Trump and “Good as Gold” are not terms frequently found together except perhaps in the minds of his base. However, reading Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury” put me in mind of Joseph Heller’s”Good As Gold” published in 1979.
Comparisons are frequently drawn between the Nixon White House – a heavy influence on “Good as Gold”- and the world of Donald J Trump. The starting point for the comparison is often impeachment, or the possibility of it . In fact the similarities around power and the behaviour of those who exercise it run far deeper.
Heller’s book tells the story of a New York academic , Bruce Gold ,who is being considered, at the start of the novel, for appointment as a White House adviser. Heller captures with precision the traits of political behaviour which value on the one hand strong affirmative statements indicating a predisposition to action while on the other entering a caveat to take an opposite view or course of action. It is the juxtaposition of holding a principled position alongside a commitment to be entirely pragmatic i.e unprincipled.This rings true of the Trump White House .
Sofa in the West Wing
Wolff apparently gathered much of the material for his book from the vantage point of a sofa in the West Wing as well as information contributed by a range of contacts. He paints a picture of advisers struggling to capture the President’s attention for long enough to secure a commitment to a course of action ,competing factions and constantly changing priorities .
Art of the Deal
Wolff’s depiction of the White House has been dismissed by the President’s spokespeople but I have not seen anything so far which undermines the overall case which he presents. Indeed the best evidence to substantiate it is provided by the President’s own behaviour. It is also broadly consistent with the description given, before the election, by the author – Tony Schwartz -of”The Art of the Deal” who felt sufficiently motivated about Trump’s character to tour the UK to share his concerns.
My Year in the White House
Is the chapter in “Good As Gold” where Bruce Gold is being considered for appointment as an adviser. He has various conversations with a colleague Ralph who is his way into the White House
“What would I have to do?”
“Anything you want, as long as it’s everything we tell you to say and do in support of our policies, whether you agree with them or not. You’ll have complete freedom”
Gold was confused. He said delicately, “I can’t be bought, Ralph.”
“We wouldn’t want you if you could be, Bruce,” Ralph responded. “This President doesn’t want yes-men. What we want are independent men of integrity who will agree with all our decisions after we make them.”
Nothing Succeeds as Planned
“Wouldn’t I have to know anything?”
“Absolutely not,” Ralph answered, and appeared astounded that Gold should even ask. “In government, Bruce, experience doesn’t count and knowledge isn’t important.’……………………….
“Ralph” Gold had to ask, “don’t people here laugh or smile when you talk that way?”
“What way, Bruce ?”
“You seem to qualify or contradict all your statements.”
“Do I?” Ralph considered the matter intently. “Maybe I do see a bit oxymoronic at times. I think everyone here talks that way. Maybe we are all oxymoronic…….”
Ralph’s Job and his Place in the Hierarchy
“What kind of job do you have?”
“A good one, Bruce”
“What do you do?”
“What I’m supposed to.”
“Well what’s your position exactly?”
“I’m in the Inner Circle, Bruce”
“Does that mean you can’t talk about it?”
“Oh, no. I can tell you everything. What would you like to know?”
“Well, who do work for?”
“Do you have any authority?”
“Oh, yes. A great deal.”
“My subordinates. I can do whatever I want once I get permission from my superiors. I’m my own boss.”