Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Trump's "Defiance Disorder": Howard Kurtz Confirms Michael Wolff's Story

In my previous post on Michael Wolff's book Fire and Fury, I argued that his account of the chaos in the White House shows how Trump's bad character--his lack of any moral or intellectual virtues--has made it impossible for his people in the White House to execute any coherent public policy agenda.

But Trump's defenders have denounced Wolff's book as complete falsehood.  Stephen Miller has said that the book is a "grotesque work of fiction." 

If that is true, then we might expect that Howard Kurtz's just published book--Media Madness: Donald Trump, the Press, and the War Over the Truth--would contradict the story told by Wolff, because Kurtz wants to show that Trump has been unfairly treated by mainline media journalists who want to destroy him.  Remarkably, however, Kurtz's book largely confirms Wolff's story.

According to Wolff, Trump's staff say that working for Trump is like trying to manage an impulsive, temperamental child prone to outbursts of explosive rage and erratic behavior.  That's what I mean by Trump's bad character. 

Kurtz identifies the same problem when he says that Trump's staff label him as showing "defiance disorder" (Kurtz, 42-43, 55, 81, 131, 225-26). Children with "oppositional defiance disorder" refuse to follow any rules of good behavior.  They are angry and resentful of others.  They blame others for their own mistakes.  They frequently lose their temper.  They are spiteful in seeking revenge and easily annoyed.  This supports much of what Wolff claims about Trump's character.

Many of the stories told by Wolff are repeated by Kurtz in almost the same words--for example, the stories surrounding the meeting in Trump Tower with the Russians in June 2016 (Kurtz, 200-201;Wolff, 255), Trump's interview with the New York Times (Kurtz, 208; Wolff, 277-78), and Trump's claim that the white supremacist marchers in Charlottesville were "very fine people" (Kurtz, 225-27; Wolff, 294-96).  If Wolff's book were a "grotesque work of fiction," it would be surprising for Kurtz to write almost exactly the same fiction.

Wolff depicts Trump's propensity for lying, and Kurtz also identifies Trump's "falsehoods and exaggerations" (Kurtz, 4-5, 53-54, 202, 207, 218-19, 234, 253).  So even as Kurtz criticizes the mainstream press for unfairly attacking Trump for his frequent lying, Kurtz admits that Trump really is a shameless liar.

Although Kurtz does point to many cases of an unfair media bias against Trump, Kurtz admits that most of the reporting that Trump has dismissed as "fake news" was actually true, and Trump was being deceptive.

For example, Kurtz identifies Trump's accusation that President Obama had wiretapped Trump's campaign as "an explosive charge with absolutely no evidence" (81).  And when Trump said the reports about Don Jr. meeting the Russians in Trump Tower were "fraudulent reporting," Kurtz observes: "This rang a bit hollow, for it was hardly fraudulent to report information confirmed by his son" (202).

Wolff's depiction of chaos in the White House arising from factional infighting with everyone leaking to the press to subvert their opponents is also confirmed by Kurtz, who concludes: "What emerged was a portrait of a dysfunctional operation, which happened to jibe with the media's predominant view that Trump knew next to nothing about running a government" (33).

Kurtz agrees that Trump is a "reality show president" acting in "The Trump Show" (138-40).

Kurtz defends his "neutral approach" to journalism: "I don't like either party. I believe even the best politicians can be self-serving hypocrites. My brand has always been fairness. I've been a reporter and columnist for the Washington Post and Newsweek.  I've been an anchor at both CNN and Fox.  I've got plenty of opinions, but I don't take political sides" (11).

Despite his journalistic neutrality and his criticism of anti-Trump journalists for their unfair bias, Kurtz's book confirms most of what Wolff's book claims about Trump's bad character and the chaos it has created in the White House and in American politics generally.

As outraged as Trump and the White House have been by Wolff's book, they should worry much more about Kurtz's book.

This should also cause the pro-Trump Claremont Straussians to reconsider their claim that Trump's bad character does not matter.  Surely, statesmanship requires good character in the statesman.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have little doubt you don't confuse Muslim,Islamist and Jihadist.
Likewise you should not confuse White Nationalist,White Supremacist,and National Socialist.
These are different ideologies.
They share some premises.
However, just as important are the premises in which they differ. These different premises lead to different conclusions.
I realize that you might reject
all their conclusions.
Just, as I suspect, you'd reject all the conclusions reached by Muslims, Islamist and Jihadist,respectively.
Yet,I'm sure you'd make sure to delineate the differences in any essay,and you believe there are "fine people" among at least Muslims and possibly Islamist.

Perhaps because Muslims advocate an ideology that cuts across racial, and ethnic lines you feel a certain intellectual or,at least emotional kinship
with them, that you don't feel for the racially or nationally conscious.
Still, you should avoid stereotyping those with whom you disagree on racial/ethnic issues
as not being "fine people".
Not only is it presumptive to consider those who think differently from you,on an issue of importance,to be less "fine" than you,but you're showing how even a very intelligent person like yourself, can forget the lessons of history.
After all, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson,and Abraham Lincoln were all White Supremacist.
Quite frankly White Nationalist are more moderate and fair than any of them.