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For Wednesday I wrote in an online-only column that normalization and conventional presidential success were rearing their heads for and despite Donald Trump.

Fortunately, for me, the newspaper's website was inoperative all day due to technical glitches.

What happened along the way Wednesday was that word leaked of a new book from Manhattan gossip-monger Michael Wolff that said ... well, let's leave the salacious out of it.

Let's stick to the indictable or impeachable or removable-from-office as uttered apparently on the record and on tape to Wolff by Steve Bannon.

As for the rest--the alleged vulgarity and crudity and rage and breathtaking ignorance and ego-clashing chaos ... I've never liked, conceptually or personally, these books that presume to recreate lengthy conversations with detailed quotations based presumably on accounts provided by sources granted anonymity.

I wrote a book once about Bill Clinton's first year as president. My agent kept telling me "be a fly on the wall," meaning recount angry private Clinton conversations. But I was hardly alighted on the wall of the White House. Bob Woodward was. I was on a phone in a small room of a rent house in northwest D.C., trying to get somebody important to return a call to a yahoo just tossed head-first out of a turnip truck up from Arkansas.

What Bannon said, as quoted by name in the book and not denied, is that Donald Trump Jr. was treasonous and un-American by taking that meeting with Russians promising dirt on Hillary Clinton; that there was no way Junior didn't traipse the Russians up to see The Donald on that occasion, and that he told Trump he would be inviting big obstruction-of-justice trouble for himself if he fired FBI director James Comey.

Those are merely Bannon's recitations of his own stated opinions. But that makes them the opinions of Trump's recent alt-right Svengali.

Bannon also is quoted as saying Trump's repetitiveness was getting so bad that, while the preposterous second-place president once retold entire stories at half-hour intervals, he'd lately stepped up the pace to 10 minutes.

Let's be clear: One of Trump's closest associates over the last year is quoted in a book as saying we have signs of dementia in our already intellectually incurious president.

Basically, Bannon was making a case for an indictment of the president's son and either impeachment of the president or removal from the duties of the office for lacking the ability to perform them.

Do I believe Bannon? Or do I believe Trump's counter-broadside on Bannon?

I believe firmly only that each richly deserves the other.

So, my reports earlier on Wednesday of new normalization and growing conventional presidential success were rather severely out of date by early afternoon.

Alas, that's the Trumpian news cycle.

Those reports had been based on the steady imposition of a broad conservative agenda--tax cuts, repeal of the Obamacare mandate, support for Jerusalem, decertification of the Iran nuclear agreement, withdrawal from the Paris climate accord and the placement of Neil Gorsuch on the U.S. Supreme Court.

I relied heavily in that Wednesday column on the thinking of Bret Stephens, my new favorite national columnist, formerly a Pulitzer Prize-winning commentator for the Wall Street Journal and now a conservative alternative on the New York Times op-ed page.

Stephens wrote last week that Republican friends were urging him to get aboard the Trump train.

He wrote that he just couldn't do it.

He quoted the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan in saying culture is more important than politics, but that politics is vital in changing the culture. He cited the once-raging conservative mantra--which is all we heard during the Bill Clinton years, and which I agreed with then as now--that "character matters."

Stephens pointed out that conservatives have long argued that you don't fix the welfare problem by throwing money at it, but that you fix it instead by what conservatives now contradict wholesale, meaning the insistence on, and nurturing of, a healthier culture through an example of strong character.

Yet Trump, Stephens wrote, provides a personal behavioral example of "lying, narcissism, bullying, bigotry, crassness, name-calling, ignorance, paranoia, incompetence and pettiness."

Just consider, Stephens proposed, whom Trump hires and how he treats those he hires. One word: Scaramucci. One example: For his ego need or personal interest, he publicly ridicules entire classes of his own employees, such as the FBI, and publicly bullies a pitiable and eager acolyte like Jeff Sessions.

To work for Trump's White House, or in his Cabinet, or to be of his nominal party in Congress, is not, Stephens wrote, to be elevated into and by public service. Instead, he said, it's to be reduced to public toadyism.

Stephens was saying you must separate the policy from the personal and hold accountable the inevitably more culturally relevant personal.

Then came this book, Fire and Fury, inviting us to consider that the personal might be every bit as bad as we thought.


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, was inducted into the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame in 2014. Email him at Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Editorial on 01/07/2018

Print Headline: The political and personal

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