Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

Opinion: The portrait of a scam artist

Here is author Michael Wolff, digesting his time as a "fly-on-the-wall" observer in the Trump White House and after hundreds of hours of interviews with top members of the Trump presidential staff:

"My indelible impression of talking to them and observing them through much of the first year of his presidency, is that they all — 100 percent — came to believe he was incapable of functioning in his job."

That is the conclusion of senior people, people who interact with President Trump daily, who owe their jobs to Trump and whose personal success is dependent upon Trump's success. They also work for a man to whom personal loyalty is supposedly paramount, who requires staff and aides to sign nondisclosure agreements as a condition of employment.

And by Wolff's account, their assessment of him is scathing:

"He could not really converse, not in the sense of sharing information, or of a balanced back-and-forth conversation. He neither particularly listened to what was said to him nor particularly considered what he said in response. He demanded you pay him attention, then decided you were weak for groveling. In a sense, he was like an instinctive, pampered, and hugely successful actor. Everybody was either a lackey who did his bidding or a high-ranking film functionary trying to coax out his performance — without making him angry or petulant ...."

"Here, arguably, was the central issue of the Trump presidency, informing every aspect of Trumpian policy and leadership: He didn’t process information in any conventional sense. He didn’t read. He didn’t really even skim. Some believed that for all practical purposes he was no more than semi-­literate. He trusted his own expertise ­— no matter how paltry or irrelevant — more than anyone else’s. He was often confident, but he was just as often paralyzed, less a savant than a figure of sputtering and dangerous insecurities, whose instinctive response was to lash out and behave as if his gut, however confused, was in fact in some clear and forceful way telling him what to do. It was, said (former deputy chief of staff Katie) Walsh, “like trying to figure out what a child wants....”

"Most succinctly, no one expected him to survive Mueller. Whatever the substance of the Russia "collusion," Trump, in the estimation of his senior staff, did not have the discipline to navigate a tough investigation, nor the credibility to attract the caliber of lawyers he would need to help him. (At least nine major law firms had turned down an invitation to represent the president.)"

What makes these and similar claims so damning is not that they surprise us in any way. They are so damning because they confirm, from first-hand private sources, everything that we had cause to believe after one year of Trump's presidency.  Wolff paints a portrait from up close -- a portrait of a president utterly unqualified by character, emotional stability, morality and intellect -- that is entirely consistent with what we've witnessed from outside the White House through Trump's tweets, actions, statements and demeanor.

It is also telling that Trump's attorney's have sent letters to Wolff, Steve Bannon and Wolff's publisher with a  futile demand that they halt publication of the book as an invasion of privacy and a violation of a nondisclosure statement signed by Bannon when he was campaign CEO. That's more than a little ironic coming from a man who publicly begged Russia to hack into and publish Hillary Clinton's private emails.




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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.