By Mariam Mahmoud
The 2016 elections (the first to be held without the full protection of the Voting Rights Act of 1965) and victory of divisive businessman Donald Trump unleashed among the Left a kind of theatre, one obsessed with asking What Happened. The spectacle of the elections has lingered into Trump’s first year and the collective incredulity that helped us slog through an absurd campaign has congealed into a state of relentless surrealism where the very essence of fact, of reality, of truth is challenged on an almost daily basis. Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury, which sold over a million copies in its first week, secured a 7-figure TV deal within its first month and at this point has produced enough commentary to fill a new book entirely, promises to tell the behind-the-scenes story of Trump’s first year in office.
The book, however, offers very little to surprise anyone familiar with the major news headlines of this year, and for the most part reads like grimy, sensationalized, name-dropping gossip. The portrait Wolff paints validates ideas most of the country already hold of Trump: he doesn’t read, he doesn’t listen and he didn’t want to be president. The story of Fire and Fury is less about Trump, and the book itself, than it is about contemporary America and what it means to live in the perpetual conflation of, and confusion between, fact and fiction. Wolff frames Trump in literary terms: “a character — a protagonist, a hero…[he] lived…as a real life fictional character.” This sentence, mundane and casually nestled in as it is, is at the heart of the disorientation of Trump’s America. We are living with Trump in his real-life fiction.
Fire and Fury is not totally without merit, insofar as anything this widely consumed deserves a charitable interrogation that makes room for the intelligence of its consumers. A thoughtful reading of Fire and Fury necessitates a comfort with ambivalence, an ability to hold onto two opposing truths. On the one hand, there is the introspective acceptance of the thrill that comes with reading political gossip that validate one’s opinions. On the other hand, Fire and Fury must be read with the knowledge that the descent of politics into performance is part of the reason we are here and that, in reporting on said spectacle, Fire and Fury reproduces and heightens it. It is likely that we will have a dramatization of Trump’s first year as president before he finishes out his term, and while that may not be cause for alarm, it is worth pausing to consider the implications of representing a historical moment as it happens.