Many popular comedies, past and present, are centered on people, different from the mainstream crowd, looking to fit in. A great example was the 1960s comedy The Beverley Hillbillies. Its theme song describes the whole show – hillbillies strike oil and move to Beverley Hills where they find their back-woods customs and simplistic lives are completely out of place.
These comedies endure through many seasons of tension between the perceived assets of the outsider versus liabilities. In the case of the hillbillies, they had lots of money and quite a few of their neighbors were willing to overlook what they saw as eccentricities to share in that wealth. Alas, no benefit ultimately could overcome the differences.
Politics, too, suffers from the problem of outsiders. There is a reason we love editorial cartoonists. In simplicity, they show us the comedies and tragedies of politics on a daily basis. Politics is an easy platform from which to create caricatures we love to mock. Outsiders like to ridicule insiders and insiders like to insult outsiders. The American people are stuck in the middle. Typically, they want the ideas of an outsider with the calculated experiences of an insider.
Tired of insiders such as LBJ and Richard Nixon, voters turned to consummate outsiders Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. Tired of another perceived insider, George H.W. Bush, voters ran to Arkansas for Bill Clinton. Tired of eight years of that outsider, they picked another insider, George W. Bush. Then back to an inexperienced outsider, Barack Obama. And, after years of this back and forth, the electorate became cynical and disheartened. Between an insider Hillary Clinton, who would work to secure the power of insiders for generations to come, and outsider Donald Trump, not only an outsider, but one who billed himself as the last destroyer of insiders, voters were torn.
Ultimately, Trump got the job and now we have had a year to observe what the epitome of an outsider looks like – and, surprise, it looks an awful lot like an episode of The Beverley Hillbillies. They never imagined they would be in this situation. They have no clue about the world around them. They do not trust anyone outside of their clan, and even then, they are not so sure about one another. And, they are required to make important decisions about which they know absolutely nothing. What could be funnier than that?
But do not take my word for it. Author Michael Wolff spent eighteen months with the Trump team and a year of that time inside the White House. Let him regale us with the Trump comedy of errors. Here are a few excerpts from Wolff’s new book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House:
The surreal sense of the Trump presidency was being lived as intensely inside the White House as out. Trump was, for the people closest to him, the ultimate enigma…Indeed, he seemed as confused as anyone to find himself in the White House, even attempting to barricade himself into his bedroom with his own lock over the protests of the Secret Service…
The men and women of the West Wing, for all that the media was ridiculing them, actually felt they had a responsibility to the country…Their job was to maintain the pretense of relative sanity, even as each individually came to the conclusion that, in generous terms, it was insane to think you could run a White House without experience, organizational structure or a real purpose…
Reigning over all of this was Trump, enigma, cipher and disruptor…Here was a man singularly focused on his own needs for instant gratification, be that a hamburger, a segment on Fox & Friends or an Oval Office photo opp. “I want a win. I want a win. Where’s my win?” he would regularly declaim. He was, in words used by almost every member of the senior staff on repeated occasions, “like a child.” A chronic naysayer, Trump himself stoked constant discord with his daily after-dinner phone calls to his billionaire friends about the disloyalty and incompetence around him. His billionaire friends then shared this with their billionaire friends, creating the endless leaks which the president so furiously railed against.
That is just a taste of Wolff’s new book. The problem with insiders is that they are the devil you do know. The problem with outsiders is that they are the devil you don’t know. Either way, the devil wins and he has won big in Donald Trump.