This week in Washington, an excerpt from a new book on the Trump White House landed like a bombshell. The details were salacious, confirming the worst suspicions of his detractors: Trump is incurious, intellectually lazy, and a bully. He uses people to further his own ends and then discards them. He demands loyalty and fealty, but offers none in return. He wants his advisors to be deferential sycophants, but then he belittles them for their weakness and lack of backbone. He respects the generals he’s hired, but is oblivious to their lack of respect for him. His cabinet and staff think he’s an idiot, but most are too power-hungry to walk away, or think they’re protecting the country by protecting the president from himself.
So taken was the internet by the gossip in Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury that a parodic excerpt describing a “Gorilla Channel” set up by White House staff to occupy the TV-addicted Trump was treated with total credulity. (It was a fake. There is no Gorilla Channel in the White House. That we know of.)
But are we really learning anything about this man that we didn’t already know? This behavior was on display at rallies, debates, and interviews, during the campaign, and for decades before it. In spite of Trump’s very Trumpiness, enough Americans pulled the lever to deliver him to the Oval Office.
What the book does suggest is exactly what world leaders fear: There is no good way to engage with Trump. His own advisors can barely restrain him from starting a nuclear war, and foreign powers are at a loss for how to handle him. As Quartz’s Heather Timmons explained: “Consultants and overseas officials trying to ferry foreign leaders around Washington have found themselves flummoxed by the disarray and blindsided when agreements they make with, say, the State Department, are overturned by a Trump tweet.”
“A house divided itself cannot stand,” said Abraham Lincoln, a few years before before going to war to stop the American experiment from tearing itself apart. Today one wonders how long a White House divided can presume to lead the world. The US elected an ill-equipped man after a campaign of fear and cynicism, a man now increasingly cut off from reality and the powers of his office, thanks to a staff that is still trying to convince the public a madman is not in charge. Where, we are all wondering, will this path lead?
This was published in the weekend edition of the Quartz Daily Brief, our news summary that’s tailored for morning delivery in Asia, Europe and Africa, or the Americas. Sign up for it here.