Well, by now you’ve heard all about The Book that makes Trump look like more of an asshole than usual, and about the fight it engendered between the president and Steve Bannon, the Breitbart editor and onetime adviser whose intemperate comments — as quoted by Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House author Michael Wolff — caused the president to bestow one of his famous alliterative nicknames on Bannon.
But the book itself, however true and/or entertaining it may be, is politically unimportant, because 1) we already knew Trump was an asshole, and 2) for the 40 percent of Americans who approve of him, being an asshole is clearly a large part of his appeal.
Neither is the Trump-Bannon battle significant except as a publicity stunt. While Bannon’s Breitbart site tweaked the president (“DONALD TRUMP DEFENDS MENTAL HEALTH: I AM A ‘SMART’ AND ‘VERY STABLE GENIUS’ ”), it also ass-coveringly alternated those tweaks with praise (“HOLLYWOOD TRIGGERED BY TRUMP CALLING HIMSELF ‘GENIUS’ ”), and by Sunday Bannon himself had crypto-retracted his comments. These two are like Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, but with more drama.
No, the main interest of the book is as a stimulus for Republicans and rightbloggers to take their sycophancy to the next level and defend Trump from accusations that he acts pretty much like everyone already knows he acts.
In the simplest cases, Trump’s inner circles defended the president while rightbloggers yelled “attaboy” from the sidelines; for example, Donald Jr. tweeted, “Andrew Breitbart would be ashamed of the division and lies Steve Bannon is spreading!” and Twitchy hollered “DAAAMN son! Donald Trump Jr. NUT-punches Steve Bannon with just 1 tweet (assist from Dana Loesch).”
Meanwhile Trump himself responded with a weird Orwellian telescreen appearance at a White House press conference and even-worse-than-usual tweets, leading some observers to question his competence and conservatives to turn up the gaslight.
“Why hasn’t Michael Wolff’s dementia-Trump ever been seen in public?” demanded Eddie Scarry of the Washington Examiner. True, Scarry admitted, Trump is seen “often repeating words and themes,” but that’s just “a phenomenon otherwise known as speaking aloud” — and if other presidents sounded smarter speaking aloud than he does, that’s just because they’re big nerds.
Also, said Scarry, Trump has “delivered dozens of speeches off teleprompters, proving he can actually read.” That’s one hell of a defense, though it fails to account for the possibility that the cue cards contain pictograms rather than words.
Then Scarry posted a partial transcript of an interview in which Trump sounded like a mentally impaired geriatric (“We have to get rid of chainlike immigration, we have to get rid of the chain. The chain is the last guy that killed. … [Talking with guests.] … The last guy that killed the eight people. … [Inaudible.] … So badly wounded people”), and commented, “That doesn’t read like a mentally impaired geriatric’s interview.” Well, it’s a living.
Other rightbloggers went with some variant of “sputter, sputter.”
“Our mainstream journalists are genuinely awful,” said Andrew Klavan at PJ Media. “They will sell any narrative they can to keep from selling the one that seems increasingly likely to be true: Trump is smarter than they are and doing a better job than the last two presidents combined.” So there!
When David Frum (among many others) compared Trump’s “I’m, like, really smart” tweet to the famous fit Fredo throws in The Godfather Part II, Right Wing News’s Samuel Gonzalez breathlessly headlined, “The bitter sad character that David Frum, irrelevant conservative, former Bush speechwriter, looking for meaning in a world that ignores him.” I know it’s garbled, but grammar’s for losers, libtard!
The more creative brethren seized on a parody post by internet wise guy @pixelatedboat, who put up a section allegedly from Wolff’s book in which Trump demands to see a nonexistent Gorilla Channel on his TV, which his staff dutifully creates and which Trump watches “17 hours a day.”
Good fun all around and, even better, Twitter-famous people of various political persuasions — from Eric “Game Theory” Garland to Proud Boys den father Gavin McInnes — briefly took it for an actual part of Wolff’s book.
Rightbloggers took this to mean the Gorilla Channel thing was not a joke but a “hoax” that stupid liberals believed, which suggested anything else they believed, including the book, had to be fake too.
“Leftists Fall For Parody Story,” reported Ben Shapiro of the Daily Wire; “Parody book excerpt fools Trump trashers,” headlined Fox News; “ ‘Gorilla Channel’ spoof ensnares Trump-haters,” announced Rick Moran of American Thinker.
“Fake News Brigade Falls For Hilarious Spoof,” force-laughed the Daily Caller’s Amber Athey; for example, King’s College London professor Christine Cheng tweeted that she bought the story until halfway through, when “we got to the 17 hrs part,” because “Trump is beyond parody” — to which Athey a-ha’d, “Cheng admitted she thought the gorilla channel was real.”
On Sunday the White House sent dead-eyed adviser Stephen Miller on TV, where he answered Jake Tapper’s questions with insults and drones of devotion to Trump (“a man who is a political genius…in twenty minutes he would dictate ten paragraphs of new material…a self-made billionaire who revolutionized reality TV”) with such eerie disregard for context that Tapper basically threw him off the air. Miller was in turn defended on Twitter by numerous randos and President Trump.
Me, I was stuck on Miller’s somnolent affect — even while yelling at Tapper, he looked as if he were under hypnosis. He reminded me of no one so much as Robert Owen, the similarly dazed-looking character who was called to testify at the Iran-Contra hearings in 1987 and ended his testimony with a bizarre hymn of praise to a then-unknown Oliver North — essentially laying palms in North’s path for his game-changing performance before the committee. Maybe Trump’s team thinks Miller is suitable to a similar purpose — except we all already know who and what Trump is. But who knows? Maybe Trump has a surprise for us. In any case, it seems increasingly likely he’ll eventually face a committee.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 8, 2018