Michael Wolff’s Book Is Bad
I’m about halfway through Fire And Fury, and I’m going to stop. Yes, it’s dishy, but it eventually starts to read like #NeverTrump pornography. You readers know that I’m not a fan of the president, and I suspect that most of what’s in Wolff’s book is true, or mostly true.
But that’s just it: you don’t know what’s what, and it is deeply irritating, at the very least, to read something juicy and wonder if it’s true, or if Wolff is playing you. It’s manipulative. Wolff has admitted that he can’t be sure that everything in it is strictly true. That being the case, why am I wasting time reading it? The reason I think most of what’s in the book is probably true is because it confirms what has already been reported by actual professional journalists, not talented fabulists like Wolff. But then, that makes it old news.
The peppery parts are the behind-the-scenes quotes, the details on the rivalries within the White House orbit, and particulars on Trump’s detached incompetence. Are these reliable anecdotes? Who can say? Wolff’s insider access could have reliably confirmed what others have reported, or debunked it. The reader of Fire And Fury is constantly having to ask himself if what he’s reading is true, or if it’s something he wants, or does not want, to believe is true.
This is not a book whose author cares about telling the truth. This is a book whose author wants to tell lurid stories that may or may not be true, but that are entertaining.
[T]he anti-Trump movement, of which I’m a proud member, seems to be getting dumber. It seems to be settling into a smug, fairy tale version of reality that filters out discordant information. More anti-Trumpers seem to be telling themselves a “Madness of King George” narrative: Trump is a semiliterate madman surrounded by sycophants who are morally, intellectually and psychologically inferior to people like us.
I’d like to think it’s possible to be fervently anti-Trump while also not reducing everything to a fairy tale.
The anti-Trump movement suffers from insularity. Most of the people who detest Trump don’t know anybody who works with him or supports him. And if they do have friends and family members who admire Trump, they’ve learned not to talk about this subject. So they get most of their information about Trumpism from others who also detest Trumpism, which is always a recipe for epistemic closure.
The movement also suffers from lowbrowism. Fox News pioneered modern lowbrowism. The modern lowbrow (think Sean Hannity or Dinesh D’Souza) ignores normal journalistic or intellectual standards. He creates a style of communication that doesn’t make you think more; it makes you think and notice less. He offers a steady diet of affirmation, focuses on simple topics that require little background information, and gets viewers addicted to daily doses of righteous contempt and delicious vindication.
We anti-Trumpers have our lowbrowism, too, mostly on late-night TV. But anti-Trump lowbrowism burst into full bloom with the Wolff book.
Michael Wolff could have written a good and important book. Instead he’s written a massive bestseller that cashes in on our culture’s addiction to truthiness. That’s good for Michael Wolff. I don’t see how it helps anybody else.