Doubts about Trump’s fitness and mental state won’t go away
The most notable thing about the allegations in “Fire and Fury,” Michael Wolff’s new tell-all book about President Trump inside the White House, is that they read more like confirmations of his unfitness for the office rather than as revelations.
Many, if not most, of the comments of insiders on his words and behavior do not come as a shock or surprise. They have already been conveyed to the American public by both the traditional news media and social media.
The president has been both victim of and contributor to the portrait of him as a loose cannon, constructed of a combination of his own narcissistic self-praise and his serial careless relationship with the truth.
His flippant dismissals as “fake news” of all manner of fact-checked reports calling him on his every utterance and exaggeration are essential elements in his endless war on the nation’s free press. In this sense, Trump has been his own worst enemy by drawing even more attention to the allegations in the book.
Rather than simply denying the allegations in Wolff’s best-seller, the president characteristically has gone on the offensive, instructing a private lawyer to threaten to sue Wolff as he gleefully goes on his way to the bank.
Wolff appreciates Trump’s help furthering the book’s buzz. On NBC’s “Today” show, he joked, “Where do I send the box of chocolates?” He observed that Trump’s action trying to stop publication was “not only helping me sell books, but he’s helping me prove the point of the book.”
Wolff claimed to have recordings and notes backing up what he wrote, adding “my credibility is being questioned by a man who has less credibility than perhaps anyone who has walked on Earth at this point.”
The baffling element in the whole matter is how and why Wolff acquired such a high level of access inside the White House to Trump staffers, some named, some not.
Wolff has claimed to have had “about three hours” with the president during campaign and in the White House, a contention disputed by White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who has said Trump spoke to him only once for about “five to seven minutes,” and not about the book.
The fiasco only serves to illustrate the failure and futility of an already chaotic and ridiculed White House communications shop, first under the laughable Sean Spicer, then briefly Anthony “The Mooch” Scaramucci and now Sanders.
The major subplot in the whole story is the public breakup between the president and his former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, and the latter’s aggressive efforts to reshape the Republican Party after he resumed his executive duties at the alt-right Breitbart News website. Its financial support appears in jeopardy, and Bannon’s future there now appears uncertain.
Trump’s first reaction to Bannon’s reported criticisms of Trump family members was that his former close confidant “has lost his mind” as well as his old White House job. Bannon subsequently called the president “a great man” who still had his support, suggesting he might still aspire to remain somehow in the fickle Trump orbit.
Meanwhile, questions and doubts about the president’s fitness to remain in the Oval Office have become louder and more widespread. California billionaire Tom Steyer’s public campaign to rally wider support for the impeachment of the president on grounds of abuse of presidential power is gaining more attention through a costly television pitch fearing Steyer himself.
A Yale psychiatrist briefed several members of Congress on what she deemed signs of “unraveling” in Trumps words and behaviors. Although the psychiatric profession does not condone diagnosis without a formal examination, the Yale psychiatrist argued that medical professionals have a duty to speak out when the public is put at the risk of harm.
Jules Witcover’s latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power,” published by Smithsonian Books. You can respond to this column at email@example.com.