Donald Trump
Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Donald Trump’s decision to let Michael Wolff roam around the West Wing during his first year in office seems to have been as rash and ill-considered as his travel ban. Why he thought Wolff would be sympathetic or an ally is a mystery, and it’s not even clear that he should have trusted Wolff’s basic journalistic integrity. Wolff has always employed a degree of Gonzo journalism that is good for making a polemical point but not necessarily consistent with an objective retelling of the facts. There are three things I noted from Wolff’s article in the Hollywood Reporter—corroborated broadly enough to be crediblethat struck me as particularly important.

Two of them have to do with observations of diminished capacity. In this first section, it’s clear that a preexisting tendency to repeat himself verbatim has grown noticeably more pronounced:

There was more: Everybody was painfully aware of the increasing pace of his repetitions. It used to be inside of 30 minutes he’d repeat, word-for-word and expression-for-expression, the same three stories — now it was within 10 minutes. Indeed, many of his tweets were the product of his repetitions — he just couldn’t stop saying something.

That reads almost like something that might result from a brain lesion like the one featured in 50 First Dates, where the Drew Barrymore character’s anterograde amnesia causes her to begin each day with no memory of the previous one. This is supported by a second segment in Wolff’s article where he claims that “at Mar-a-Lago, just before the new year, a heavily made-up Trump failed to recognize a succession of old friends.”

These are relevant allegations because they’re different in kind from simple observations about Trump’s basic character. They indicate that there may be a rather significant health issue that is progressive and growing at a fast enough pace to catch the notice even of people who interact with Trump on a daily basis.

The other point of note is the basic unanimity among everyone close to President Trump that he is simply incapable of doing the job.

Donald Trump’s small staff of factotums, advisors and family began, on Jan. 20, 2017, an experience that none of them, by any right or logic, thought they would — or, in many cases, should — have, being part of a Trump presidency. Hoping for the best, with their personal futures as well as the country’s future depending on it, my indelible impression of talking to them and observing them through much of the first year of his presidency, is that they all — 100 percent — came to believe he was incapable of functioning in his job.

Again, it’s described here as a problem of function more than character. Wolff may or may not faithfully quote his subjects, but these broader observations are where his style of journalism imparts its value. We might look elsewhere for a reliable blow-by-blow retelling of the history of the Trump administration, but there’s no substitute for the physical proximity Wolff enjoyed in the West Wing. I believe him when he says that there’s basically no one in the White House who thinks that Trump can actually function as president.

I actually think that’s cause for some optimism. But it’s also further evidence that we’re working our way through a national emergency of the highest significance, one that should be the highest priority.

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Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at