The nor’easter that raged this week from the Gulf of Mexico to Rhode Island isn’t the only storm that broke. There were gale force winds at the White House as Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury” hit bookstores, with Wolff, an author-reporter known for playing fast and loose with the truth, and former kingmaker Steve Bannon portraying President Donald J. Trump as a baby who must be coddled by a staff that is alternately self-sacrificing and opportunistic.
It’s juicy details – as revealed in excerpts from the book everywhere – have ranged from the serious, (Bannon saying that Donald Jr.’s meeting with the Russians was “treasonous”) to the bizarrely telling (the controlling president insisting on stripping the sheets from his bed and loving McDonald’s because he’s afraid of being poisoned).
While some of this may be untrue – and Trump and sour mouthpiece Sarah Huckabee Sanders condemned it as tabloid fantasy – the overall tenor jibes with what we already know about Trump as an intellectually incurious, inexperienced narcissist of imperial Roman proportions, susceptible to the manipulations of those around him and willing to throw those who fall out of the circle to the lions. (Trump immediately said Bannon had “lost his mind.”)
Boy, you could see that relationship imploding a mile away. Both Trump and Bannon are too egotistical to have ever lasted. Bannon saw himself not just as a kingmaker but as a kingmaker who was really king. (“President Bannon,” indeed. It’s as ludicrous as Ivanka Trump’s delusions of being Madame President, although if her father could win….) You knew Trump would never stand for Bannon’s portrait of himself as the architect of Trump’s presidential destiny. Witness his anger at the “Saturday Night Live” skit in which Bannon’s Grim Reaper banishes Alec Baldwin’s Trump to a child’s version of the Oval Office desk. Things said in jest….
So it was inevitable that Bannon had to go and would lash out in a book. But stay tuned: Trump’s enemies don’t necessarily remain enemies. A narcissist is always in search of an audience, any audience.
But how much more of the maelstrom can we take? In this, we might take our cue from two disparate sources – Pope Francis and Wall Street. In his column in Friday’s New York Times about driving as a metaphor for life, David Brooks quotes the pope’s New Year’s Eve homily, “that the people who have the most influence on society are actually the normal folks, through their normal, everyday gestures being kind in public places, attentive to the elderly. The pope called such people, in a beautiful phrase, ‘the artisans of the common good.’”
In other words – borrowed from Fleetwood Mac – you can “Go Your Own Way.” Seriously. Look at the stock market. Dow 25,000-plus. Do you think the market – overvalued, undervalued, whatever – is worried about the dysfunctional White House? (Trump likes to take credit for the ascendant market, and there is some truth to the role of deregulation and tax cuts causing companies to do a happy dance. But I think the effect of any president on the market is limited.)
Look at China. Look at Europe. Look at California or New York. They just do their Chinese, European, Californian, New York-y things.
And that may be the best resolution coming off 2017. If we are to go through the fire and fury, we have to retain that sense of ourselves – our priorities for accomplishment and excellence, our compassion for ourselves and others.
We must heed the words of author Robert Louis Stevenson, who observed: “Quiet minds cannot be perplexed or frightened but go on in fortune or misfortune at their own private pace, like a clock during a thunderstorm.”