TOO FAMOUS: THE RICH, THE POWERFUL, THE WISHFUL, THE NOTORIOUS, THE DAMNED
by Michael Wolff (Bridge Street £20, 398 pp)
Michael Wolff once asked Donald Trump why he wanted to be president. Without hesitation, Trump answered: ‘To be the most famous man in the world.’
This brazenness isn’t exactly new: it’s the sort of answer Julius Caesar or Alexander the Great might have given. But it’s certainly not how Roosevelt or Truman would have answered, and it tells us much about the way things are going.
Wolff is the American journalist who wrote the bestselling Fire And Fury, a mesmerising portrait of life inside Trump’s White House.
Michael Wolff who wrote Fire And Fury, a mesmerising portrait of life inside Trump’s White House, has rounded up a collection of journalistic pieces for a follow-up book. Pictured: Donald and Melania Trump
This follow-up is a collection of various journalistic pieces from over the years, and it’s often just as startling — and dismaying about Anglo-American politics and power.
You may want to hold your nose while reading: Wolff is brilliant at getting up close and personal with our New Elite, and it can be pretty ugly.
One thing emerges loud and clear from his encounters with this gilded new ruling class: there are very few differences between Liberals and Conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, capitalist entrepreneurs and Big Government justice warriors.
The only real division is between the Rich and the Poor. It always was. Though today our leaders do seem spectacularly unimpressive human beings: not heroic or brave, not self- sacrificing or statesmanlike or visionary, as at least some leaders of the past have been. Instead, they seem merely ruthless, manipulative, unprincipled and greedy beyond belief.
There’s an encounter with Boris Johnson here, too, by the way: in shirt and boxer shorts, having temporarily mislaid his trousers. This is from back in 2004, when Boris was a cavalier libertarian, ‘pro-hunting and smoking and smacking’, instead of today’s cavalier authoritarian. Wolff surmises that Boris’s greatest strength is humour, ingeniously comparing him to Ronald Reagan. But is Boris still funny today?
A Democrat himself ‘without a bone of Right-wing sympathy in my body’, Wolff nevertheless depicts the Clintons as ‘a closed political organisation . . . a kind of secret society’, with Hillary ‘one of the most disliked and distrusted people in the United States’.
A future U.S. president could just be Trump’s own son-in-law, the ‘callow and unprepossessing’ Jared Kushner, a ‘Machiavellian mandarin’ who nevertheless wielded huge invisible power under his father-in-law.
TOO FAMOUS: THE RICH, THE POWERFUL, THE WISHFUL, THE NOTORIOUS, THE DAMNED by Michael Wolff (Bridge Street £20, 398 pp)
If he ever gets the big job in the White House he won’t be another Trump, though, but a billionaire friend of billionaires, ‘adept’ at the ‘oligarch-dominated favor-bank world’. Trump, says Wolff, was only ever a would-be oligarch.
Hard-nosed hack as he is, Wolff gleefully puts the boot in all over the place, including a demolition of Christopher Hitchens, the British journalist who made it big in the U.S. as a ‘public intellectual’.
Wolff calls him a bully. Thanks to one of my own, mercifully rare encounters with the rich and famous, I can confirm this. I once saw Hitchens at the Hay-on-Wye literary festival, shouting at a poor Italian waiter, demanding whisky long after closing time. Politely refused, he stormed out drunkenly. You can tell a lot about someone from how they treat waiters.
In the spring of 2019, in the run-up to Jeffrey Epstein’s prosecution for trafficking underage girls, Wolff was privy to a jaw-dropping pre-trial preparation meeting in the billionaire’s New York mansion.
Epstein’s supreme arrogance is powerfully conveyed. Never for one moment does he think he’ll go down. Not with friends like these. The walls are covered with photos of himself with Bill Clinton, Trump, Mick Jagger, Woody Allen, Castro, Bill Gates, the Dalai Lama, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia . . . Left-wing or Right-wing, Muslim or Jewish, they’re all in the same club.
Epstein’s PR man, or acting coach, reminds him: ‘We’re trying to show remorse.’ Preparing him for questioning, he wants to know the true age of the youngest girl involved. Epstein airily says she was 14, but she worked ‘in strip clubs, massage parlours . . . had tattoos’. So that’s all right then.
‘Aristocrats in the French Revolution,’ is how Wolff sums up this gallery of grotesques. And we all know how that ended.