So last Friday, I drive over to the Barnes & Noble at Woodholme and get halfway through a question about the new book, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” when the nice young lady at the information desk stops me cold.
“Have you got any copies…?” I start to ask.
“The Wolff book?” she says, smiling and shaking her head. “No. If you hear this phone ring, it’ll be one more person asking if we have it.”
“Do you get a lot of people phoning here about books?” I ask.
“If a book is real hot,” she says, “we might get five calls about it in a day. That’s a lot.”
“How many calls have you gotten on this book?”
“Today,” she says. “Three hundred.” And then she repeats the number.
For those suspecting some kind of typographical error, let us stipulate: that’s a “3” followed by two zeroes.
The book has landed like a bomb on the front steps of the White House. Wolff managed to infiltrate the place and apparently talked to those closest to this president, some of whom called the leader of the free world “an idiot,” “a moron,” “a fool,” and questioned his emotional stability, his ability to think clearly and his competence to handle the presidency.
To which President Trump, rejecting advisers’ suggestions that he ignore the book and move onto something resembling actual news to distract people, responded, “Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, real smart.”
Sticking with his customarily modest, self-effacing tone, the president also called himself “a very stable genius” and ordered his attorneys to issue “cease and desist” letters to the book’s publisher, thus displaying not only poor judgment but a complete lack of understanding of the First Amendment – and opening himself up to a barrage of mockery.
Among which was a column by Dana Milbank, in the Washington Post, that includes this paragraph: “After Trump boasted about the largeness and functionality of his ‘nuclear button’ this week, a few reporters pointed out that the only button on his desk in the Oval Office is for him to order a Diet Coke. Maybe Trump thinks he is ordering a nuclear strike each time he presses that button and that he is then being rewarded with a Diet Coke?”
But the joking goes only so far. Among those Trump aides making the biggest headlines in the Wolff book is Steve Bannon, whose voice once registered loudest in the president’s ears. But now Bannon claims Trump has “lost it.”
What’s more, Bannon declared that famous meeting during the campaign, attended by Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and a bunch of Russians, “unpatriotic” and “treasonous.” Bannon hasn’t denied his remarks, but by Sunday he was trying to make peace. The president, on the other hand, was once more putting his foot in his mouth.
He said the remarks about his mental capacity reminded him of reporters who’d tried to say the same things about Ronald Reagan’s mental state. Uh, bad example. As it turned out, Reagan truly was slipping into senility. Not long after he left office, he issued a gracious farewell to the nation and then disappeared behind a veil of Alzheimer’s.
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books. His most recent, “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age,” has just been re-issued in paperback by the Johns Hopkins University Press.