BOOKS: FIRE AND FURY

India Today - - UPFRONT - —Shougat Das­gupta

When pic­tures emerged on Jan­uary 8 of smoke plum­ing above Trump Tower, the US pres­i­dent’s Man­hat­tan mon­u­ment to glitz, you’d have been for­given for think­ing Michael Wolff was the glee­ful ar­son­ist. He had, af­ter all, al­ready taken a flamethrow­er to the Don­ald Trump White House. His book, Fire and Fury—avail­able from Jan­uary 5 af­ter a threat­en­ing let­ter from Trump’s lawyers prompted the pub­lish­ers to move up the re­lease date— has made Trump look so stupid he took to Twit­ter to de­scribe him­self as a “ge­nius... and a very sta­ble ge­nius at that!”

Dom­i­nat­ing the head­lines and the ca­ble news talk shows—as nu­mer­ous and noisy as the ones in In­dia—Wolff has rea­son to be grate­ful to Trump. His in­tem­per­ate re­sponse to Wolff’s ad­mit­tedly provoca­tive re­port­ing has made Fire and Fury un­doubt­edly the best­selling book of 2018, and the year’s barely be­gun. In th­ese pages, you lose count of the peo­ple who dis­miss Trump as an id­iot (or, Wolff quotes Ru­pert Mur­doch, a mo­ron), the lu­natic who finds him­self in charge of the asy­lum. Un­like Barack Obama, so spare, so con­trolled, so un­blem­ished a prod­uct of so­phis­ti­cated school­ing, Trump is a fig­ure of Ra­belaisian ex­cess—crude, greedy, slaver­ing. To the self-se­ri­ous ca­reer politi­cians, bu­reau­crats and jour­nal­ists in Wash­ing­ton, DC, Trump was an af­front. Even those clos­est to him, from the rep­til­ian Stephen Ban­non and other aides to his own fam­ily, can barely stom­ach him, think him en­tirely un­fit for of­fice.

Read­ing Fire and Fury, it’s hard not to see the con­trasts be­tween Trump and Naren­dra Modi. Where Trump is patho­log­i­cally im­pul­sive, loose-lipped, Modi is en­tirely self-ab­ne­gat­ing, ap­pear­ing to take plea­sure in noth­ing ex­cept work. Where Trump, a political neo­phyte, is ide­o­log­i­cally mal­leable, Modi, for all the dis­tract­ing talk about de­vel­op­ment, re­mains com­mit­ted to Hin­dutva. And where Trump thrives on the theatre of out­rage sur­round­ing him, on the dis­re­spect of ‘me­dia elites’, Modi af­fects in­dif­fer­ence to his largely syco­phan­tic press.

A book such as this could never be writ­ten about the Modi govern­ment. No jour­nal­ist would en­joy the ac­cess. Wolff has done lit­tle of value with that ac­cess, choos­ing only to con­firm ex­ist­ing prej­u­dices in lurid fash­ion, but the ac­cess it­self sug­gests a fun­da­men­tal com­mit­ment to democ­racy. Would that we were so open to scru­tiny.

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