russia investigation and the possibility of it leading the FBI to other unlawful business dealings by the president and his family members and close aides.

Wolff quotes Bannon saying that the meetings between Russian operatives and the Trump campaign are "treasonous" and that "the chance that Don Jr did not walk these jumos [the Russian individuals he met with at Trump Tower] up to his father's office on the 26th floor is zero".

We can expect to see more hostility, less diplomacy, and more chaos

In the book, Bannon also refers to possible "laundering" practices by the president and his family members.

However, legal action against Trump in light of Russiagate will take years to complete. Even if former national security adviser Michael Flynn provides incriminating evidence as part of his plea deal, Republican members of Congress will need to be on board for Trump to be removed from office.

In short, despite Wolff's tales and President Trump's inappropriate, incompetent, and likely illegal behaviours, the Donald will probably complete his first term in office.

Neither fire nor fury inside the White House seem to be affecting Trump's presidency. Once we peel off the palace-intrigue drama, the tweets, and the impulses, there is a dangerous Trump Doctrine evolving; one that is perilously close in line with the extreme end of the Republican establishment.

If the past year is any indication, we can expect to see more hostility, less diplomacy, and more chaos (along with corresponding tweets). The Trump administration will show more support for the right-wing agendas in Israel and elsewhere, heighten altercation with North Korea and Iran, and minimal diplomacy across the globe.

In 2018, we are likely to see more fire from the Trump administration, but unfortunately little fury - at least from those around the president.

Dr. Tamara Kharroub is a Senior Analyst and Assistant Executive Director at Arab Center Washington DC.

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.