Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House has its flaws. Wolff, historically, has seemed more comfortable writing things that are interesting than things that are all-the-way true. His book chronicling the first year of the Trump White House reads like Steve Bannon provided a disproportionate amount of the fodder that made it into the final copy. It’s probably going to be optioned into a movie that I’ll eventually have to watch for work, because Trumpworld is infecting every aspect of American culture in a way that feels ineradicable.
But nobody can say Fire and Fury lacks female characters.
In one anecdote from the beginning of the Trump presidency, a “harried” Ivanka Trump was heard loudly telling whoever was on the other end of a phone call that “things are so messed up and I don’t know how to fix it….” She then makes her way through a networking breakfast at the Four Seasons Hotel. This seems to define how Wolff sees Ivanka.
Ivanka Trump plays the largest female role in Fire and Fury and, apparently, in the president’s life. Wolff describes her as the president’s “real” wife, a woman who overstepped the bounds of her role as a presidential advisor, effectively usurped First Lady duties from her stepmother, whom she allegedly doesn’t like. At one point in the book, Reince Priebus pulls Ivanka aside to remind her that she’s an employee in an office, and Ivanka counters that she’s “First Daughter,” like that’s a role enshrined in her personal idea of what she thinks the constitution is.
Wolff uses “Jared and Ivanka,” “Jarvanka,” and “the president’s family” interchangeably, even though the only blood relative of Donald working in the White House is Ivanka, and the president has four other children. (His daughter Tiffany gets zero mentions in the book. Poor Tiffany!)
In Fire and Fury, as in the mainstream media, Ivanka—often mentioned alongside her husband Jared Kushner as though combined, they can only muster a single dullard—believes she might one day be the first female president. This despite Wolff’s characterization that Ivanka is “certainly no native genius” who was living a “self-created fantasy life” and who at times demonstrated “an almost archaic tone deafness.”
She couldn’t get sponsors for her family leave proposal, and getting sponsors for things is supposed to be easy. When she helped launch a fund for female entrepreneurs, nobody gave a shit; as Wolff points out, nobody voted for Donald Trump because what he said he’d do for global female entrepreneurs, and the people who didn’t vote for Trump weren’t going to like anything Ivanka did in service of his administration.
But there are no direct quotes from Ivanka to Wolff in Fire and Fury; the First Daughter is inaccessible, distant, contrived. Despite her general ineptitude as a political operative, she at least knew better than to talk to Michael Wolff.
Kellyanne Conway doesn’t come across well, either. Wolff’s book opens with her whining, blaming others, and planning her own next move, which always involves Kellyanne getting more attention—“spotlight grabbing.” It carries on that way throughout.
In the book, Kellyanne is an overly-loyal suck up who encourages Donald Trump’s worst behaviors, stoking his rage by telling him about the “latest outrages against him.” (Although she did try to convince Donald to let Melania have a bigger role in his public life). Wolff’s Kellyanne is alternately “petulant,” “self-pitying,” and “bitter,” constantly telling anybody who would listen how unfairly the media was treating the president, how unfair it was that the Trump campaign was under investigation, how unfair the White House Correspondents Dinner was, because the sort of jokes people might make about Donald Trump might be “cruel.”
Katie Walsh, who bounced from the RNC to White House deputy chief of staff and out to a pro-Trump Super PAC, is written as Reince Priebus’ “sidekick,” despite being just about the only competent person in the book. In Fire and Fury, she sees herself as a professional, “heads-down-get-things-done kind of person.”
Wolff playfully calls her a “swamp creature,” and then points out why “swamp creatures” are necessary to making Washington work. Walsh went to a “reliable [feeder] of swamp talent]” college, and snarks that government is “not really an Ivy League profession.” Despite the “joylessness” of the way Walsh and other swamp creatures dress, Walsh, ever sounding the alarm, is among the first to realize that the president is an actual idiot.
One of the strangest parts of Fire and Fury is when Wolff casually confirms that then-PR aide Hope Hicks was having an on-again-off-again affair with then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who is married and has children. Hicks, like Ivanka and Kellyanne, is also living in an “alternate reality,” following the President around as his dutiful “shadow” who would always support his view or type up a dictated lie, no matter what.
Wolff also doesn’t thinks he’s too bright, “miss[ing] the point” in a New Yorker article that connected Jared Kushner and Sergey Kislyak, not understanding, as the other staff did, when something that the president had said or tweeted should make them nervous. Because she never challenges him and always does exactly what he wants, according to Wolff, the now-White House Communications Director has become one of the president’s most trusted advisors.
Bannon is a real prick to her, like he is to almost every woman in the book. He saw Hicks as a “hapless presidential enabler” (weird, so does Wolff) and a “poor-fish Jarvanka flunky.” In one of the book’s more disturbing scenes, a “livid” Bannon yells at Hicks, telling her he was going to call her father and explain to him that she needed to get a lawyer and telling her she was “dumb as a stone.” (Bannon’s favorite way to connote stupidity is to compare people to inanimate objects—brick, stick, stone. It’s a real verbal “tell.” But I digress.)
What happens next is pretty awful.
Wolff devotes a fair amount of ink to now-departed-former deputy national security advisor Dina Powell, who Ivanka convinced to join the administration as a counterweight to Kellyanne Conway. Ivanka doesn’t like Kellyanne; Ivanka likes Dina. Dina was a well-bred climber who thought she could parlay her White House post into something like Sheryl Sandberg’s Facebook role. She and Ivanka had a “mutually codependent” relationship where Ivanka counted on Dina’s actual expertise in the things Ivanka pretended to be good at, like managing people, and Dina used Ivanka to stay on the president’s good side.
If Wolff’s telling is to be believed, Melania Trump is not having a good time. In the book, she’s a long-suffering wife, married to a habitually “unfaithful” husband (perhaps the least believable part of the book is the implication that Donald Trump still has sex a lot) who openly refers to her as a “trophy wife.” By Wolff’s telling, they’re barely married. They sleep in separate bedrooms, which Wolff points out is a first since the Kennedy era.
Before the election, they “spent relatively little time together,” days, sometimes, even when they were both in Trump Tower. She really, really, really, really didn’t want her husband to become the president; Wolff writes that she was terrified, horrified, humiliated over and over by leaks to the press. She cried when he won and now is apparently a prisoner of the White House, roaming its halls like a ghost.
Nobody—save, maybe, Katie Walsh—looks good in Fire and Fury. But its depiction of the women of Trumpland, the women who, arguably, are the ones holding the White House together, showcases the indignities they’ve endured in what Wolff imagines or knows they’re after. And there are so many liars involved in this—Bannon, Kellyanne, Reince, Ivanka, Jared, the president himself, and, to a degree, Wolff, who has been accused of fabulism in the past—that we might never know what happened, who all of these people were, and, most importantly, why.
But Wolff got at least one thing right. As Fire and Fury continues to light up headlines and bestseller lists, Ivanka, true to her Wolff-ian characterization as princess of an alternate reality, hosted a party at a Trump hotel.