SCOTTSDALE, Arizona – This is just my own point of view, but I’m pretty clear about it after watching reaction to Michael Wolff’s neutron bomb, Fire and Fury: We Americans, collectively, have gone out of our flipping minds.
Wolff has spilled enough beans to bury Donald Trump, his clown-car inner circle and the self-serving legislators who enable him. At least, you would think.
But a 1980 Newsweek essay by Isaac Asimov is distressingly prescient at a time when human habitats are simultaneously drying up and flooding while an egomaniacal fool fingers a button that could blast a hole in our planet.
“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been,” he wrote. “The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’”
Excerpts from the book horrify much of the world. A headline in Germany’s conservative daily, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung read: “Is Trump Still Sane?” Yet at home, outrage is offset by that Asimov doctrine.
Roaming Arizona back hills, I found attitudes still fixed on deplorable. Trump people know what they believe, facts notwithstanding. Here in Maricopa County, the red-tinged population center, the ka-ching of stock market profits masks harsh reality. Or people just aren’t listening.
On KTAR-FM, once a solid news source, two happy-talk hosts batted around the book and focused on its critics. “So, is this fake news?” the man asked. The woman, flummoxed by so much material, wondered whether Wolff interviewed people or just wrote things down.
As any journalist knows, it takes only a few inaccuracies or inconsistencies to discredit a story. A monumental book covering so much ground by a gadfly author in a hurry is bound to be chock full of both. Did Wolff exaggerate his access to Trump? Do some people quoted disavow what they said (even if they really did say it)?
In Fire and Fury, that is beside the point. The overall picture is dead clear, a mix of accurate insights and up-close vignettes that Wolff’s sources confirm. We see the extent to which campaign contributions, Trump’s own interests, and petty vendettas shape crucial foreign policy.
Take, for instance, a new approach to Jerusalem that draws harsh reaction from America’s closest allies and criticism from veteran Israeli officers. Trump calls it an example of his inherent diplomatic genius. Wolff shows how it is tightly linked to Sheldon Adelson’s checkbook.
Plenty of people are reading the book, which rocketed from bestseller to world phenomenon because of Trump’s ham-handed attempt to suppress it. That underscored his demagogic bent and his terrifying disconnect with reality. The question now is how America reacts.
A long excerpt in New York magazine includes this passage:
“Here, arguably, was the central issue of the Trump presidency, informing every aspect of Trumpian policy and leadership: He didn’t process information in any conventional sense. He didn’t read. He didn’t really even skim. Some believed that for all practical purposes he was no more than semi-literate. He trusted his own expertise — no matter how paltry or irrelevant — more than anyone else’s. He was often confident, but he was just as often paralyzed, less a savant than a figure of sputtering and dangerous insecurities, whose instinctive response was to lash out and behave as if his gut, however confused, was in fact in some clear and forceful way telling him what to do. It was, said (Deputy Chief of State Katie) Walsh, “like trying to figure out what a child wants.”
If that alone is not an open-and-shut case for disinfecting the White House, what is? Today, Isaac Asimov would likely choose different words than actor Samuel L. Jackson, but it is safe to assume he would second the message: Wake the fuck up.