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Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House

Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen (“The Wolff lines on Trump that ring unambiguously true,” Axios, Jan. 5, 2018) write:

“There are definitely parts of Michael Wolff’s ‘Fire and Fury’ that are wrong, sloppy, or betray off-the-record confidence. But there are two things he gets absolutely right, even in the eyes of White House officials who think some of the book’s scenes are fiction: his spot-on portrait of Trump as an emotionally erratic president, and the low opinion of him among some of those serving him.”

VandeHei and Allen categorize “lines from the book [that] ring unambiguously true” into four categories: (1) how Trump processes (and resists) information; (2) instinct over expertise; (3) ill-preparedness; and (4) low regard by key aides.

Following is a selection from VandeHei and Allen’s shortlist of “Fire and Fury” quotes, annotated with empirical research findings from studies conducted at the Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics.

How Trump processes (and resists) information:

  • “[Trump] seemed to lack the ability to take in third-party information.”
  • “Trump didn’t read. He didn’t really even skim. … [H]e could read headlines and articles about himself, or at least headlines on articles about himself, and the gossip squibs on the New York Post’s Page Six.”
  • “[Trump] trusted his own expertise — no matter how paltry or irrelevant — more than anyone else’s [see *Note]. What’s more, he had an extremely short attention span, even when he thought you were worthy of attention.”

Outgoing (histrionic) cognitive style: flighty/scattered — Avoids introspective thought, attentive to fleeting external events, and speaks in impressionistic generalities; integrates experiences poorly, resulting in scattered learning and thoughtless judgments. [*Note: Trusting one’s own expertise more than anyone else’s is a narcissistic trait.]

Instinct over expertise:

  • “[Trump was] a man who, while he knew little, was entirely confident of his own gut instincts and reflexive opinions, however frequently they might change.”

Ambitious (narcissistic) expressive behavior: confident/conceited — Self-confident, conveying an air of calm, untroubled self-assurance; tends to act in a conceited manner, shading into hubris, immodesty, or presumptuousness; self-promoting, displaying an inflated sense of self-importance.

Ill-preparedness:

  • “[T]he president’s views of foreign policy and the world at large were among [his White House's] most random, uninformed, and seemingly capricious aspects. His advisers didn’t know whether he was an isolationist or a militarist, or whether he could distinguish between the two.”

Outgoing (histrionic) cognitive style: flighty/scattered — Avoids introspective thought, attentive to fleeting external events, and speaks in impressionistic generalities; integrates experiences poorly, resulting in scattered learning and thoughtless judgments.

Low regard by key aides:

  • “He spoke obliviously and happily, believing himself to be a perfect pitch raconteur and public performer, while everyone with him held their breath.”

Ambitious (narcissistic) expressive behavior: confident/conceited — Self-confident, conveying an air of calm, untroubled self-assurance; tends to act in a conceited manner, shading into hubris, immodesty, or presumptuousness; self-promoting, displaying an inflated sense of self-importance.

  • “If a wackadoo moment occurred on the occasions … when his remarks careened in no clear direction, his staff had to go into intense method-acting response.”

Outgoing (histrionic) mood/temperament: poor impulse control — Animated, uninhibited, and emotionally responsive; moods subject to rapid fluctuation; may be over-excitable, exhibit a pervasive tendency to be easily enthused and as easily bored or angered, make thoughtless, imprudent judgments, and embark on rash or reckless courses of action.

  • “At points on the day’s spectrum of adverse political developments, he could have moments of, almost everyone would admit, irrationality. When that happened, he was alone in his anger and not approachable by anyone.”

Dominant (aggressive) mood/temperament: volatile — Prone to irritability; volatile temper that may at times be difficult to control, flaring readily into petty or contentious argument.

Recommended References for In-Depth Analysis

The Political Personality of 2016 Republican Presidential Nominee Donald J. Trump. Working paper, Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics, St. John’s University/College of St. Benedict, October 2016. Abstract and link for full-text (31 pages; PDF) download at Digital Commons: http://digitalcommons.csbsju.edu/psychology_pubs/103/>

The Leadership Style of U.S. President Donald J. Trump. Working paper, Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics, St. John’s University/College of St. Benedict, January 2017. Abstract and link for full-text (14 pages; PDF) download at Digital Commons: http://digitalcommons.csbsju.edu/psychology_pubs/107/

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