One progressive (me) vs. three conservatives talk about Donald Trump and the media, with references to my book, Fake News in Real Context.
The biggest surprise in this book for me was that the book is more about Steve Bannon than Donald Trump. Wolff opens and closes the book looking at Bannon, who clearly sees himself as the true leader of the far-right nationalist movement. Of course when the book was completed neither the author nor Bannon could foresee how badly Bannon's supported candidates would flame-out in the mid-term election. Bannon made himself completely toxic within the Republican party and one of the biggest factors was this book. The detail of the reportage of meetings and private dinners that Bannon attended reveal that he was one of Wolff's primary sources and probably his biggest source. Like Trump, Bannon cannot resist boasting, taking credit for all successes, passing the blame for all failures, and generally drawing attention to himself. He could not have more perfectly shot himself in the foot with Trump's devoted cult of personality. Like Trump, Bannon always assumes he is the smartest man in the room, but considering the White House he worked for that is a pretty low bar for which to strive.
I will disclose up front that I did watch the first season of NBC's The Apprentice (and a few seasons after that). I was not a fan of Omarosa based on her season of the show, and I expected her to quickly fade from the public stage after season one concluded. But of course, Trump brought her back for his Celebrity Apprentice spin-off (based on the premise that being on the original show had made Omarosa a celebrity), and she's gone on to make other reality-show appearances. Her most prominent one was the reality show the entire world seems to be witnessing: The Trump Administration.
Back when Donald Trump announced Omarosa's involvement in his presidential campaign, and subsequently his administration, I think my reaction was in line with many other people's: stunt casting and tokenism. I haven't changed my opinion on that since listening to Omarosa's audio narration of her book, but it does seem as though she herself had a long period of denial about that very thing.
Omarosa presents herself as a person who went into her job with the Trump White House with the intention of being a voice for persons of color and women--someone who would be in a position to help these communities and act as a stop gap against instituting or continuing policies with the potential to cause harm. There were times when, according to the author, she felt there were missed opportunities when leaders of organizations representing these groups refused to engage with Omarosa out of distrust for the Trump administration. Though eventually, she had to face the realization that internal obstacles and agendas would prevent her from promoting the causes she thought she could champion.
For a long time, Omarosa refused to believe that her longtime mentor Trump was a racist and misogynist. She found ways to recharacterize things he had been documented as saying and doing, reasoning that he had always treated her well. One of the things that caused her to allow herself to doubt that was the rumor of a recording, caught when Trump was on mic by NBC for the first season of The Apprentice, using the "n-word." In the back of her mind, she had to start considering the possibility that Trump had used that word about her (and/or the one other African-American member of that cast, Kwame Jackson).
Throughout the book, Omarosa describes what she terms "Trumpworld," which includes all the people who are loyal to Donald Trump: family members, counsel, and certain individuals in the administration, among others. She confirms James Comey's perception that Trump demands a type of "loyalty" much like what a Mafia don expects of his mob "family." For a long time, she reports, she was an enthusiastic member of Trumpworld.
Unsurprisingly, Omarosa concludes that Donald Trump is a narcissist who is incapable of empathy. That has been evident for a long time, but according to Omarosa, her blind spot caused her to take a fairly long time to recognize this. She expresses concerns about his physical health and what she sees as a sharp cognitive decline. (Her theory is that Trump's high consumption of Diet Coke contributes to the cognitive decline that she perceives.)
One aspect I cannot ignore is that Omarosa is definitely a self-promoter, with some elements of narcissism, herself. She does go out of her way to share with the reader self-praise about the work she was doing while in Trumpworld. She characterizes herself as super-smart, well-educated, a military veteran, and an ordained minister! (I actually didn't know about those last two items on the list.) Throughout the book, much of what Omarosa reported simply confirmed things I've read from other sources or perceived on my own. Often, I found myself very aware of viewing things through an "Omarosa" lens. Though ultimately, it was interesting to hear her perspective.
Part of her conclusion aligns with Bob Woodward's reportage in Fear, that there are individuals in the Trump organization acting as stop-guards against Trump's worst impulses. She also has noted that we should be afraid of Pence.
A note about the actual narration. Omarosa's "Trump" imitation is hilariously bad. She should not pursue a career as an impressionist. Curiously, her version of Trump actually pronounces her name correctly. (It's oh-mah-ro-sa; I have never, ever heard Trump NOT pronounces it ah-mah-ro-sa.) On the other hand, her pronunciation of "Donald" hits my ears as "don-alt."
This book is somehow simultaneously alarming and unsurprising. The latter, I suppose, must come from everything I have already read and heard about the inner (mis)workings of the Trump White House. One of the most fascinating things to come about when this book was poised to be released was Bob Woodward's published interview with Donald Trump. The opening of the book notes that Trump declined to be interviewed for it. In the interview, Trump initially claimed that no one had told him about the book, the whole time Woodward was attempting to set up an interview. Then during the course of the interview, it became clear that this was a lie. That captures so much of the way Trump operates.
In the interview, Trump claimed that the book was going to be flawed because it lacked his input. But Woodward is thorough and even-handed. Though I have to say, when the book ended, I thought, "Wait, that's <i>it</i>?" I'm not sure how I expected the book to conclude, but it felt as though it just stopped, and everything is so.... Unsettled. I guess that's one of the possible downsides of reporting on real life. I only hope there are still people in the White House averting disaster.