Two Accounts of Donald Trump’s Final Year in Office, One More Vivid and Apt Than the Other

Two new books about the ultimate yr of Donald J. Trump’s presidency are coming into the cultural bloodstream. The first, “Landslide,” by the gadfly journalist Michael Wolff, is the one to leap upon, though the second, “I Alone Can Fix It,” from the Washington Post journalists Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker, is vastly extra earnest and diligent, to a fault.

This is Wolff’s third guide about Trump in as a few years. It’s Leonnig and Rucker’s second, after the wonderful “A Very Stable Genius,” which appeared in early 2020. This one, alas, reads like 300 each day newspaper articles taped collectively in order that they resemble an inky Kerouacian scroll. Each article longs to leap to Page A28 on a unique scroll, in one other room.

Perhaps it’s not the authors’ fault that “I Alone Can Fix It” is grueling. It could also be reader, having survived Covid-19, “stop the steal” and the bear-spray wielders, and feeling a specific amount of aid — aid, John Lanchester has mentioned, is the strongest emotion — is uneager to rummage so quickly by way of a dense, just-the-facts scrapbook of a dismal yr.

A main and not insignificant achievement in “I Alone Can Fix It,” nonetheless, is its bravura introduction of a brand new American hero, a person who has heretofore not obtained an excellent deal of consideration: Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. A greater title for this guide may need been “Mr. Milley Goes to Washington.”

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There have a tendency to not be so much of individuals to root for in Trump books. Reading them is like watching WWE fights in which all the wrestlers are heels, smashing one another with folding chairs. Milley supplies Leonnig and Rucker not simply with an grownup in the room, however a human being with a command of information, an extended view of historical past, a robust jaw and an ethical middle.

Milley explains the Constitution to Trump. He delivers cinematic, Eisenhower-worthy monologues, corresponding to: “Everything’s going to be OK. We’re going to have a peaceful transfer of power. We’re going to land this plane safely. This is America.” In one assembly he tells the egregious Stephen Miller to “shut the [expletive] up.”

We have been, Milley suggests, nearer than we knew to the precipice. An important second in this guide particulars the ultimate weeks of Trump’s presidency, when the stitching was actually coming off the ball. Milley informed aides he feared a coup, and, Leonnig and Rucker write, “saw parallels between Trump’s rhetoric of election fraud and Adolf Hitler’s insistence to his followers at the Nuremberg rallies that he was both a victim and their savior.” Milley informed aides: “This is a Reichstag moment.”

About the Proud Boys and their ilk, he tells navy and regulation enforcement leaders: “These are the same people we fought in World War II.”

There’s an unlimited quantity extra in “I Alone Can Fix It.” It’s an virtually day-by-day accounting of Trump’s final yr in workplace, from the fumbled Covid response to the second impeachment to Rudy Giuliani’s public self-immolations. There are apocalyptic scenes of Trump dressing down and humiliating these round him, together with former Attorney General William P. Barr.

Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker, the authors of “I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year.”Credit…From left: Marvin Joseph; Melina Mara

A ultimate scene price mentioning occurred throughout the siege on January 6. The congresswoman Liz Cheney known as Milley the following day to verify in. She described being with the Trump dead-ender Representative Jim Jordan throughout the assault on the Capitol, and how he mentioned to her, “We need to get the ladies away from the aisle. Let me help you.” Cheney responded, the authors write, by slapping his hand away and telling him, “Get away from me. You [expletive] did this.”

Among the first intellectuals to take Trump significantly as a cultural and political power was Camille Paglia. Writing in Salon six months earlier than the 2016 election, she presciently described him, in with a busty youthful girl, as resembling “a triumphant dragon on the thrusting prow of a long boat.”

Paglia’s “dragon” remark got here again to me whereas I used to be studying Wolff’s guide, “Landslide.” Wolff, too, tells a broad, jumpy, event-laden story about Trump’s shambolic ultimate yr. But he’s significantly in Trump’s X-factor, his Luciferian pleasure, his engorged ego, his gargoyle chi — in addition to his darkly telepathic relationship together with his admirers and the sick realization that in his universe commonplace morality is waved apart as if by power majeure.

Wolff blames the “striving, orderly, result-oriented, liberal world and its media,” together with this newspaper, for lacking the level about Trump. Wolff suggests Trump dwells exterior the knowable and the conventionally understood. He was by no means cynical and armed with a grand technique. He had “completely departed reality.”

His aides caught with him, in half, as a result of they got here to imagine he had magical properties. He was unkillable. He was that dragon on a thrusting prow. “Why bet against him?” Wolff asks.

Michael Wolff, whose new guide is “Landslide: The Final Days of the Trump Presidency.”Credit…Jen Harris

Wolff is a sometimes-mocked determine in the worlds of journalism and politics. He’s been accused of being lower than diligent in his fact-checking. He’s been ticketed for careless writing violations. These complaints are legitimate, up to a degree. But “Landslide” is a brilliant, vivid and intrepid guide. He has nice instincts. I learn it in two or three sittings.

It’s the guide that this period and this topic in all probability deserve. In that means it’s like “His Way,” Kitty Kelley’s brutal 1983 biography of Frank Sinatra or, extra flattering to the writer, Tina Brown’s sinuous and alert 2007 guide about Princess Diana.

You by no means sense Wolff has the political world in his arms, the means Theodore H. White did in his “The Making of the President” books. He lacks the bristling erudition of a Garry Wills. “Landslide,” with its impudent and inquisitive qualities, put me in thoughts of Joe McGinniss’s “The Selling of the President 1968.” Like McGinniss, Wolff embeds himself like a tick, even whereas socially distancing.

Wolff doesn’t have Mark Milley. He’s not so in the Covid narrative. He zeros in on the chaos and the kakistocracy, on how almost everybody with a way of decency fled Trump in his ultimate months, and how he was left with clapped-out charlatans like Sidney Powell and Giuliani. Giuliani’s flatulence is a working joke in this guide, however the writer doesn’t discover him humorous in any respect.

Wolff has scenes Leonnig and Rucker don’t. These embody election night time particulars, corresponding to the freak-out in Trump world when Fox News known as Arizona early for Biden. Wolff, who wrote a biography of Rupert Murdoch, describes the frantic cellphone calls that flew again and forth earlier than the phrase got here down from the previous Dirty Digger himself: “[Expletive] him.”

In this accounting, Trump belittles his followers. “Trump often expressed puzzlement over who these people were,” Wolff writes, “their low-rent ‘trailer camp’ bearing and their ‘get-ups,’ once joking that he should have invested in a chain of tattoo parlors and shaking his head about ‘the great unwashed.’”

Wolff has a watch for standing particulars. A typical remark: “Bedminster had hopeful airs of a British gentlemen’s club, but looked more like a steak restaurant.”

It was one other Wolfe, Tom, who commented that “the dark night of fascism is always descending in the United States and yet lands only in Europe.” The authors of each these books conclude with contemporary Trump interviews, seaside at Mar-a-Lago. None suppose the risk of that night time will move anytime quickly.