Character Matters and Our President Is Lacking
From Forbes, by John Zogby
Please note that I wrote this piece a couple of weeks ago and put it aside because of President Trump’s reference to African countries as “shitholes”, something that required its own airing. But on an equally disgusting footing, Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury has taken the nation by storm. It was literally and figuratively made to order for blatherers and blowfusses on cable television and talk radio. For Trump haters it provides even more reason to wake up every morning: here it is, the encyclopedia of Trump the Idiot all in one compendium. For pundits who make too much use of Twitter Mr. Wolff has allowed them to stop tweeting about themselves and allowed them to keep their eyes on the prize: how to bring the President down.
Now please make no mistake about it: my liberal/progressive credentials go back to parents who liked FDR, Stevenson, Kennedy and the rest. I cut my eye teeth coordinating campaigns for McCarthy, McGovern, Fred Harris, Barry Commoner – you get the picture. (Those who don’t, please look it up). Thus I am no fan of Donald Trump. From his racist rhetoric, crude misogyny, to his bans on Muslims, to his Wall, tax cuts for the rich, attacks on free trade, complete lack of diplomacy and decorum, his insults of whole peoples and countries, and so on – he worries me. Frightens me.
But this new book is everything about what is wrong with everything. For starters, we have no idea what stories are really true and which are characterizations that Wolff “believes to be true”. Then, there is his breach of confidentiality among people who were willing to talk to him off the record or on background. But perhaps worst of all to me is that his work lacks any sense of nuance. Ralph Nader once said that even a burglar does not burgle all of the time. Back in the early 1970s I was a true blue Nixon hater. In those days, we just had the morning newspapers, the Today Show, evening news, and the hourly summary on the radio. I couldn’t wait to hear the latest about Watergate and the self-immolation of the hated President. And the Washington press corps wouldn’t wait to tell it. That was their singular mission and the beginnings of the press as celebrities. Only later I heard about Mr. Nixon personally funding college scholarships for young African Americans and taking the time – post Presidency – to make popcorn and wrap the treats with candy as he greeted trick or treaters on Halloween. He was the one who created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency. I read his post-Presidency books on global diplomacy and strategy and discovered a man of brilliance, even though I did not agree with much of anything he said during that time.
The point is a simple one: some of us may lean bad but we are not all bad all the time. If Mr. Trump is a narcissist, then so too are the self-serving reporters who tweet glam photos of themselves wearing the same red dress on the same day. The press has allowed itself to get caught up in itself and have lost their professional way. We have a self-absorbed press during a self-absorbed Presidency.
Michael Wolff is the Dominick Dunne of the 21st Century. More to the point, he is the character who recurs in Gore Vidal’s historical fiction as the fellow who somehow gets invited to the party who everyone hates and fears and wonders how the hell he even got invited to the party. His book is trashy stuff, tiresome. I am not asking for a “Donny, We Hardly Knew Ya” – but I am asking for more than salacious rumor-mongering, some coverage of policy, some attention to more than bias, and an appreciation of the fact that he still can win re-election because there is something still going on in this nation that is obviously not going on inside the Beltway or on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
After the phenomenon that the book became – and please know that I did not pay for it, it was sent to me as a pdf – the media is finally catching up with how distasteful this whole project actually has been. I hope we don’t see the likes of this again for a long while.