Friday, October 19 , 2018, 10:32 pm | Fair 60º


Jamie Stiehm: Donald Trump’s Presidency Being Consumed by Fire and Fury

We huddle by the warmth, waiting for the bomb cyclone to blast the East Coast as the first act of 2018.

If only that were all. But the nor’easter is just the heavenly equivalent of what we’re expecting here on earth: big trouble from President Donald Trump, in an ugly mood from the latest book revelations.

Brace for impact. The second year of Trump’s presidency, fast upon us, promises more of the same, a volatile curse on the land and the people.

To save our soul, it’s well to remember that Trump is governing against the will of the people. He lost the popular vote by millions but never tried to meet in the great middle ground. The Women’s March on Washington a year ago was a monument to his unpopularity, and it is even truer today.

A third of Americans approve of Trump, mostly white men, and they are the base. The “base base,” as one could describe it, is pretty much all Trump cultivates and cares about. The rest — dissenters, critics, special counsel Robert Mueller and, above all, the news media — he regards as enemies. It’s that simple.

On that chord comes the latest crisis — always a crisis — the publication of Fire and Fury, by magazine journalist Michael Wolff. Whoa, Nellie.

In an administration and inner circle full of rogues, it turns out that the leader is considered the idiot in chief. Not long ago, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called his boss a “moron.” Apparently, that view is widely shared among staff and outside advisers such as Rupert Murdoch, according to Wolff’s sources.

Chief among them is incendiary Stephen Bannon, formerly chief strategist at the White House, a rumpled courtier known to some as “Trump’s Trump.” He made the strategic mistake of calling Donald Trump Jr. “treasonous” for quotation. For that, Trump lopped off his head, saying Bannon had “lost his mind.”

(Before he goes into the wilderness, I wish Bannon would tell us what made him so mad. The picture of Southern white privilege, someone who made millions of dollars in Hollywood and on Wall Street, what has he got to be angry about? Now he can leave the room.)

The Wolff book is setting a wildfire in a snowstorm. Most telling is the point that Trump is hardly literate. It’s not that he can’t read; he just doesn’t have the patience to read a document in full. A little lesson on the Constitution ended prematurely. Trump has no capacity to absorb sophisticated policy arguments or other documents on paper. That’s what presidents do.

He spends all day on the phone, according to Wolff — when his words blow hard and mean little at the end of the day.

Some have said that “Trump doesn’t know what he doesn’t know” to explain his ignorance. No, it’s more like “he doesn’t care what he doesn’t know.”

This bullheadedness extends to when political rivals give him friendly, altruistic advice. Case in point: President Barack Obama warned him not to hire retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn. Trump did it, to his chagrin.

Wolff’s book title calls up a haunting Macbeth line: “Life’s ... a tale/Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury/Signifying nothing.”

Let me say that the man resembles Macbeth but is not an idiot; that’s too easy. Trump is instead an evil genius, expert at spotting weaknesses and bare spots in others, nicknaming them. This is why he takes such elaborate care in covering his scalp’s bald crown.

He belittles people as part of his “charm” and to establish dominance over them. That’s how his doling out excessive praise becomes a ritual others are grateful for. He gives no quarter and has the longest memory for slights. Everything is personal, especially getting rid of Obamacare.

He never loses; in his mind, losing the presidency would be a win, in the end, for the Trump brand. The constant repetition is a way of making things true just by saying them over and over. Most glaring were lies about the attendance numbers at his inauguration. Trump needs people to fear him, which is why he’s poor at making compromises with Democrats.

Speaking of which, there’s one more in town. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., just came in from the cold. And heck, Washington is warmer already.

Jamie Stiehm writes about politics, culture and history as a weekly Creators Syndicate columnist and regular contributor to U.S. News & World Report. Follow her on Twitter: @jamiestiehm. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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