A fly on the wall of the White House nursery

Peter Stupples reviews Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, by Michael Wolff. Published Little, Brown Book Group

After Luke Harding's Collusion: How Russia Helped Trump Win the White House and Stanley Johnson's wicked fictional spoof Kompromat (2017), comes Wolff's detailed account of life among Trump's courtiers at the White House and Mar-a-Largo.

Originally, Wolff set out to write an account of Trump's first 100 days as President but became so engrossed, he extended his narrative to October 2017.

His research for the writing began with an interview with Trump in May 2016 when Trump was an unlikely Republican candidate for the presidency.

From that first meeting it became clear that Trump was a man who lived in public, surrounded by courtiers. During that first interview people frequently came in and out of the room; the interview, like Trump's life, was a public spectacle.

Wolff then began to frequent the Trump court (no-one seemed to care) where he soon became a semi-permanent fixture, a fly on the wall, ''a constant interloper,'' a dangerous diarist, a position he was able to maintain throughout the campaign for the presidency and later in the West Wing of the White House.

Though there are no footnotes to his narrative, Wolff acknowledges a team working for him while putting this happenstance book together, including lawyers and fact-checkers, a necessary precaution when dealing with such fissionable material.

His detailed notes not only came from personal experience but also from information passed on from members of Trump's court only too eager to leak information (and misinformation) in the tussle for influence with the new President.

Three rival groups danced in the West Wing; ''Jarvanka'', that is those around Trump's daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner (Kushner became Trump's semi-official roving ambassador in the Middle East), those around the Republican National Committee (RNC), at first through Reince Priebus, as White House Chief of Staff, and those around Steve Bannon.

None could claim victory in monopolising the attention of the President. Members of all factions experienced various forms of private and public humiliation from the mouth and tweets of a figure more and more resembling a combination of Nero and Henry VIII, at least displaying their particular volatility and over-extended egos.

Wolff soon noticed that Trump never read what was put in front of him and, rather than study briefings contributed by experienced staffers from ''the Swamp'' (the name given to the Washington bureaucracy),

Trump got all his information from television. ''This was one of his key attributes as a populist. He was postliterate; total television. But not only didn't he read, he didn't listen. He preferred to be the person talking.''

Soon both Bannon and the RNC regarded Trump as foolish, childlike, dangerous, even unhinged, ''a clown prince version of Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington''.

Trump also ''added another tic, a lifelong sense that people were constantly taking unfair advantage of him ... His was a zero-sum ecosystem. In the world of Trump, anything that he deemed of value either accrued to him or had been robbed from him''.

Wolff's account makes for painful reading. That the nation should be led by a such a man, and his squabbling, entropic entourage of creatures without any political experience or sense of public responsibility, is doomed not to ''Make America Great Again'' but to diminish any respect for the United States.

- Peter Stupples, now living in Wellington, used to teach at the University of Otago

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